Soul of the Skyraider

A U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation pilot describes what it’s like to fly three generations of ground attack aircraft.

(Courtesy Greg Anders)

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Did you inherit flying skills?

There’s an old fighter pilot saying, “If you don’t know who the best pilot in the room is, it isn’t you.” I don’t consider myself a truly natural pilot. I was teaching in the F-15E for several years, and I consider myself to be a very good pilot, but I’m a pilot who had to learn to be a good pilot. And I’ve met some natural pilots who were just unbelievable—people who came from non-flying backgrounds who were virtuosos as soon as they touched the airframe. I am not one of those people. I have to practice and learn.  I’m good, but I have to keep training and respect the fact that I can always learn how to fly better.

How did you get to be a warbird pilot flying at airshows?

I was very privileged to fly in the Air Force for 23 years. And in those 23 years, I had the opportunity to come off the bench during one of our big games and play on the field—Operation Iraqi Freedom. No one really wants to go to war, but at the same time, you don’t want to be on the team and not get a chance to participate. I was honored to have had the opportunity to be in combat and to be able to serve my country in that way.

I started flying warbirds in the late 1990s, after I had flown in combat. My dad started the Heritage Flight Museum, and my brother and I basically run it. To be able to fly the predecessors to the airplanes I was flying [in the Air Force] at the time brought a lot of depth to my appreciation of the warbirds. And it helped me realize how important it is that we keep them flying so that later generations can understand the commitments and sacrifices made by those people who flew warbirds in combat to protect our freedom.

Do you feel a connection between the A-1 and the A-10?

The A-1 was designed when we thought we could design one airplane for both the Navy and the Air Force. And in fact I think it was a very successful dual-service aircraft. We tried to do something similar with the F-111, and that wasn’t very successful. It was a great Air Force airframe. But the Skyraider was a true multi-service airframe.  And flying the Skyraider—you feel the soul of an A-10 when you’re flying a Skyraider. You’re flying the same thing, just different technologies.

What about the airplanes are similar?

The fact that you have this big fat, straight wing on both airplanes really is a good place to start. The A-10 has better metallurgy and better motors, and that allows you to make the airframe skinnier and smaller, but you essentially have almost exactly the same wing.  By the way, with the velocity of the A-10, rather than putting the guns in the wings, you put one big gun in the nose. And really that’s the only difference. When I fly the Skyraider, it’s amazing how the feel of the cockpit—just in terms of the switches and gauges—were almost identical. 

I flew the A-10 first. So when I had the opportunity to fly the Skyraider, basically I knew I was flying the same bloodline. So you asked if my bloodline contained the skills of a pilot. It’s a little hard to tell, and I think, yes, to a certain degree. But I guarantee the bloodline of the A-1 Skyraider runs deep through the A-10. When I got to fly the A-1 Skyraider in a Heritage Flight with the A-10, I focused on the task, but there was a little part of me the whole time that kept thinking, I’m flying an A-1 with an A-10 right now! This is history!

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