COLUMBIA — The U.S. Air Force A-10 West Thunderbolt Demonstration Team is back for another year of impressive aerial performances, and this year, they’ll be accompanied by a rare World War II P-51 Mustang.
The 11 members of the Thunderbolt Demo Team will be showcasing one of their A-10 fighter jets to the public in 25-minute shows Saturday and Sunday afternoon. During the last 10 minutes of each show, the P-51 Mustang will fly alongside the modern A-10.
“It shows the audience 60 years of technological advances — from WWII until today,” said Alan Henley, the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team pilot chosen to fly the Mustang.
During combat, the A-10 pilot is at the command of the ground forces, said Capt. Paul Brown, Air Combat Command’s A-10 West Coast Demonstration Team pilot and officer in charge of the A-10 Demonstration Team. According to Brown, the guys on the ground give the orders, and the A-10 goes as high or low as it needs to in order to complete the mission, marking one of its unique qualities.
The A-10 was the first aircraft designed for both high- and low-speed maneuvering and close air support of ground forces. It is also capable of hitting ground targets such as tanks and armored vehicles. In the demonstration, the combination of high- and low-speed maneuvering, rapid rolls, maximum performance climbs and descents vividly illustrates the jet’s capabilities.
“The demonstration of the A-10 displays the capabilities of what’s done in Iraq and Afghanistan with the (A-10) jet,” Brown said.
This is Henley’s first time flying the P-51 Mustang for the Thunderbolt Demo Team. But he’s no stranger to flying planes, including the P-51 Mustang.
“I’m one of the few heritage pilots that has a civilian background,” Henley said. “I have an extensive background with flying vintage planes since 1983.”
The P-51 Mustang, nicknamed “Skat VI,” is painted silver to commemorate Gen. Robin Olds, who flew a P-51 Mustang with the same name during WWII.
The demo team, based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, also travels around the country speaking to schools, hospitals and other institutions about the Air Force and various topics regarding the U.S. military. The team does 30 shows a year, spending three weeks out of every month on the road between February and November.