Capt. Lindsay “Mad” Johnson has more than 1,300 flying hours.
Her aircraft of choice?
While air shows typically focus on the sleek F-16 or futuristic F-22, Johnson’s steed is slower, uglier and legendary. She commands the Air Force’s A-10 Demo Team and is set to perform tonight and Sunday at the Wings over Batavia Air Show.
“We’re coming here from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Ariz,” Johnson said Thursday after flying one of two A-10s to Genesee County Airport. “We’re going to go out and do our demonstration, so for anybody who’s going to come out … When I take off, you’ll get to see a whole bunch of different stuff when I start flying — how fast the A-10 can go, how slow it can go, a little bit of aerobatics, and then I’ll do a simulated bomb and strafe run.”
The A-10 has become an aviation legend over its decades of service. Although people might think of Air Force jets in terms of sheer speed, the twin-engine jet takes a different approach.
Originally designed to destroy tanks and assist friendly troops in the event of World War III, the A-10 is formally known as the Thunderbolt II and popularly called “the Warthog.” It’s a heavily-armored aircraft built around a Gatling cannon as big and heavy as a Volkswagen Beetle.
It may not be as fast as other jets, but the A-10 is highly maneuverable and damage-resistant. It can fly with an engine shot off, part of its wings or tail missing, and its hydraulic system disabled — a toughness few, if any, other aircraft can match.
The A-10 has been in service since the 1970s and has become well-known for its support of U.S. troops. It’s a big part of why Johnson, 31, flies the aircraft.
“My dad’s a retired Army officer and my brother’s in the Army reserves as well,” she said. “I learned about the A-10 when I was younger. Its close air support role and how much they protect the men and women on the ground was near and dear to me, and I really wanted to be flying an airplane that it’s main mission is close air support.”
Johnson has been flying for eight years and has flown the A-10 for more than six years. Her duties have included 431 combat hours in Afghanistan.
Besides Johnson, the demonstration team includes another pilot, a safety and ground personnel who will perform a ground demonstration as part of the show.
It’s different than what people might see with a display such as the Air Force’s Thunderbirds aerobatics team. Johnson and her aircraft can show its low-level agility.
“It’s not as loud, a little bit slower, but we kind of do a bit of different stuff,” Johnson said. “We keep ourselves a lot closer (to the crowd) just because the airplane’s a lot slower in general.
“ … You’ll see a level 360 from us during the demonstration,” she said. “You’ll see how tight the turn radius is on the A-10. It’s pretty crazy to be honest. I’ll lose about 100 knots of airspeed during the turn, a full 360.”
Beyond her flying duties, Johnson’s also the A-10 Demo Team’s first female member.
“The thing that I always say, and I’ve heard from people before me, is the airplane never knows if it’s a female or male flying, which is awesome,” she said. “As long as I’m putting in the right inputs, that’s all that matters.
“I put on the helmet, nobody will know the difference too, but it is really cool and inspiring to see, when we go to shows, young women, young girls, even older women that come up to me and say, ‘It’s really inspiring to see you doing a role that I wish I could have done when I was younger and the opportunity wasn’t there.’” she continued. “To be able to carry on what they carried on their shoulders, and to be able to continue that legacy is really awesome for me.”
Two A-10s are present for Wings Over Batavia.
One’s dubbed “The Memphis Belle III” and has a special commemorative paint scheme paying tribute to F-105 tactical fighter pilots who died or were captured in the Vietnam War. The other’s a standard A-10 painted haze gray to blend with the sky.
Gates open at 2 p.m. today and Sunday for the air show, with flying starting at 5 p.m. Each show will continue to 9 p.m.