My mother took this photo on December 29th, 2004 on a hill near Groton, New Hampshire. It appears to be an A-10 Thunderbolt, but it's difficult to tell whether or not it's armed. According to her it circled three times close above the hill before going out of sight.

A-10 Thunderbolt spotted on December 29th, 2004 in Groton, New Hampshire

The hill, as well as Grafton County as a whole, are not very populated, and there are no military bases around the area for hundreds of miles. Newspapers for the area on that day show no information that I can see. Can anyone think of a reason for an A-10 to be flown over this location on this date?

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    $\begingroup$ Its going to be almost impossible to tell you why, 12 years ago, an A-10 circled a hill in rural USA. Anything is going to be pure speculation, which could range from government cover-up to some pilot impressing his high school friends. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 3:40
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer -- actually, I'm pretty sure I have this question licked. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ @UnrecognizedFallingObject Lets see it! $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ @ColinPierce They aren't "deployed" here. While they are used overseas, the A-10 crews train in the united states, including long distance sorties, training missions, even practice bombing and target shooting. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ @ColinPierce flight training... Including low level flying practice, which would ideally be in areas with some terrain like hills... $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 7:07

2 Answers 2


Practice makes perfect!

Groton, NH (along with a large chunk of rural New Hampshire further off to the north) sits more or less under an area of military Special Use Airspace called the Yankee 1 and 2 Military Operating Area complex, or MOA for short:

section of the sectional showing Yankee 1 MOA in reference to Hebron, NH and the road from Hebron to Groton, NH, as well as Newfound Lake

(If you're wondering why Groton is not on the map, ask FAA/NACO -- it's about at the bend in the road WNW of Hebron, right under the southern edge of the Yankee 1 MOA. The snippet was taken using vfrmap.org.)

These areas of airspace are used by US military tactical pilots to practice their tactical maneuvers (such as "dry" practice bomb and strafing runs, and air combat maneuvering) without getting in the way of other airspace users -- high-performance jets making sharp maneuvers don't mix well with slow little propeller planes or not-so-maneuverable airliners!

As to why the pilot was circling? They were probably killing time, waiting for their practice partner to show up, or the MOA to free up so they could use it. Also, the airplane in the picture looks to be unarmed -- on one side is an empty pair of Sidewinder rails, while the other side carries a pair of targeting and countermeasures pods.

So, what your mom saw was a small part of our military keeping their gun oiled and ready, so to speak -- practice makes perfect, after all, and the airspace over rural parts of the US is about the only place in this country non-busy enough to serve as a suitable practice area.

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    $\begingroup$ A well educated guess, +1 $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ This seems like the likeliest answer! She's been wondering about it for 10 years and we figured it couldn't be training since it's so isolated, but I guess it would actually be the perfect place. We never realized we lived near an MOA. Thank you! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 4:11
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    $\begingroup$ @ColinPierce You've got it exactly backwards--the military likes isolated locations for aircraft training so they don't get too many noise complaints! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ Hard to say about an A-10 to be unarmed, as it is actually a giant Gatling gun with some wings and engines mounted on in. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ Each 30x173mm shell weighs 1.5 lbs, and the A-10 can carry ~1100 of them. Wonder if there's a noticeable handling difference when you shed 1700 lbs of weight and/or if they load ballast/inert ammo. $\endgroup$
    – Nick T
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 21:20

I saw several flights of A-10s while skiing in NH in the 1980's. At one point I was above the aircraft on Mt. Attitash looking down on them roar through the canyons. I didn't know the pilots directly, but I did know one of the ground controllers who guided practice runs through the valleys. I'm sure several of them were glad for the practice before going to Afghanistan. The airplane she saw probably came out of Pease AFB.


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