Meet the longest-serving A-10 pilot in US Air Force history
When Lt. Col. John “Karl” Marks took off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, earlier this month, it wasn’t just another training sortie – it was a record-breaking flight that took him off. would firmly establish itself as the most experienced A. 10 attack aircraft pilot in history.
During the sortie, Marks, 57, achieved 7,000 flight hours in the A-10C Thunderbolt II in his 32-year flying career, more than any other A-10 pilot. In perspective, 7,000 hours is like spending a little over 9.5 months in a row in the cockpit. The highest Air Force pilot qualification, command pilot, is earned after 3,000 total hours and 15 years as a qualified pilot, which Marks has completed more than twice. You’d think someone might be fed up with all this time behind the stick, but not Marks.
“I love flying the A-10,” he said in a recent Air Force press release. “Even after 32 years, he hasn’t aged. Technology has changed over time and the threats from our adversaries have changed as well. You cannot sit still. You have to adapt and improve. ”
Not only does he have a large amount of flight time in his logbooks, but Marks also has high quality time. Its combat action during the Gulf War in 1991 is one of the reasons why the A-10, also known as Warthog, is the most popular close air support platform in the American arsenal. On February 25, 1991, the second day of the ground war, he and his wingman, Captain Eric “Fish” Salomonson, set a record after destroying 23 Iraqi tanks in one day over three missions.
“We got a bunch of slaps on the back when we got back which was great because we weren’t even expecting all of that,” Marks told reporters when he and Salomonson were asked about their death toll in 1991. It was also a blast for the team leaders who maintain the jets, each having a scoreboard for the number of kills their jets scored.
“They were all pretty happy with it,” Marks said.
Back then, Marks was a modest lieutenant with only about 750 hours in the A-10, about a tenth of the total he has now. But the Gulf War was far from the end of Marks’ 1,150 hours of fighting. In 2014 he used “all skills [he] never learned as an A-10 pilot “to help a coalition unit get out” from an intense situation of troops in contact where they were almost surrounded by Taliban fighters “in the Kunar Valley in Afghanistan, did he declare. In 2018, he and Brad “Roadie” Jones also killed an entire force of elite Taliban “Red Unit” fighters overnight. With a record like this, Marks’ colleagues had a hard time describing how much of a ball player Marks is behind the wheel of “Hogs”.
“7,000 hours. 3,610 outputs. 358 combat sorties aboard the A-10… just unbelievable, ”said Lt. Col. Ryan Hodges, commanding officer of 303 Fighter Squadron, when he presented Marks with a plaque commemorating his 7,000 hours. “No words can describe the caliber of leader and fighter pilot we have in our squadron.”
“Let’s just say I’m glad he’s on our side,” said Col. Michael Leonas, commander of the 442nd Operations Group.
Despite his accomplishments, Marks doesn’t appear to have the arrogant arrogance that fighter pilots sport in films like “Top Gun.” While preparing for his milestone flight, Marks insisted that he fly with the youngest man in the squadron, Lt. Dylan Mackey. Marks has been flying A-10s longer than Mackey is alive, but Mackey’s father, Brig. General “Jimmy Mac” Mackey is a retired A-10 pilot with whom Marks has flown often throughout his career.
“It was quite special to fly my 7,000th hour with his son Dylan today,” said Marks. “Dylan’s parents both got to attend today and it was great to see them again.
Marks’ flight with Mackey could also symbolize his role as a mentor within the 442nd Fighter Wing community.
“He’s an exceptional attack pilot; he loves to fly and his knowledge is an invaluable resource for the squadron, ”said the sergeant. General Mike Schultz, the Wing Commander. “If you stay on a Friday afternoon, you might even hear a story or two of war. “
Mackey agreed with this sentiment.
“He is one of the best fighter pilots in the Combat Air Force and being able to say that I flew with the longest-serving A-10 pilot in the world is something I will remember forever,” said he declared. “Karl has so many tricks up his sleeve I’m just trying to hang on and absorb all I can. You are always guaranteed to learn something new while flying with it.
Respect is mutual.
“The quality and caliber of fighter pilots in today’s force keeps me young, keeps me humble and motivates me on a daily basis,” said Marks.
Better yet, Marks, who first started flying during the Cold War (where he got his call sign “Karl”, although he now calls himself “Cuda” when in flight), doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“I still have at least three years of flying until my current mandatory retirement age. I hope to extend this to 62 years if the Air Force allows me, ”he said. “It’s been a mad rush and I still have some flying to do.”
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