Pilot Recalls Harrowing Mission
(March 24, 2010)
Then-Air Force Capt. Kim Campbell surveys the battle damage to her A-10 Thunderbolt II at a base in Southwest Asia in April 2003. Campbell's A-10 was hit over Baghdad during a close-air support mission while she was deployed with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. Courtesy photo
||DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz., March 19, 2010 – An
A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot recalled a harrowing mission she
flew in Iraq for an audience at the Women's History Month
luncheon here March 15.
Air Force Maj. Kim Campbell told the story of a close-air
support mission she and her flight lead flew over Baghdad on
April 7, 2003.
"We were originally tasked to target some Iraqi tanks and
vehicles in the city that were acting as a command post,”
she said, “but on the way to the target area we received a
call from the ground [forward air controller], saying they
were taking fire and needed immediate assistance."
The Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, jet-propelled,
air-to-ground-support aircraft. Campbell was accompanied on
her mission by another Thunderbolt jockeyed by the flight
lead pilot, whose job is to get the aircraft to the target
and then decide the appropriate tactics and weaponry to
employ against the enemy.
Once over the target area, Campbell and her flight lead
descended below the clouds to positively identify the
friendly troops and the enemy's location.
"We could see the Iraqi troops firing [rocket propelled
grenades] into our guys," she said. "It was definitely a
high-threat situation, but within minutes my flight lead was
employing his 30 mm Gatling gun on the enemy location."
The two-plane formation of A-10s then made several passes
over the enemy location, employing 30 mm rounds and
"Yes, there was risk involved, but these guys on
the ground needed our help," Campbell said.
"It's what any A-10 attack pilot would do in
response to a troops-in-contact situation.
That's our job -- to bring fire
down on the enemy when our Army and Marine brothers and sisters request our
After her last rocket pass, Campbell was maneuvering off
target when she felt and heard a large explosion at the back
of the aircraft. |
"There was no question in my mind," she said. "I knew I had
been hit by enemy fire."
The jet rolled violently left and pointed at Baghdad, and it
wasn't responding to Campbell's control inputs. This, she
said, is when her flight training kicked in and she was able
to react quickly.
After realizing both of her hydraulics systems were
impaired, Campbell said, she had to put the jet into manual
reversion, a system of cranks and cables that allow the
pilot to fly the aircraft under mechanical control.
"It was my last chance to try and recover the aircraft or I
would be riding a parachute down into central Baghdad," she
The jet responded and started climbing out and away from
The two aircraft maneuvered south to get out of the city.
Anti-aircraft artillery fired at the jets from every
"I couldn't do much to keep the jet moving, so I was hoping
that the theory of 'big sky, little bullet' would work in my
favor," she said. "Amazingly, we made it out of Baghdad and
above the clouds with no further battle damage."
Due to the design of the A-10, Campbell said, she couldn't
see the damage to her jet. Her flight lead flew closely
beside her and performed an initial battle damage check. He
told her she had hundreds of small holes in the fuselage and
tail section on the right side, as well as a football-sized
hole on the right horizontal stabilizer. Campbell said she
then ran several emergency checklists and knew she had a
decision to make.
"I could stay with the jet and try to land it or get to
friendly territory and eject," she said.
With several positive factors on her side at that moment,
such as the jet responding well and an experienced flight
lead on her wing providing support, Campbell said, she was
confident she could get the jet back safely to her base,
nearly an hour away by flight.
As she approached the base, the crash recovery team was
waiting for her, along with rescue helicopters in case she
had to eject. She was able to safely land the jet and stop
it, using the emergency procedure for alternate breaking.
"I was impressed," said Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Millen,
chief of the 355th Fighter Wing Commander's Action Group
here and an A-10 pilot. "Kim landed that jet with no
hydraulics better than I land the A-10 every day with all
systems operational." At the time of this incident, Millen
was the chief of safety for the 332nd Air Expeditionary
After she landed, Campbell said, her jet became the center
of attention, as everyone was eager to see the damage.
"Both of my crew chiefs did tremendous work on that jet, and
it performed better than I ever could have expected,"
Campbell said. "We put an incredible amount of trust in
these guys, and they do great work."
As part of her presentation, Campbell -- a 1997 Air Force
Academy graduate -- showed photographs of the damage.
"I am incredibly thankful to those who designed and built
the A-10, as well as the maintainers who did their part to
make sure that jet could fly under any circumstances, even
after extensive battle damage," she said.
The next day, Campbell said, she returned to flying,
supporting a search-and-rescue mission for a downed A-10
pilot near Baghdad.
"I never really had time to think about the fact that I was
going back to Baghdad, where just the day before I had
escaped a possible shootdown," she said. "In my mind, the
only thing that I could think about was that I had a job to
do. I knew that the search-and-rescue alert crews were there
for me the day before, and I was going to do the same for
Campbell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. A
year-and-a-half later, she deployed again, this time in
support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. She
has amassed 375 combat hours during her career.
"Major Campbell's story was nothing short of phenomenal,"
said Air Force 2nd Lt. Sandy Spoon, chief of force
management operations for the 355th Force Support Squadron
here. "It provided everyone, not just females, a small
glimpse of the sheer awesomeness the A-10 provides at the
warfront. Major Campbell also drove home the realization
that everything we are able to do is because someone else
has done his or her job right.
"From a female perspective, I found myself walking away from
the presentation extremely empowered, not only from her
words, but from her actions amidst extreme adversity," Spoon
continued. "As a woman, I have always felt I needed to work
that much harder to make my mark, and it makes me proud to
know that if there was ever a mark to be made, Major
Campbell is living proof."
By USAF Capt. Stacie N. Shafran|
American Forces Press Service
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| Distinguished Flying Cross Recipients |