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Whiteman A-10 pilots capture Hawgsmoke title.

In what is the Air Force's version of the Olympic Games for A-10 pilots, the 442nd Fighter Wing's 303rd Fighter Squadron emerged as the gold-medal winner after competing against 19 other squadrons from around the world at Hawgsmoke '06.

Four pilots from the Air Force Reserve Command squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., competed in the event March 22-25 at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. Hawgsmoke is conducted every two years to test the mettle of A-10 operators and their lead-spitting, bomb-dropping close-air-support aircraft.

Lt. Col. Ronald Hankes, Lt. Col. James Mackey, Maj. Stephen Nester and Capt. Brian Leiter represented the 303rd FS at the competition. They captured the Hawgsmoke championship despite having to fly A-10s belonging to another unit because their own aircraft were being prepared for an overseas deployment.

"We had a good, solid tactical plan that led us through, and the guys were all able to execute as planned," said Colonel Hankes, the 303rd FS active-duty flight commander and flight lead for the Hawgsmoke team. "The fact we won means this squadron has a lot of talent."

"This is an outstanding testament to the training and skill of the pilots in the 303rd Fighter Squadron," said Col. Patrick Cord, 442nd FW commander. "By being named an Air Force outstanding unit earlier this year, we proved we are one of the best at supporting the A-10's mission. And, now, by winning Hawgsmoke, we have proved we are the best at executing the A-10's mission."

Colonel Hankes credits the wing's 442nd Maintenance Group with contributing to the outstanding showing at this year's competition.

"The maintenance group provided four airplanes for an extra practice session on the Monday before the competition," he said. "If we hadn't had that, we wouldn't have had enough practice time to win.

"We appreciated it big time, especially given how busy maintenance is with preparing for deployment, accepting nine additional aircraft from New Orleans and modifying our jets with new multi-function color displays."

The competition is dubbed Hawgsmoke because, although it's officially called the Thunderbolt II, the A-10 is referred to as the "Warthog" by its pilots and maintainers. "Smoke" is a reference to an Air Force competition to test aerial dog-fighting skills known as Gunsmoke.

Pilots completed all four parts of the competition by flying from one area of the Barry Goldwater Range complex in Arizona to another, within the time limits imposed by Hawgsmoke officials. The four parts of the contest tested pilots' skill in long-range strafing, manual bombing, low-angle strafing and employing the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile.

"When we finished, we knew we had a solid performance," Colonel Hankes said. "By the time we got the final announcement, I had such a stack of awards on my desk. I was kind of thinking we would be a player for the overall award."

The fruits of victory include the obligation to host the next Hawgsmoke competition scheduled for 2008. The 303rd FS is looking at having the event either at Whiteman AFB or in Salina, Kan, said Lt. Col. John Hoff, squadron commander.

As the 303rd prepares for actual combat operations with an overseas deployment scheduled for this summer, the victory at Hawgsmoke confirms that the unit has been training well, according to Colonel Hankes.

"The same talent, drive and dedication that served us well for Hawgsmoke will serve us well on our upcoming deployment," he said. (Maj. David Kurle, 442nd FW public affairs, Whiteman AFB.)
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Title Annotation:pilots of Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri win
Publication:Citizen Airman
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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