When we were young my father occasionally drove the family over to the Naval Air Station (NAS) Willow Grove observation lot to watch takeoffs and landings near the southern end of the air station’s runway. It was treat for us, especially my brother and I, when we were visiting family in the area (Warminster, Lansdale) or out for a summer drive.
Long after I started a family of my own, we moved to Horsham and a house coincidentally less than a mile from that now closed airbase and the observation parking lot we loved to frequent. Personally, as a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy involved in the logistical support of everything the Navy flew (and eventually floated), I enjoyed the sight of military aircraft flying lazy circles over the area and loved the all too infrequent airshow demonstrations.
By far my favorite aircraft to watch – and hear – was the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolts II flown by the Pennsylvania Air National Guard 111th Fighter Wing. The unique sounds of an A-10 flying close by – and at times in multi-aircraft flights right over the house – were always a thrill. (Affectionately known as the “Warthog”, I will use this favored nickname from here on out!)
But as with all things, change occurred with the Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) recommendations from the U.S. Congress in 2005. And since then the 111th lost its Warthogs to a collection of other ANG units around the country, and became a non-flying unit assigned the MQ–9 Reaper Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV).
So as an homage to local Air National Guard, the A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthog”, and Horsham’s NAS-JRB Willow Grove history, I decided to dedicate my most recent aircraft model project to this stalwart, fear-inducing close air support warrior. I found the aircraft model featured prominently at Hobby Lobby with a 40% sales reduction!
History of the 111th Fighter Wing
Created as the 103rd Fighter Squadron in 1924, the squadron was assigned to the Pennsylvania ANG in 1946, stationed at Philadelphia International Airport; and federalized in 1950 during the Korean War.
As the 103rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium) the unit lost 2 RB-29 reconnaissance aircraft and their crews in June 1952 when MiG-15s shot them down over Vladisvostok, Russia. The loses were originally attributed to “weather reconnaissance” over Japan in the heat of the Cold War, and it wasn’t until 1993 that the true nature of the mission was revealed to the families of the lost.
In 1963 the 111th Tactical Air Support Group was moved from PHL to brand new facilities at Willow Grove Naval Air Station, tasked as a C-97 transportation unit. In 1988 the group received the OA-10A observation version and assigned Forward Air Control (FAC) and observation duties. They received their first universal version A-10A aircraft in 1996 with an appropriate re-tasking to Close Air Support (CAS) and Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) duties.
Redesignated as the 111th Fighter Group (1992), then the 111th Fighter Wing (1995) the unit took advantage of its new mission and aircraft during deployments to Kuwait for Operation Desert Storm (1992) and Operation Southern Watch (1995). After the 9/11 attacks the group volunteered for additional deployments including Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan. In 2003 the 111th took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom, providing close air support for U.S. Army, Special Forces, and joint coalition operations.
Bye, Bye to “Warthogs” in our skies
The end came quickly for the fighter pilot mission of the 111th when the Department of Defense (DoD) recommended deactivation of the 111th Fighter Wing for the 2005 Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) legislation (the same legislative measure that resulted in the closure of Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove).
The last A-10A Warthog flew out of NAS-JRB Willow Grove in 2010. In 2011 NAS-JRB Willow Grove ceased all flight operations. The respected, always welcomed A-10A Warthog flyovers of Horsham and neighboring communities are no more. The 111th’s “Warthogs” divvied up among several remaining Air National Guard units.
A portion of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove property was designated the Horsham Air Guard Station in 2011. In 2013 the 111th Fighter Wing was assigned General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The military drone is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high altitude observation. The UAVs are flown remotely out of the Horsham Air Guard Station, but no drones actively fly out of the now-closed U.S. Navy property.