A Day at the Range
When I got the phone call in the middle of the day, I was sitting in a heat, that we Southern Californians do not normally get. Hot and humid, and it wasn’t going away anytime soon.
On the other end of the telephone was a good friend of mine, who said “Hey man, I’ve got a connection with an Air Force fighter squadron, the 358th (The Lobos), from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) in Tucson, AZ., and they want some photos taken out of their Gunnery Range.” My first thought was “hey it’s 96 degrees here, but it’s 112 degrees there!”, but when it comes to getting access to any military unit, especially at a Gunnery range, there is no saying “No”. The 358th fly the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.
Several days later, in the early morning hours of September 6th, I left San Diego at 2:00 a.m., so I could meet my contact at the main gate of the Gila Bend Auxiliary AFB, next to the Barry Goldwater Range in Arizona, by 7:30 a.m. When I arrived, and got out of my FJ Cruiser, it was already over 90 degrees. My escort arrived and along with some friends and family members of the squadron, we then drove 20 miles south of the base, down to Range #2. The temperature climb to 106 degrees.
We only had to wait a short time, when the 358th’s A-10 Warthogs appeared high in the sky, as they nosed down from 16,000 ft and started dropping their practice bombs on the targets approximately a 1/2 mile away from our position at the Range Control Tower. For the first run, they were dropping High Altitude Dive Bombs (HADB). After the first bombing run, the Warthogs dropped down in elevation and dropped more ordinance from approx. 7,000 ft. and manually ( meaning, no targeting computer, just the old school, iron sites) dropping Low Altitude High Drag (LAHD) bombs. They finished their bomb runs with a 100 ft. Dive Bomb (DB) and popping up to 1600 ft. after the drop.
A total of 10 planes were involved in this squadron exercise, and they made quick work with their bombing runs. Then the gun runs began. The targets were in place, and while they looked fairly close, they were also approx a 1/2 mile from our location. The amazing thing was that the A-10’s were flying extremely close by our position as they opened up with their General Electric GAU-8/A Avengers. This is a 30 mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon. Designed specifically for the anti-tank role, the Avenger delivers very powerful rounds at a high rate of fire. The Warthogs came in low, at times only 40 feet off the ground and flying right pass our position on the Range’s tower, firing and then popping flares as they exited their run at a high angle of escape.
After all of the squadron’s planes made several gun runs, they were done for the morning and it was time for the 357th Fighter Squadron (The Dragons) to take over the range.
I would like to thank the entire 358th squadron for the opportunity to photograph their training session, but especially Major James “Chef” Barlow (first pilot to fly 100 combat sorties aboard the A-10 Thunderbolt II) for organizing my participation. Sergeant Kerr and the Range Safety Officer Kirk Davidson, for making sure I had enough cold water to keep me alive.