Warthogs Make Final Takeoff From Pope Air Base
Another piece of Pope Air Force Base's history flew away Wednesday when the final three A-10 fighter jets stationed at the base took off for the last time.
The A-10s, also known as "Warthogs," have been stationed at Pope since 1992. The jets fly low over battlefields to help soldiers and Marines on the ground.
"It's the best at doing it. It can withstand much battle damage and still do the mission. So, you can put it through a lot of tests, and it can still be there," Air Force Staff Sgt. Derrick Dodd said.
All of the F-16 fighter jets that also had been based at Pope were moved to other bases a decade ago, making the Warthogs the only remaining fighters at the base.
The only aircraft still at Pope is a fleet of C-130 cargo planes.
The A-10s are being moved to Moody Air Force Base, in Valdosta, Ga., as part of the military's Base Realignment and Closure process. About 1,000 Air Force members and their families will leave the Cumberland County area by 2011, when the Army will take control of the base to align it more closely to the needs of neighboring Fort Bragg.
"It's bittersweet ... that we say goodbye to Pope and a lot of history, a lot of deployments, a lot of hard work, a lot of exercises (and) a lot of day-to-day stuff that no one sees," Air Force Col. Russell Myers said at a farewell ceremony Wednesday morning.
The 23rd Fighter Group, which flies and maintains the A-10s, still carries the Fighting Tigers name from World War II, and the jets continue to have the group's trademark bared teeth and fangs painted on their noses.
"Eighty percent of the time, you won't see this in the press because it's a little ugly," Myers said of the jet's somewhat lumpy design.
After the farewell ceremony, Myers and two other pilots climbed into the cockpits of the three A-10s remaining on the base, gave a thumbs up signal as the jet engines roared and paraded the craft past saluting airmen gathered along taxiways before taking off for good.
"We spent a lot of time together as pilot and crew chief," Dodd said. "To launch it and send it off, it's kind of hard."
He will eventually follow Myers to Moody AFB.
"You've still got the Army here to take care of the community here, so it should be all good," he said.