After climbing down from the cockpit of his A-10 Thunderbolt II at Waukegan Regional Airport on Thursday, U.S. Air Force Capt. Russell Campbell had an important question for one of the people waiting near the nose of the giant warplane.
"What do you think, ma?" the smiling 34-year-old Libertyville native asked Susan Campbell.
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Wings over Waukegan air showWhen: Saturday; gates open at 9:30 a.m., show starts at noon
Where: Waukegan Regional Airport, 3580 N. McAree Road
Cost: Tickets are $10
More info: www.waukeganairshow.com/
Moments later, when asked if her son is a good pilot, Susan Campbell was quick to brag. "He's got to be the best," she said.
Campbell, a member of the 75th Fighter Squadron stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, is in town for the annual Wings Over Waukegan air show. It starts at noon Saturday at the airport.
Although he flew to Waukegan in the A-10, Campbell isn't flying in the show. Rather, he'll assist fellow pilot Maj. Dylan Thorpe, and his jet will be used as a backup aircraft if needed.
Campbell, whose unit recently spent three months in Korea, didn't want to miss a chance to return to the North suburbs. Flying to Waukegan from Georgia, he and Thorpe flew low over his family's neighborhood in Libertyville, startling a few onlookers.
A 1995 Libertyville High School graduate who learned to fly in college, Campbell sought to enlist in the Air Force the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He eventually passed the necessary tests and joined the military in 2003.
Campbell loves flying the A-10, a plane called the Warthog because of an ungainly design that includes a pair of engines slung over the wings instead of under. Despite its odd looks, the jet -- a ground-attack aircraft essentially built around a 30 mm cannon in its nose -- is treasured by pilots and the ground troops it supports.
It's a tough and highly maneuverable plane that gained fame in the first Persian Gulf War and still is flown in the war in Afghanistan.
"It's a thrill to fly it," Campbell said. "It's an honor to fly it."
In addition to the Thunderbolt, the Waukegan air show will feature a variety of military and civilian aircraft. Among the featured groups is a Canadian group of pilots called the Snowbirds, which Campbell compared to the Navy's famed Blue Angels team and the Air Force's Thunderbirds.
"They do a really amazing show," he said.
Campbell's grandmother, Theresa Turner, was among the relatives who greeted the pilot in Waukegan. She said it was "fabulous" to see her grandson fly above the airport before landing the Thunderbolt.
"He loves it," she said. "And it's just exciting to watch him."