DAVIS MONTHAN, AFB (KGUN9-TV) - It takes just six months to turn a young Air Force pilot into an A-10 pilot---someone able to handle the formidable flying gun in the deadly split-second business of protecting troops on the ground.
Davis-Monthan is the center of A-10 training. Pilots take their first flight in the train here, and finish training ready to fly into battle.
First Lieutenant Christopher Brian is suiting up for a day of learning to fly the A-10.
He gets a quick briefing on conditions where he will fly.
And heads out to his plane where a maintainer greets him with a salute.
His plane has eyes, teeth and tusks painted on the nose. It’s a celebration of the A-10's nickname: The Warthog, or just the Hog---ugly, and fierce.
Before long, this plane could be flying Lieutenant Brian 400 miles an hour just a few feet of the ground so he does a thorough inspection with the help of the A-10's maintainer.
Most pilots make their first flight in a new plane with an instructor on board. But the A-10 has no two-seat version.
That's where their earlier pilot training, and the simulator come in.
We found Second Lieutenant Tanner Rindels flying a simulated A-10 over a sharp simulation of Tucson.
He gave us a quick tour: "Right now we just made a right turn. Speedway is basically right under the nose there."
Soon the world turns sideways as he turns hard towards a simulated target and fires the giant gun the A-10 was built around.
It's a safe, cost efficient way to get comfortable with the moves the A-10 will make in real life.
Lieutenant Rindels says after his training in other planes, the A-10 is easy to fly---and flying it is a dream he's had since he was a kid.
"When you're taking off and you look behind you and see two big engines, and you smell, it's like wow, I've waited my whole life for this moment so it's really cool."
Another big moment is firing the biggest gun in any fighter.
“The first time you fire it, it's kind of surreal. You're not sure what just happened. Everything shakes, there's a lot of smoke and you have a big giant smile on your face that probably nobody else can see."
The challenge of getting new A-10 pilots competent with the plane, then ready to put bombs and bullets on the enemy without hurting good guys nearby falls to Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Smiley.
He says, "We get them to the point where they can go out on any kind of mission that the A-10 is tasked to do worldwide and execute it properly."
There's a captured Iraqi tank in front of the 355th Training Squadron Headquarters.
Colonel Smiley says it's a reminder the A-10 and it's powerful gun were built for killing tanks.
He says, “Just one API (Armor Piercing Incendiary) round is all it takes to take out one of these targets. Now the A-10 was designed to strike one of these but it’s gone through all kinds of modifications to make it modernized and able to be integrated on the modern battlefield."
Simulators help the pilots learn to fly the A-10s while they manage complex sensors and weapons.
In combat they'll do all that close to the ground where a miscalculation can hit good guys instead of bad.
Colonel Smiley knows what it’s like: “There is a lot of stuff going on and they only have about three seconds while they're on final to make life or death decisions that are gonna impact the friendlies and the enemies who is gonna live or die in that situation."
Second Lieutenant Tanner Rindels is learning the perfection required when you fly low, slow and close.
“Being low to the ground takes extreme focus. Your reaction has to be fast. There's not a lot of time for mistakes. If you make a mistake you have to be quick to fix it or the ground's right there to make sure."
But Colonel Smiley says his students start their A-10 training sharp, and finish it sharper.
"We send them out combat mission ready after just six months of training and the feedback that I get from the rest of the Air Force is that these guys are ready on day one to go out and execute."