The 357th Fighter Squadron, the ‘Dragons’, assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., is the only active-duty training squadron for the A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots.
“Instructors at the 357th FS mold the next generation of fighter pilots,” said Capt. Joel Russo, 357th FS instructor pilot. “Following their training here, they will join the Combat Air Force as combat-ready attack pilots who need to be able to provide the necessary airpower to attack enemies and support friendlies anytime, anywhere.”
The squadron trains pilots in battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as how to plan, coordinate, execute and control day and night close air support.
“The purpose of the 357th Fighter Squadron is to build combat-ready attack pilots, ready to support the demands of any combatant commander across the globe,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Liabenow, 357th FS commander. “In addition to producing new A-10 pilots, we also train new instructor pilots and re-qualify A-10 pilots that have spent time away from the aircraft in non-flying positions.”
The Dragons conduct all formal course-directed classroom material, weapons and tactical employment, air refueling and dissimilar air combat maneuvers.
“In six months, we take a newly minted pilot and turn them into a combat capable wingman, ready to deploy,” said Liabenow. “While I’m extremely proud of the skill sets that our new combat aviators learn, I’m more proud of the culture that we instill in each of our students. They learn to be aggressive, decisive and, most importantly, respectful of our sacred mission to support our brothers and sisters in arms.”
As the only A-10 training base in the Air Force, active duty and reserve training squadrons at DM train every A-10 pilot. On average, approximately 70 total-force pilots qualify annually.
“It takes a lot of hands to put multiple training missions up every day from maintenance to munitions to logistics to range management – these sorties would not happen without them,” said Russo. “We are very appreciative of all the work that is put in consistently day after day.”
With these efforts, pilots can continually train for the high-end fight and are forging an unmatched and unprecedented level of readiness across the fleet.