A-10 Thunderbolt II – The Ultimate Tank Buster

Low and slow with a deadly bite. That’s a good way of summing up the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II aka “Warthog” close support aircraft of the USAF.

Republic Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II aka "Warthog" at the 2014 Tampa Bay Air Fest in Florida
Republic Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II aka “Warthog” at the 2014 Tampa Bay Air Fest in Florida
Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog II
Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog II (2011 Abbotsford International Air Show in BC, Canada)

The A-10 first entered USAF service in the late 1970’s achieving combat readiness in the summer of 1978. It is fitted with two General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofans that provide 9,000 lbs. of thrust each and a top speed of 724 kmh / 450 mph. The cruising speed is a little slower at 539 kmh / 335 mph. The maximum range of the aircraft is 1287 km / 800 miles.

A-10 Thunderbolt II at the Museum of Aviation - Warner Robins, Georgia 2014
A-10 Thunderbolt II at the Museum of Aviation – Warner Robins, Georgia 2014

The A-10 is highly maneuverable at low speeds and low altitudes. It can get down into valleys and the like and turn back on targets to quickly eliminate enemy threats. The pilot, vital avionics and control systems of the aircraft are protected by titanium armour to allow the aircraft to take a great deal of damage whilst still staying in the fight. The aircraft also has a long endurance time enabling it to cover long distances while also being able to stay over target areas and loiter waiting for targets. It also is also relatively easy to maintain and has a short takeoff and landing capability that makes it perfect for operating from forward airbases (during the Cold War they used to practice taking off from Autobahns in Germany). All of these capabilities accompanied with lethal weapon systems makes the A-10 perfect for providing close air support for troops on the ground.

A-10 display at Seafair Air Show in Seattle, Washington in 2011
A-10 display at Seafair Air Show in Seattle, Washington in 2011
an A-10 takes off from a road
Versatility: an A-10 takes off from a road

The primary weapon of the A-10 is the hydraulic powered General Dynamics GAU-8 Avenger 30mm rotary cannon that fires a mix of depleted uranium armour-piercing and high explosive shells at 4,000 rounds per minute with deadly accuracy (the shells are huge – 29 cm / 11.4 inches in length and weighing at least 0.69 kg / 1.53 pounds). The cannon is offset slightly and is just below the aircrafts centre of gravity to avoid its recoil causing any changes in pitch or yaw for the A-10 so it can stay on target. The 7 barrel cannon is so big it takes up virtually half the airframe (from the muzzle to end of the ammunition system it is approximately 5.9m /19.5 ft in length) and contributes to approximately 16% of the aircraft’s weight (the gun with it feed system and a fully loaded ammunition drum of 1,150 rounds weighs 1,828 kg /4,029 pounds)! Accompanied with a 16,000 lb. weapons payload of bombs and missiles the A-10 provides lethal close support to troops on the ground.

GAU-8 Avenger 30mm Rotary Cannon A-10
GAU-8 Avenger 30mm Rotary Cannon
30mm shell A-10 GUA-8 Avenger rotary cannon
Here I am holding an inert 30mm shell. They are massive!
The principle weapon of the A-10 is the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm rotary cannon - the space it takes up within the airframe is really highlighted here
The principle weapon of the A-10 is the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm rotary cannon – the space it takes up within the airframe is really highlighted here (Photo Source: USAF)
size comparison of the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm rotary cannon with VW Beetle
Here is an interesting size comparison of the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm rotary cannon. I would hate to imagine what it could do to that poor little VW Beetle! (Photo Source: USAF)

Something the A-10 does very well is more or less shred to pieces enemy tanks, armoured vehicles and weaponry with its rotary cannon. Pilots have to be careful to limit their bursts though to one to two seconds lest the gun barrel overheats (this is also to conserve ammunition).

USAF  A-10 on a strafing run
A USAF A-10 on a strafing run

713 A-10’s were built between 1972 to 1984 (plus to YA-10A prototypes). Large numbers of the aircraft were deployed to Europe during the Cold War to counter any armoured threat from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations. It was not until 1991 though that the A-10 first saw combat with the start of the first Gulf War against Iraq. The destruction unleashed on Iraqi military convoys and armoured vehicles was terrifying to say the least!

Destroyed Iraqi Armour in the Euphrates River Valley during Operation Desert Storm - March 4th, 1991
Destroyed Iraqi Armour in the Euphrates River Valley during Operation Desert Storm – March 4th, 1991 (Photo Source: US Department of Defence)

The A-10 is a very popular aircraft to its pilots and the troops on the ground (not so much for those unfortunate enough to feel its bite). The age of the airframes and the fact that the A-10 is used only for the single mission of close support though has recently led the USAF to look at retiring all of them and replace them with existing multi-role aircraft like the General Dynamics F-16. The Air Force claimed the retirement of all A-10’s currently in service would save about $3.7 billion (the USAF A-10 active force is currently: 187; plus Reserve 49 and Air National Guard 107). This caused a furor leading to a special law being passed in the US Congress denying the USAF the right to retire them! So for now it looks likes the “Warthog” will remain flying for some time to come (in fact I was driving past Moody AFB in Georgia recently and two flew over head which was good to see).

A-10 at the 2010 Jones Beach Air Show in New York
A nice pass by an A-10 at the 2010 Jones Beach Air Show in New York
Advertisements

2 thoughts on “A-10 Thunderbolt II – The Ultimate Tank Buster

  1. Deano — another wonderfully informative post 🙂 This aircraft is unsung for the most part I think and the USAF has repeatedly threatened to retire it though with no equal replacement — so thanks for this post. Slow perhaps making it more and more vulnerable but its ability to bring a powerful gun and stay on station has its own merits. The HD video is a real treat as is seeing the hogbacks (the ridges with the acutely tilted strata) is a special treat. I also especially like your shot taken in Tampa 🙂 Joe

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s