A-10s bomb, rattle ground at Avon Park bombing range

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Elisabeth A. Matulewicz
  • 111th Fighter Wing
A caravan of 111th FW personnel left the Tampa area on Feb. 23 headed for Avon Park Air Force Range, Fla. to experience an A-10 training mission. They drove interstate to local highway, past palm trees and cattle, covering over 100 miles. Once they arrived, they scaled several metal staircases up to an observation tower. The A-10s roared in one by one dropping practice bombs called BDU-33s onto ground targets.

The airmen were part of approximately 160 guardsmen from the 111th Fighter Wing, Pa., Air National Guard, who deployed for training to Mac Dill Air Force Base, Fla. from
Feb. 17-27.

Several screaming passes later, the A-10s came in lower and fired their 30-mm GAU-8/A cannons. Each aircraft burst plumes of smoke before emitting a roar reminiscent of a loud zipper pull. Sunny, blue skies set the backdrop for a perfect live firing for pilots and audience alike.

Watching the A-10s descend towards each target, take aim and rock the sky was breathtaking--especially for a brother-sister team with the 111th Maintenance Sq. Munitions section.

"Seeing what we make being used here is interesting," said Senior Airman Aaron M. Thieroff. On a typical day, Airman Thieroff and his team pack fuses and safe aiming devices into shells before loading them 40 to a trailer. The munitions are delivered to the armament section and loaded onto the aircraft. "I think it's awesome," Senior Airman Ashley B. Thieroff added.

For several first-timers (including myself), seeing the A-10s in action broke a few misconceptions. 

"I always wanted to see how they did it," said Tech. Sgt. Byron S. Lockett, 111th Logistics Readiness Sq. "I thought they'd be over the target when they let the bombs go. But when they come in, they're several hundred yards away."

An added bonus was having Col. Paul W. Comtois, 111th FW Commander, there to talk us through what we saw. We were very lucky to have him explain everything from a pilot's point of view and educate everyone on the A-10.

The following pilots made up the 4-member team that flew that day: Lt. Col. Niclas Szoke, Lt. Col. Scott Hreso, Col. Jim Blaydon, and Lt. Col. Gary Beard.

Avon Park Air Force Range is located in Polk and Highland counties, Fla. and covers over 106,000 acres, of which 82,000 is open to the public for recreation. Surprisingly, the range is home to a number of endangered species of birds and reptiles. According to Range Control Officer Chris Spears, Avon Park is the largest bombing range east of the Mississippi; Nellis being the largest in the country.