Krzysztof Kuska: Could you tell us a few words about your pilot career?
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: My first flight was in a DA-20 light aircraft as part of the Air Force’s Initial Flight Screening (IFS) program in Pueblo, CO in 2009. I then completed one year of Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus Air Force Base (AFB), flying T-6’s and T-38’s. Upon graduation in Feb 2010, I stayed in Columbus for Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) after getting assigned to fly the A-10C. This course is required for any pilots flying fighters and is completed in the T-38C. From there I went to Davis-Monthan AFB, to finally learn how to fly the mighty Hawg. I graduated the A-10C Formal Training Unit (FTU) in Feb 2011 and went to the 25th Fighter Squadron (FS) (Pilsung!) in Osan Air Base, South Korea. After a short 18 months, I found myself back at Davis-Monthan in the 354th FS, after joining them downrange to complete my first combat deployment.
Krzysztof Kuska: Was flying the A-10 always your first choice?
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: It was my first choice out of pilot training. Before UPT, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to fly. One of my flight commanders told me not to make my decision based on the plane but on the mission. Once I began researching the missions, the A-10C was an easy first choice with its primary mission being Close Air Support.
Krzysztof Kuska: Can you compare the flying characteristics of A-10 to other aircraft?
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: The first thing I noticed flying the A-10C was the tight turn radius. The last aircraft I flew, the T-38C, had a very wide turn radius compared to the A-10C. The A-10C can essentially „pylon-turn” around landmarks to aid in ground target acquisition.
Krzysztof Kuska: Can you tell us about the difficulties of a mission like close air support on a battlefield?
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: I would say the most challenging aspect is the dynamic nature of CAS. Pilots can give the best brief possible, but once in the area of operations circumstances could be completely different. We call the process of keeping up with changes „battle-field tracking” and this can give even the best pilots a very challenging sortie.
Krzysztof Kuska: The A-10 is constantly undergoing modifications which help it to fulfill its duty even now. Can you compare the older A-10 version with the recent ones? Is there a big difference for the pilot?
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: While not having actually flown the A-10A, I can say the major difference is in the avionics and weapons systems. It used to be a day/visual-flight-rules-only aircraft and did not have the capability for precision guided munitions. Today we can fly in the weather and launch weapons with great precision. But it has always had the gun, you can ask any other A-10C pilot and he’ll tell you that is his weapon of choice for most situations.
Krzysztof Kuska: The A-10 is definitively a game changer on the battlefield. It’s most powerful weapon is for sure the 30 mm canon. How does it feel to fire such a weapon? Can the pilot feel it inside the cockpit?
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: I can still remember the first time I shot the gun. Every A-10 pilot can. It shakes the entire plane, the heads-up-display (HUD) becomes unreadable and the smell of gun smoke fills the air. It’s a feeling of power, precision, and exhilaration combined.
Krzysztof Kuska: How many targets can one A-10 attack if all the stations are equipped with weapons?
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: It depends. There are so many factors involved, it’s difficult to say one number. A particular standard conventional load (SCL) of weapons could allow us to destroy 6 to 9 targets and a different one for a different mission might get us 12-15. Again, it’s very situation dependent.
Krzysztof Kuska: Would you exchange the A-10 for another aircraft?
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: Not by choice. It will be a sad day when the A-10C is retired and I can’t fly it anymore
Krzysztof Kuska: Thank you for the interview!
Kpt. Dustin „Skooby” Merritt: Thank you!