The flying death machine that is the A-10 Thunderbolt II, built around a cannon capable of firing 4,200 rounds per minute, can eliminate anything in its path. But this fearsome gunship’s days are numbered.

Some Air Force Warthog pilots are transitioning to flying other aircraft, like the new F-35A Lightning IIs that are supposed to replace many of the A-10s for ground-attack missions.

Capt. James Rosenau, a former A-10 pilot, now flies the F-35 and took part in the Red Flag air combat exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada that wrapped up Feb. 15. He described the transition from the Warthog to the stealth fighter in an Air Force news release.

“I loved the A-10 and its mission,” he said. “It’s like a flying tank. Like Chewbacca with chainsaw arms. A very raw flying experience.

“Obviously, the F-35 is completely different," he added. "It’s more like a precision tool.”

Chewbacca, Han Solo’s beloved co-pilot from the “Star Wars” movies, is a creature known as a Wookiee who’s a physical beast. Nobody wants to mess with Chewie.

Capt. James Rosenau, then an A-10 pilot with the 25th Fighter Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, discusses a flight plan with Republic of Korea air force personnel in February 2017. Rosenau now flies F-35As. (Staff Sgt. Victor Caputo/Air Force)
Capt. James Rosenau, then an A-10 pilot with the 25th Fighter Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, discusses a flight plan with Republic of Korea air force personnel in February 2017. Rosenau now flies F-35As. (Staff Sgt. Victor Caputo/Air Force)

The A-10, a gunship famous for the “BRRRT” of its 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun, was built specifically to provide close-air support to ground forces.

The F-35As are expected to eventually replace the older F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10s.

"In the A-10, I liked being the guy who was called upon to directly support troops on the ground. To bring that fight to the enemy," Rosenau said. "Now I like being the guy who can support legacy fighters when they may be struggling to get into a target area because of the threat level."

The F-35 is designed to provide advanced capabilities to defeat emerging threats from near-peer competitors like China and Russia, but some observers and lawmakers have said they're skeptical that the F-35A is a suitable replacement for the A-10's formidable ground-attack capabilities.

Rosenau spoke highly of the embattled fifth-generation fighters, saying, "After seeing the F-35 go up against the near-peer threats replicated here at Nellis, I'm a big believer."

Red Flag is the Air Force’s top air-combat exercise. Over three weeks, pilots from the U.S. and allied nations square off to strengthen interoperability and improve combat readiness.

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