2014 Events

Hawgsmoke 2014, July 9-12, 2014

Location: Davis-Monthan AFB & Barry M. Goldwater Range, AZ
Admission: Closed to the general public, credentialed media only
Parking: N/A
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Every two years, A-10 squadrons from around the world come together for several days to share in the camaraderie and fellowship of the world’s premier Close Air Support fighter community. A number of social events are organized to reinforce their esprit de corps, including remembrance ceremonies for fallen comrades. But the primary reason to assemble aircraft and crews is to engage in an intense round of bombing, missile, and tactical gunnery competitions. The event is hosted by the squadron which won the previous competition and, as the 357th Fighter Squadron won in 2012, this year’s meeting was held at Davis-Monthan AFB from July 9 to 12.
The US Air Force used to hold a series of air-to-ground gunnery and bombing competitions at Nellis AFB called 'Gunsmoke', the last of which took place in 1995. In 2000 the A-10 community decided to revive the tradition of such a biennial competition, but, unlike 'Gunsmoke,' which included multiple airframes, this would be limited to the A-10. Although officially known as the Thunderbolt II, the A-10 is almost universally referred to as the Warthog, or Hawg for short. Hence 'Hawgsmoke.'
Invitations go out to every A-10 squadron, and except for those actively deployed, most squadrons send a team of four aircraft plus support crews. We were privileged to be invited on base to observe arrivals on July 9. It was a unique opportunity to see aircraft from so many different units gathered together on the tarmac. The competitions took place the next day at the Barry M. Goldwater Range (BMGR). This vast training range consists of almost two million acres and is located in the Sonoran Desert in southwestern Arizona between Yuma and Tucson and is divided into two sections, one for the Air Force, the other used by the Navy and Marines. The 56th Range Management Office, located at Luke AFB, manages the eastern sector of the range, known as BMGR-East. Marine Corps Air Station Yuma oversees operations on the western portion of the range known as BMGR-West. The 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office had arranged an opportunity for the media to observe the gunnery portion of the competition. We were heading out to Range II, located just south of Gila Bend, AZ. Since this is roughly a three-hour drive we needed to get an early start: the bus left the parking lot at 0630. Even so, by the time we arrived, the competition had already begun. After a short safety briefing we were allowed to climb up the stairs on the small control tower and prepare for the next team. This year’s Hawgsmoke competition focused on forward firing: the participants competed in high, medium, and low-angle strafes. Each team is composed of four pilots, and each aircraft has the same number of rounds of ammunition. Although the high-angle strafing took place in the distance and was difficult to photograph, the low-angle range was remarkably close to the tower. For the low-angle strafing, a large cloth target is strung up between two posts; cameras and acoustic panels were set up nearby to accurately calculate each pilot’s hits. During our time on the range we observed a number of strafing passes by several of the teams. The aircraft orbited the range in a large circle.
Each individual aircraft was then “cleared hot” by the Range Control Officer (RCO), meaning that the target was clear and the pilot was authorized to fire live ammunition. Lining up on the target-line, the pilot leveled out, descended towards the target and fired off a short burst. It really is a sight to see and the sound of the GAU-8 “Avenger” cannon is unmistakeable. It is at first somewhat disorienting to see the muzzle smoke, then see the impact of the 30mm rounds near the target, then hear the impact of the rounds and only last of all hear the buzz-saw report from the cannon on the aircraft. It’s a fine lesson in the theory of relativity: the muzzle velocity of the rounds is three times the speed of sound, meaning that the sound of their impact arrives much quicker than the sound of their firing. After firing, each pilot quickly flipped the aircraft on its side and engaged in a tight, climbing turn, giving us a beautiful view into the cockpit. Occasionally the pilot would wave or otherwise acknowledge the presence of the RCO.
Accompanying us on our tour was a group of Airmen training to be Air Traffic Controllers. They spent most of their time in the tower itself, paying close attention to the activities of the RCO as he visually tracked the position of each aircraft, inspected the range to make sure it was clear at all times, and ensured that the aircraft finished their strafing before crossing the foul line. It was a perfect lesson in real-time, fast-action air traffic controlling.
All too soon it was time to board the bus for the three hour ride back to Tucson. Despite the long drive and the 100-plus degree heat standing out in the Sonoran Desert, it was a fantastic opportunity to observe the A-10 do what it does best, engage in Close Air Support. Due to budget cuts, the USAF has several times proposed retiring single-mission close-support aircraft like the A-10, but just like the Warthog itself, the program seems to take a lot of punishment but survive in the end. For now, at least, its immediate future seems to be secure.
The winner of this year’s Hawgsmoke competition was the 47th Fighter Squadron, which just recently moved from Barksdale AFB to Davis-Monthan AFB, exchanging their BD tailcodes for DP. Congratulations to the “Terrible Termites!”

ASR Media would like to thank the staff of the 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office for their hospitality and all of their support during our visit, in particular 2d Lt. Ranaweera and SSgt Ruiz. Thanks also to the “Dragons” for hosting such a fantastic meet. We’ll see you back in Tucson in 2016.

The exercise included teams from:

  • 45FS, Davis-Monthan AFB
  • 47FS, Davis-Monthan AFB
  • 66WPS, Nellis AFB
  • 74FS, Moody AFB
  • 75FS, Moody AFB
  • 76FS, Moody AFB
  • 104FS, Maryland ANG
  • 107FS, Michigan ANG
  • 163FS, Indiana ANG
  • 190FS, Idaho ANG
  • 303FS, Whiteman AFB
  • 354FS, Davis-Monthan AFB
  • 357FS, Davis-Monthan AFB
  • AATC/422TES, Nellis AFB

Below are more results from Hawgsmoke 2014:

Overall Top Range teams

  • 1. 104FS
  • 2. 190FS
  • 3. 76FS

Overall Top Maverick teams

  • 1. 104FS
  • 2. 47FS
  • 3. 75FS

Top Tactical Team

  • 1. 47FS
  • 2. 66WPS
  • 3. AATC/422TES
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Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for Airshowsreview.com
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