A-10 Thunderbolt II

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The A-10 Thunderbolt is an aircraft which has charitably been described as "fscking peculiar-lookin'." It is a twin-engine turbofan-powered single-seat strike and close air support (CAS) aircraft in use by the U.S. Air Force. It has various nicknames, the most polite of which is probably the Warthog, in deference to its ungainly appearance. This odd look is the result, however, of carefully designed attributes which enhance the aircraft and pilot's survivability.

First, the fuselage is squared and ugly (especially near the pilot) because the pilot's compartment sits in an armored shell of titanium known as the bathtub. This armor is capable of stopping shrapnel and projectiles all the way up to the 23mm range. Since titanium is hard to machine, the shape remains simple. It carries, as Tsarren has noted, over 8 tons of ground-attack ordnance. For a full listing of types, see the specs below. Probably the most important factor in the appearance of the A-10, however, is the fact that it is essentially built around the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm Gatling cannon. This fighter is the only aircraft that carries this weapon. It has seven barrels, and two fire modes, low-rate (around 1500 rounds/minute) and high rate (approx. 3900 rounds/minute). The gun extends back from the front of the nose approximately 3/4 of the length of the fuselage! Finally, its large, vertical tail surfaces are designed to both maximize redundant control surfaces in case of damage as well as protect the twin turbofan engines from IR-seeking missiles. The engines themselves are set atop the airplane and forward from the rear, so that the airframe hides most of the heat signature. In addition, the engines have long exhaust nacelles which are not much more than metal pipes, in order to have the 'hot spot' from the engine set back several feet from the fragile bits. MANPADS and SAM missiles detonating on the engine hot spot have a poor chance of actually damaging the engine.

The A-10 has led a checkered career. Although it performed extremely well in the Gulf War, it has been a constant target for Air Force cutbacks due to its low and slow nature - the top speed is subsonic, and it is designed to fly near the ground, something "real fighter pilots" don't do. It was designed in the late 1960s and early 1970s to perform one primary task, that of destroying Soviet tanks in Central Europe in case of war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. As a result, it is geared entirely towards smashing armored ground targets. The GAU-8 Avenger fires a milk-bottle sized round tipped with depleted uranium. It is the only automatic weapon in the Western arsenal capable of penetrating and destroying the armor on main battle tanks. The A-10 was designed to exploit the primary weak spot of an MBT - the top. For reasons of economy, weight restriction and balance, the top of a battle tank is almost always the most lightly armored surface on it. This has led to the development of a whole class of weapons from this airplane to missile warheads designed to carry out 'top attack.'

One additional good thing about the A-10 is that it has a fairly wide combat radius (around 400 nautical miles) or an extremely long loiter time and can be refueled in midair. Thus, it has enough fuel to stick around the battlefield as ground actions develop just in case it might be useful.

The A-10 has survived the Air Force's attempt to get rid of it numerous times. It flies presently with active-duty and Reserve forces and Air National Guard. One of the primary reasons for its continued existence is that there is no viable replacement for it. Proposed replacements have included a ground-attack F-16, Harrier AV-8B jumpjets, and now the Joint Strike Fighter. All of these suffer from a severe fragility when compared to the A-10. During the Gulf War, one A-10 was struck by anti-aircraft fire but returned home despite losing several feet of one wing and having a hole the size of a picnic table ripped through the other wing near the root. This sort of guts endears the plane to its crews.

There are two varieties of A-10. The A-10 is a ground attack, close air support strike aircraft. The OA-10 is the same basic airplane, usually with fewer munitions in exchange for better range/loiter time. It is flown by pilots who have trained in conjunction with the Army to perform Forward Air Controller (FAC) duties, assigning targets to available A-10s, designating priority targets via infrared flares and infrared laser pointer, coordinating bombing raids, etc.

On to the specs! Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force online library

  • Primary Function: A-10 -- close air support, OA-10 - airborne forward air control
  • Contractor: Fairchild Republic Co.
  • Power Plant: Two General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofans
  • Thrust: 9,065 pounds each engine
  • Length: 53 feet, 4 inches (16.16 meters)
  • Height: 14 feet, 8 inches (4.42 meters)
  • Wingspan: 57 feet, 6 inches (17.42 meters)
  • Speed: 420 miles per hour (Mach 0.56)
  • Ceiling: 45,000 feet (13,636 meters)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 51,000 pounds (22,950 kilograms)
  • Range: 800 miles (695 nautical miles)
  • Armament: One 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun; up to 16,000 pounds (7,200 kilograms) of mixed ordnance on eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylon stations, including 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of Mk-82 and 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of Mk-84 series low/high drag bombs, incendiary cluster bombs, combined effects munitions, mine dispensing munitions, AGM-65 Maverick missiles and laser-guided/electro-optically guided bombs; infrared countermeasure flares; electronic countermeasure chaff; jammer pods; 2.75-inch (6.99 centimeters) rockets; illumination flares and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
  • Crew: One
  • Date Deployed: March 1976
  • Unit Cost: $8.8 million
  • Inventory: Active force, A-10, 114 and OA-10, 72; Reserve, A-10, 24 and OA-10, 21; ANG, A-10, 72 and OA-10, 18
The A-10 was never used in World War II (contrary to what some say), for one thing even at the end of World War II jets were still in the experimental phase in the US. The A-10 was developed in the early years of the cold war to patrol the area along the iron curtain.

The A-10 is perhaps the most rugged aircraft known to man and the ugliest, hence the name "Warthog." Its main weapon is a 30 millimeter seven-barreled Vulcan cannon. The gun is so big that designers started with the cannon and built the aircraft around it (this is why the nose gear is off center).

Weapons Systems:
The A-10 has 11 non-jettisonable external pylon stations (numbered 1 to 11 from left to right) for external carriage of ordnance. Three of these stations have the capability of carrying external fuel tanks. Forward firing ordnance may be carried on pylon stations 2 through 10. Aim-9 air-to-air missiles may be carried on stations 1 and/or 11. Conventional munitions may be carried on all pylons. Seven of the pylons house a bomb rack which has both 14 inch and 30 inch suspension hooks. The two most outboard wing pylons on each side contain a bomb rack which has only 14 inch suspension hooks. Each ejection rack assembly has provisions for bomb carrying, release, and a forced ejection mechanism.
Four self-protection chaff and or flare dispensers are installed in each main landing gear pod and on each wing tip such that payloads are dispensed in a downward direction.
The primary and by far the most devastating weapon carried by the A-10 is the internally-mounted GAU-8/A (pronounced like "cow" except with a "g") Avenger 30 millimeter Gatling Gun. The GAU-8/A spits 65 one and one half pound projectiles every second, penetrating up to 4 inches of the world's most impenetrable armor. A mastery of weapons engineering, the GAU-8/A remains the world's most devastatingly effective and flexible ground attack weapon ever built. Early versions of the A-10 would actually recoil when the gun was fired, making it very hard to stay on target. Now the A-10 has a computer that freezes the controls when the trigger is depressed; this keeps the A-10 stable but it can not maneuver when on target and shooting.
The A-10 with its massive carrying capability and 11 suspension racks can carry every conventional free-fall munition in the Air Force inventory. General purpose "dumb" bombs, laser guided smart bombs, bomblet dispensing canister weapons, and special purpose stores can all be carried in combination with each other.
Forward firing weapons include the AGM-65 television or heat guided "Maverick" missile system, AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile, and various flavors of unguided 2.75 inch rockets.

The A-10 was designed with redundant systems for everything and even when everything is knocked out the thing will still fly. A pilot in the Gulf War was shot up and flew back to his air field with no hydraulics, no electricity, 1/3 of one wing blown off, 1/2 of the other one, and one tail (of the two) and one engine blow off the airframe. He landed safely.

The A-10 is made to fly low and slow so it can spot and kill tanks, making it an attack aircraft, not a fighter. This makes it very vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire (AA fire) and surface-to-air missiles. To protect the pilot, the cockpit sits inside a titanium armor "bathtub" that can withstand a direct hit from a sidewinder missile. The canopy is almost two inches of bullet proof synthetics.

Pilots of the "Warthog" refer to fighter pilots as "Pointy-nosed mach snots."

Much of this information was obtained at the following URL. It is a great resource for more info on the A-10. http://www.shreve.net/~blade/homeset.html

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