127th Wing begins Thunderbolt training Published Feb. 12, 2009 By TSgt Dan Heaton 127th Public Affairs 02/12/2009 -- In an enclosed hangar on a snowy and cold Michigan winter day, seven camouflaged men struggled to feed the dragon. Standing on a platform, voices raised to be heard over a portable heater unit running at full tilt against the cold, the men reached and pulled and loaded - and learned - to feed the dragon. The "dragon" is an ALA or Ammunition Loading Adapter, and it is the piece of equipment that allows Air Force munitions crews to feed the roughly 1100 rounds of 30 mm ammunition the A-10 carries for its distinctive seven-barrel Gatling gun. "The gun is the biggest challenge," said Master Sgt. James Thomson, a member of the load standardization crew for the 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) munitions unit, a part of the Michigan Air National Guard at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. "Loading missiles and munitions on the wing is similar on the A-10 to the F-16, but the A-10's gun is a new experience for our guys." The 127th Wing is in the middle of transitioning from flying F-16 Fighting Falcons to becoming one of the Air Force's newest A-10 units. As part of the transition, the 366 personnel who make up the wing's maintenance squadron are getting initial qualification training in all aspects of the A-10. The Wing's last F-16 departed in the closing days of 2008. "We've had a number of people who are really stepping up, anxious to get their qualifications done and to be ready to answer the call with the new aircraft," said Chief Master Sgt. Henry Ryan, superintendent of the maintenance squadron. On Jan. 14, a field training team (FTT) of 22 active duty personnel from A-10 squadrons around the Air Force arrived at Selfridge to begin training the Guardsmen and women in the specialized skills and tasks required to maintain the A-10. In addition, the 127th sent a cadre of avionics technicians and munitions specialists to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona to earn initial qualifications on the A-10 and its related equipment, such as the dragon. The FTT will stay at Selfridge through April 28. Following the FTT's departure, Chief Ryan said nine Airmen from active A-10 units will spend six month on a temporary assignment at Selfridge to ensure that qualification standards are met. Seven of the A-10s are now on temporary loan at Selfridge, until the 127th is ready to officially take ownership of the aircraft in late April. The aircraft at Selfridge now are being used as to get the maintainers fully qualified. Meanwhile, pilots from the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge are rotating through flying tours at a Maryland Air National Guard unit near Baltimore, which also flies the A-10. Pilots and crews from Maryland, Arkansas and Idaho are working together at various locations to ensure that the pilots are checked out in the attack aircraft and keep at the highest levels of readiness during the transition, said Col. David Augustine, vice wing commander for the 127th Wing. "Active duty and Air National Guard personnel and aircraft are working together to ensure that this transition is done as smoothly as possible," Augustine said. "This is what the American people expect of us, that we are given an assignment and we carry it out efficiently." For traditional Guard members of the 127th - those who generally perform two days of duty one weekend per month - the Wing's February Unit Training Assembly provided the first opportunity to actually begin to work with the A-10. Such was the case for four 127th Airmen who were undergoing familiarization training on the system that communicates the commands from the aircraft to the weapon system. Working with FTT instructor Staff Sgt. Brent Williams, who is normally assigned to Detachment 13 at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the 127th personnel walked through the basic steps required to test the system. With Technical Sgt. Rena Jackman, 127th AMXS, in the cockpit montitoring system readouts, Technical Sgt. Jon Huerta, and Senior Airmen Jeremy Wesley and Otto Kelly ran through the checklist. "This is the first time we have ever done this on this aircraft," said Huerta. "We have to learn the new systems and have a qualified FTT person to sign us off on them." Ryan said he's pleased with the progress made so far by the maintenance group. "Now that we've been able to have some A-10s here and have been able to get the panels off and really get into the aircraft, we've been able to move into high gear with our training," Ryan said. "We're all looking to that next big milestone, taking formal ownership of the aircraft and launching our first official flight in May."