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