Inside a Flyover: Selfridge ’Hogs Support Memorial Day Observances

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Michigan Air National Guard pilot 1st Lt. Brett DeVries will participate in about a dozen or so parades on Memorial Day. If you see him, be sure to wave.

He'll be the one driving the Warthog.

DeVries and other pilots and Airmen of the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base will be giving up part of their holiday time on Memorial Day, as A-10 attack aircraft from the base fly over about two dozen parades and community gatherings.

"You can easily see the people down along the parade route," DeVries said. "Being a person who grew up in this area, I look forward to being able to fly over our local communities and be part of Memorial Day right here at home."

DeVries is a pilot with the 107th Fighter Squadron, part of the 127th Wing at Selfridge. The squadron flies the distinctively shaped A-10 Thunderbolt II, more popularly known as the Warthog. The 'Hogs are specially designed for air-to-ground combat, a mission in high demand in today's world environment. They are the only aircraft currently in the U.S. Air Force inventory to carry the "A" designator, for "attack."

"I think people want to see the military on Memorial Day. It really is what it is all about," said 1st Lt. Russ Overton, another A-10 pilot at Selfridge.

According to Department of Defense policy, the military considers requests for flyovers of gatherings in honor of certain patriotic holidays, including Memorial Day, July 4 and Veterans Day. The policy is designed to encourage the advancement of aviation and contribute to the public knowledge of Armed Forces aviation equipment and capabilities.

DeVries, who works as the scheduling officer for the 107th, said Selfridge aircraft will be in the air for a couple of hours on Memorial Day. Maintenance and other support personnel will begin prepping the aircraft at least two hours prior to flight time and then spend another two hours or so with the aircraft after they land to "put them to bed." More than three dozen Airmen will be called in on what would normally be a holiday day off to perform the necessary duties to launch, fly and recover the aircraft. That's not counting those who would normally have to be on duty at the base, such as security personnel and others.

Memorial Day, marked this year on May 30, is a day set aside by Congressional decree to honor the service and sacrifice of men and women who have given their lives in service to the nation. The day has long been marked by parades and community gatherings to honor the fallen. Originally begun to honor those who died in the Civil War, Memorial Day was broadened after World War I to honor all of America's fallen war heroes. In the post-Civil War era, the day was known as Decoration Day and community groups would gather to tend to the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. Today that tradition continues at many cemeteries where small U.S. flags are placed at the graves of military veterans.

"Its all about the memory," said Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Kelly, who works as part of the 127th Maintenance Group at Selfridge. Airmen in his unit serve as crew chiefs, helping to prep the aircraft for flight, among numerous other tasks. "Once you allow people to forget, you can never recapture that memory of the sacrifice made by so many."

Devries said the fighter squadron at Selfridge gets more requests than it can accommodate for Memorial Day weekend. He said he uses a map and a list of all the requests to determine how the squadron can cover the maximum amount of parades in one trip.

"Then we figure we'll be flying at 300 knots and we determine approximately what time we will be where," he said. "We try to fly by within a window of 15 minutes or so before the parade start time and 30 minutes after the start time."

Military leaders at Selfridge pointed out that the Memorial Day flights are not extra flights added just for the holiday. Military budgets do not allow for "extras."

Depending on their status, all pilots in the fighter squadron are expected to fly 6-8 "sorties" or missions per month to maintain their proficiency in the cockpit. The Memorial Day flight is factored into that total.

Kelly said that all military aircraft are on a variety of maintenance inspection cycles, meaning his Airmen need to be watching a variety of schedules to plan which planes can fly on any given day and how the next flight will impact the timing of the next required schedule.

As an example, a major engine inspection on an A-10-which can take several days of total work time--needs to be completed after every 125 hours of flying time. Some smaller components require inspections as often as every 25 hours of flight time.

"So we need to look at the availability schedule of the aircraft, but we also need to look at the availability of people," he said. "Our Airmen are looking forward to a long weekend just as much as everyone else."

Though it can carry a variety of missiles, rockets and bombs, the A-10's most notable feature is its 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun, around which the entire aircraft is designed. Designed specifically as an anti-tank weapon, the gun is among the largest, heaviest and most powerful aircraft cannons in the history of the U.S. military.

In addition to the A-10s, the 127th Wing also includes a squadron that flies KC-135 Stratotankers. These big refuelers, a military version of Boeing 707 aircraft, generally don't perform such flyovers. The tankers, along with the A-10s and Selfridge-based helicopters flown by the Army, Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security, all will be on display during the 2011 Selfridge Air Show and Open House, a free event scheduled for Aug. 20-21 at the base.

So far this year, some 200 members of the Selfridge-based air wing have deployed in support of a variety of military operations around the world in more than a dozen different countries.