Thursday, September 13, 2007

Last A-10 Leaves Barnes

Courtesy of JohnN and NEMilair and The Republican:


WESTFIELD - With little fanfare, an era ended yesterday [Wednesday] for the Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Municipal Airport.

After nearly 30 years of service, the last of the A-10 Thunderbolt attack jets, which were a mainstay in the skies over Western Massachusetts, departed for a new assignment in Arkansas.

"It is like losing a really good friend," said Lt. Col. Ian S. Gebow [aka JABBA, whom everyone thinks is JAVA (my comments)], the unit's flight supervisor and a pilot, as he watched the two jets prepare for departure.

"I felt a little sad during the last couple of my flights in the aircraft," he said, adding, "There is a little emotion with the departure by everyone at the base."

The last two of the unit's 15 A-10 aircraft departed the base at 10 a.m. for reassignment at Fort Smith, Ark. The aircraft first arrived for duty at Barnes in 1979.

Chief Master Sgt. Jack Major, aircraft maintenance superintendent, said maintenance crews will train on service techniques and requirements for the F-15 Eagle fighters now assigned to the Barnes unit during the next several months. "I have worked around the A-10 since 1984 and despite our new challenges, seeing the A-10 leave is bittersweet," Major said.

The F-15s, the first two of which arrived at Barnes over the weekend, bring a new mission for the 104th Fighter Wing, said Capt. Mary L. Harrington, public affairs officer.

"We are looking forward to that new mission. The 104th has a history of excellence and the people here want to move on," she said.

The 104th and the F-15 will become the primary air defense unit for the entire Northeast, a mission transferred to Western Massachusetts from Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod. The conversion was ordered by the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005.

A total of 18 F-15s will eventually be assigned to the 104th Fighter Wing. Two arrived from Otis on Saturday, and the rest will arrive in pairs at different times during the next few months, officials said. Most are coming from Otis, but some will come from as far away as Japan.

The departure yesterday also put an end to much of the flight operations by the 104th at Barnes for about three months.

Gebow said the unit is not expected to begin full flight operations with the new aircraft until January.

"In the meantime the primary duty here will be to train our ground crews in the maintenance of the F-15. It will be training for the next couple of months," he said.

One of the unit's pilots, Maj. Alex G. Haldopoulos, said the F-15 is faster, "designed for air superiority and defense. It is a find and shoot down aircraft and it will sit in alert status as the primary air defense of the Northeast."

The A-10 Thunderbolt was the first Air Force aircraft designed for close air support of ground forces and flies slower than the F-15. The F-15 Eagle is a tactical fighter designed to gain and maintain air supremacy. It is also equipped with advanced radar equipment.

The F-15 is the eighth type of aircraft flow by guard units at Barnes since the base opened in 1948. The first aircraft flown here were P-47 Thunderbolts, followed by the P-51 Mustang, F-94 Starfire, F-86H Sabrejet, F-84F Thunderstreak, F-100D Supersabre and the A-10.