A-10 pilot Capt. Joe “Rifle” Shetterly pilots his airplane over Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

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The A-10 jet, affectionately known as the “Warthog,” has been a key part of Tucson’s economy for decades, but within a few years it may become part of the city’s history.

The A-10 has been a familiar sight over Tucson’s skies since 1977, when the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base became the base of its operations.

The 12-ton, twin-engine jet was designed to provide support for ground troops and carries more than its weight in weapons ranging from a Gatling gun to smart bombs and missiles.

It became known as a prodigious tank-killer during the operations in Kuwait and Iraq.

At recent hearings on its planned phase-out by the Department of Defense, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it “the ugliest, most beautiful aircraft on the planet.”

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.