357th FS, 22nd STS team up for austere landings

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U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Betty R. Chevalier

FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Four A-10C Thunderbolt II pilots from the 357th Fighter Squadron flew to the National Training Center range at Fort Irwin, California to conduct austere landing training, Sept. 22, while the unit was participating in Green Flag-West 15-10.


The training involved the landing of A-10s on the unimproved surface of Bicycle Lake Army Airfield’s dry lake bed with the help and direction of a combat control team from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.


“The purpose of conducting austere landing training is to practice and demonstrate the capability to launch and recover aircraft and conduct operations at a forward deployed location and on a surface that was not designed or maintained to bear the loads and weights of a heavily armed aircraft,” said Maj. Mark Malan, 357th Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot. “This capability can be vital to combat and contingency operations at locations and environments where U.S. and coalition forces have a very limited footprint.”


In the U.S. Air Force aircraft inventory, there are many aircraft with the capability to land on austere runways, including the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules and rotary aircraft. The A-10 is the only fighter-type aircraft with this ability.


“The A-10 was specifically designed with a more robust landing gear system to handle the stress of take-offs and landings on an unimproved surface and high-mounted wings above the fuselage to prevent damage from foreign objects and debris that may be laying on the runway and taxi surfaces,” Malan said.


The 22nd STS assisted with the landings by performing air traffic control, surveying the area and testing the density of the ground to ensure the aircraft could land safely. Due to safety concerns with the landing strip on the first day of training, the CCT wasn’t able to permit the A-10s to land on or take off from the airfield until next day.


At the end of the training, the aircraft had successfully landed and took- off from the dirt runway with the guidance of the CCT, ultimately qualifying three pilots in austere landing.


“This task demonstrated that we maintain a unique capability to operate and integrate in a forward-deployed austere location and that this increases our ability to coordinate and work in close proximity to the U.S. Army and their coalition counterparts,” Malan said. “The ability to operate out of an austere location allows us to extend the range and reach of our combat capability, access additional target sets and provide extended long-range support to other assets involved in contingency operations.”


Although the rare training was not part of Green Flag-West, the 357th FS took advantage of resources already in the area and coordinated the operations with Fort Irwin and the 22nd STS.


“A-10 pilots do not normally conduct this type of training,” Malan said. “I’ve only done it twice in the 17 years I’ve been flying the A-10 and I know most A-10 pilots have never done it. We try to take advantage of every opportunity to get additional pilots qualified and increase the experience of those pilots that are already qualified.”


Green Flag West is an advanced, realistic and relevant air-to-surface training exercise, preparing joint and coalition warfighters to meet combatant commander requirements across air, space and cyberspace. It is a joint exercise administered by the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center and Nellis AFB, Nevada through the 549th Combat Training Squadron.