A-10 Pilot Duo Wins NAA’s 2020 Mackay Trophy For Bravery


The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) has announced the recipients of the 2020 Mackay Trophy. USAF Lieutenant Colonel Joel Bier and Lieutenant Colonel Leif Nordhagen, the aircrew of Hawg 53 flight, will share the honor for a combat mission flown on Jan. 5, 2020.

Hawg 53 was deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, as a two-ship formation of A-10Cs, flying out of the 455th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, 451st Air Expeditionary Group, Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

The two pilots were ordered to support an Afghan combat outpost that was under heavy attack from Taliban forces. As the only airborne asset available, Hawg 53 encountered dangerous weather, mountainous terrain, inexact controllers and a determined enemy. Bier and Nordhagen were nevertheless able to halt the attack and save the outpost from being overrun. Their action saved the lives of 30 Afghan soldiers. 

First presented by Clarence Mackay in 1912 and later deeded to the National Aeronautic Association, the Mackay Trophy is administered by the United States Air Force and NAA. The honor is awarded for “the most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force person, persons, or organization.” The Mackay Trophy is on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Excellent.

    I do love the A-10. My favorite jet aircraft. Total Badazz. It’s like if Smith and Wesson built an airplane.

  2. Probably the only aircraft in the Air Force that is actually piloted by fighter pilots. The grunts love ’em and that’s what counts. The rest are merely bomb delivery platforms parading as fighters. Prove me wrong!

    • Clearly you dont know much history about the F15 to make a statement that they are all masquerading.

  3. In the last two decades of low intensity warfare, it appears the A-10 is the most useful weapon the grunt had at his disposal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WtQqKrbmKc. We know unless you have soldiers occupying ground, the rest is mostly bomb craters.

    My mission in Vietnam flying the Cobra Attack helicopter, was similar to that of the A-10. Support the grunts! In my experience the next most useful weapon I had at my disposal was the A-1 Skyraider which had pinpoint accuracy while dropping a 500 pounder right down a rabbit hole and then stay on station with me while we developed the mission. All of this action took place at 1000 agl or less and I know grunts were saved by the duo of AH-1G and A-1 Skyraider.