Air Force Capt. Kim Campbell assigned to the 23rd Fighter Group was flying over Baghdad in her A-10 Warthog fighter jet when it was hit by enemy ground fire. Large chunks of her plane shot away, the hydraulic control system dead, Capt. Campbell pushed and pulled at a backup set of manual controls, struggling to keep the anti-tank aircraft from crashing as it limped away from an ambush over Baghdad.
Landing finally in the safety of a coalition air base in southern Iraq on Monday, Campbell was greeted with applause, relief and awe. Maintenance personnel gawked, took photos, and clapped "Capt. K.C.'' on the shoulder.
But stateside, her father, San Jose Councilman Chuck Reed, was moved to tears. Campbell, who called her father shortly after her return to the air base, also told him in a later e-mail that "It's been a rough few days for the A-10,'' and referred him to a Web site with photos of the damaged jet.
"I had no idea that her aircraft was shot at so badly,'' Reed said. ``There are hundreds of bullet holes.''
Campbell, who is assigned to the 23rd Fighter Group from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, was flying over Baghdad in her A-10 ``Warthog'' on Monday when she received a call for assistance from troops on the ground. On her way back after the mission, she felt an abrupt jolt as something struck her aircraft. Warning lights started to flash on her cockpit panels.
"The plane rolled left and pointed at the ground, which is not a comforting feeling over Baghdad,'' Campbell told the Air Force Times. "The jet wasn't responding to any of my control inputs.'' The A-10's hydraulic systems were damaged, disabling the flight controls, landing gear and brakes among other critical systems, including part of the plane's stabilizer. But the manual flight controls continued to work.
For one tense hour, crew members at the air base and other A-10 pilots anxiously awaited Campbell's return. Emerging from the murky morning skies, Campbell landed her battle-scarred A-10 nearly perfectly, the Air Force Times reported.
The A-10, which flies lower than other warplanes to support ground troops, is armed with a seven-barrel Gatling gun and Maverick anti-tank missiles. Campbell had assured her father in a recent e-mail that her Warthog is "a durable and reliable plane.''
"That is a classic understatement,'' Reed said, noting the damage to her plane seen in a photo on a Web site for A-10 pilots.
The images show dramatic damage to the jet's rear, which was bullet-riddled and pocked by Iraqi fire.
Reed received a phone call from his daughter at 1:30 a.m. Monday, shortly after she had returned from her mission.
"She was OK and wanted to let us know that before we started to see stuff on the news,'' Reed said. "She couldn't tell us what had happened or where she had been. But she said she was ready to go back.''
Campbell, a 1993 graduate of Piedmont Hills High School in East San Jose, was deployed to Kuwait about a month ago, her father said. At the start of the war, she flew at least two missions a day over Iraq.
According to the Pentagon, there were 114 active-duty female fighter and bomber pilots in the U.S. military in 2001, and 7,735 male fighter and bomber pilots. Women have been permitted to fly combat aircraft in the U.S. military since 1993.
Last year, Campbell flew 20 combat missions in Afghanistan and had experienced enemy fire while patrolling Iraq's "no-fly zone''
think the A-10s are getting shot at on every mission,'' Reed said. ``I hope she's not in Baghdad every day.
``But that's her job, and she'll do it. As long as those guys are on the ground, she'll go.''