SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Airmen here launched the final A-10 Thunderbolt II tactical sortie in Europe here May 14. The airframe belongs to the 52nd Fighter Wing's 81st Fighter Squadron, which inactivates in June. "I'm proud to be a part of the last sortie," said Lt. Col. Jeff Hogan, the 81st FS director of operations and a pilot from today's flight. "It's definitely a sad day for the (81st) as we end 20 years of A-10 operations here. I'm just proud to take part in this historic event." The squadron's inactivation is due to the termination of the Continuing Resolution provision and the enacting of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, a plan which defines the budget and expenditures of the U.S. Department of Defense. The Air Force is reviewing and realigning its force structure since President Barack Obama announced the plan. Flying hours across the Air Force are being reduced; however, pilots strive to maintain their proficiency by training at every opportunity.
In this sortie, the three pilots flew the A-10s to train with a new upgrade to their helmet. The Scorpion Helmet-Mounted Cueing System includes an eyepiece attachment that taps into the data relay and communications systems of the aircraft to project a color heads-up display. Pilots can then look out of their window, and the eyepiece will highlight friendly or enemy forces. The route of their training took them over the sky of Fulda, a village in central Germany known for its strategic location in the 1980s. The Fulda Gap was a route for a potential tank movement from Eastern Europe into the central Germany during the Cold War. NATO planners and coalition forces prepared defenses around the area in the case of an attack. The development of the A-10 as a close-air-support aircraft is in direct relation to anticipated enemy tank defenses along the route. When the tank movement never occurred and the Cold War ended, U.S. forces used the A-10 aircraft already stationed here for ground support in contingency operations worldwide.
"It's a difficult day, not for just the people in this squadron, but for anyone who's ever served with the 81st," said Lt. Col. Clinton Eichelberger, the 81st FS commander. "Since we've been here, the world has changed, and the Air Force has changed with it. Today marks the day when we move forward. The people and aircraft are moving on to other units where they will continue to serve in today's theater of operations." The aircraft are relocating to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., to help fulfill training requirements and force augmentation. The flight for the last four aircraft out of Germany is slated for May 17.