A-10 suffers engine failure over war zone lands at airport threatened by ISIS in Iraq

An A-10 pilot had to land his Thunderbolt at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt involved in a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, was forced to perform an emergency landing at Al Asaid Air Base, in central Iraq, west of Baghdad.

According to the information released by CENTCOM, one of the A-10’s engines suffered “catastrophic damage” during a “routine” aerial refueling operation. The official release did not say when the incident occurred.

The “catastrophic damage” fueled speculations that the engine might be hit by surface-to-air missiles or other kind of anti-aircraft weaponry (especially because the A-10s operate at low altitude and have already been targeted by MANPADS in Iraq) during the mission (and not during a refueling operation), however, according to Stars and Stripes, Col. Patrick Ryder, a CENTCOM spokesman, told reporters that the plane was not hit by enemy fire, and he downplayed the incident.

Ayn al-Asad Airbase, the Sunni western Province of Al Anbar, was one of the largest Iraqi airbases, and the second largest US military airbase in Iraq until the last Marines withdrew from the country and the installation was closed on Dec. 31, 2011. Since late October 2014, the airbase, that hosts several U.S. Marines and advisors for the local security forces, has frequently been under attack by Islamic State militants.

It took several days to the maintainers from 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron to fix the aircraft so that it could be flown out of the unsecure base.

The A-10 is famous for being exceptionally tough and able to survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles. Anyway, regardless to whether the aircraft suffers a hit from enemy ground fire or a catastrophic failure, there is always a risk when you fly over a war zone. In this case the pilot was lucky enough to have a nearby divert field where he successfully landed; on Dec. 24, Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot Muath Safi Yousef al-Kasasbeh was forced to eject from his F-16 over Syria as a consequence of a mechanical failure (according to official sources – ISIS claimed the plane was hit by a heat-seeking missile). He was captured (an attempt to free him failed) and burned to death by Islamic State militants in January 2015.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. A catastrophic eng failure does NOT suggest enemy fire, since it’s stated it was an aerial refueling operation…

    • Indeed. it is strange because the article looks written by A-10 detractors citing its vulnerability over the battlefield, speculating on something that simply did not happen. Anyway in the same situation the F-35 pilot would have been left no choice than eject… Single engine and no self sealing tanks… That plane is a flying box of matches.

  2. Probably a fuel slug at disconnect from the boom ingested into the engine. Big no no. And he probably was full of fuel which made him heavy and needing someplace nearby to go.

    There’s no way they are going to refuel in the vicinity of a SAM battery or in range of a MANPAD..

    • David C. got a little carried away with speculation. MANPADS do not have the performance to target aircraft flying at altitudes when re-fueling typically occurs.

  3. A small force of a few thousand troops would have stabilized the country. ISIS may have been a terrorist group, but they could not have taken and held ground. Don’t give me the garbage that Maliki would not agree to a status of forces agreement. Iraq was a conquered nation and the conquered do not get a say in who stays and who goes. Do not give me that garbage about protecting our troops. A rapid reaction force of a few thousands American troops could set up a base in the desert and protect themselves.

    • What a lovely fantasy land you live in! Seriously, ANY foreign conflict could be won in days versus years (and not even then) if we didn’t have politicians—and politically motivated generals—hamstringing the military with their silly ideas of winning the hearts and minds of the natives and minimizing casualties on both sides. Until they leave strategy to the military, you’re whistling Dixie.

  4. Several days does sound a bit more serious seeing how fast those guys can replace an engine… Sounds like one of those missions that never officially happened!

    • It landed on a divert airfield with no ground crews and spare parts available. So they had to bring those guys and parts to the contested airfield to get the A-10 repaired. That takes some time but has nothing to do with the severity of the damage.

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