PhotogaleriesFairchild A-10 THUNDERBOLT II / WARTHOG gallery 1 2020-11-15 Javier It all started in 1966 when an Air Force’s Chief of Staff indicated, after visiting Vietnam, that it would be magnificent to have an aircraft that was a mix between the great A-1 Skyrider and the new A-7 Corsair II, but that it was cheaper than manufacture that both, and that it was suitable to operate from poorly prepared tracks if necessary. In 1967, the “A-X program” for the development of a specialized close air support aircraft began. Although the previous requirements began this year, it was not until May 1970 that 12 companies were chosen to develop a prototype. In August 6 companies submitted their proposals and in December Northrop and Fairchild were selected as finalists for the A-X program. Likewise, the USAF called another competition to build the gun that the winner of the A-X program would mount. General Electric and Philco-Ford were selected for this contest, which should conform to caliber, high muzzle velocity and a rate of fire of 4,000 round per minute specifications. In October 1972 the tests of the 2 prototypes presented by Northop and Fairchild began. Each company built 2 examples, designated by the USAF as A-9 for Northrop and A-10 for Fairchild. The tests lasted 60 days and took place at Edwards AFB, California. The Northrop YA-9 was a more conventional looking aircraft equipped with 2 Lycoming YF102 engines with 32 kN of thrust each. This engine was a derivative from the CH-47 Chinook twin-rotor helicopter’s T55 turboshaft and was used to save costs. The aircraft was built in an aluminum alloy, had a bathtub of armour that surrounded the cockpit and had 10 underwings hardpoints for 7,300 kg of weapons. During the tests a 20mm six barrel Gatling M-61 gun was installed, as was the YA-10, because the GAU-8 gun was not yet available. The two YA-9s flew for 307 hours proving that it was a good aircraft and met all the requirements. According to the pilots who tested them, it had better handling and better air-to-ground tracking capabilities than its rival. The aircraft had 16.31 meters in length, a wingspan of 17.68 meters, a maximum takeoff weight of 18,597 kg and a rate of climb of 1,500 meters per minute. Fairchild presented a truly unconventional-looking prototype with the engines located on the fuselage just behind and above the wings and with a double tail. It carried two General Electric TF34 engines of 41.3 kN of thrust each, the same as the S-3 Viking of the US Navy. The YA-10 prototypes flew 328 hours during tests and proved to have good qualities, although somewhat inferior to the Northrop aircraft. Probably, thanks to the fact that this aircraft carried General Electric TF34 engines, of proven reliability, could be the determining factor for its election as the winner of the competition in January 1973. In addition to the engines. the USAF opted for the YA-10 because during tests the aircraft demonstrated an anti-armour strike capability almost twice that of the YA-9 and it was also 25% cheaper to operate. In principle, the USAF would make an initial order for 600 aircraft that should be delivered at a rate of 20 per month. On the other hand, the tests of the gun were also carried out and in June 1973 the USAF announced that General Electric had been the winner. Meanwhile a tide of criticism had risen against the acquisition of the A-10 within the US Congress and a comparative test between the A-4, the A-7 and the A-10 was demanded. It was said that there had model redundancy to perform the same missions. Actually, the growing antiwarism had a lot to do with these protests, more political than any other kind. Any fan of military aviation knows that the A-10 cannot be compared on equal terms to the A-4 and A-7 aircrafts. Finally, to silence the Congressmen, a pantomime had to be prepared between the YA-10 and the A-7D consisting of an evaluation of the “relative operational effectiveness”. For this, both aircraft were tested during close support missions at Fort Riley, Kansas, with the YA-10 winning (by overwhelming superiority). This absurd expenditure of funds served to silence the political protests against the A-X program and at the end of July 1974 an economic allocation was destined to manufacture the first 52 A-10 aircraft. On October 21, 1975, the first production A-10 made its maiden fly and in November one of the pre-production aircraft performed a demonstration of the effectiveness of the GAU-8 gun at Nellis AFB, Nevada. During the exhibition, the gun proved its effectiveness against armored vehicles, including a Soviet T-62 MBT. In late 1975 the aircraft began to be affectionately nicknamed the “Warthog” for its ugly appearance, but from the start this aircraft won the appreciation of all who flew in it. Curiously, the official name of “Thunderbolt II” would not be granted until April 1978, too late to change the first nickname already used in a general way among the USAF’s pilots and the maintenance personnel. The first operational unit to have the A-10 was the 354th Fighter Day Wing/Tactical Fighter Wing based in Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina. In September 1975 the A-10 went to Europe, where it was at various USAFE air bases and participated in “Operation Reforger” exercises in Germany. During this deployment it had the occasion to be seen publicly at the Farnborough Air Show held in England. Operational testing of the A-10 continued to be carried out in varying weather and tactical conditions with a demanding test carried out in Alaska. During this test, two A-10s carried out 17 attack missions in a period of 11 hours, with bomb drops and passes firing the gun in each mission. After further exercises and operational tests it became clear that the aircraft was an excellent weapons platform, exceptionally well equipped for anti-tank combat, but at the same time a great drawback emerged. It was clear that the A-10 would be deployed in Central Europe as a resource against a massive Warsaw Pact armoured attack, and unfortunately, the weather conditions in that area would almost always limit visibility to a few hundred meters. These low visibility conditions were very unsuitable for flying at heights of 40 meters at speeds of 500 km/h near forests and mountains. Then, the USAF began to request the installation of some Inertial Navigation System and a Radar Altimeter in the A-10s. The problem now was that the Air Force had sold the “A-X program” as a “cheap program” and now this worked against them by having to include elements that perhaps must have been in the aircraft from the beginning of its development. The first A-10s were deployed in Europe in January 1979, at RAF Bentwaters-Woodbrige AFB, England, although some of the aircraft were sent to Sembach Air Base, Germany. There they participated in several exercises demonstrating their ability to operate in adverse weather conditions and their tactical capabilities. The A-10s must have coordinated their tactics with those of the US Army Aviation, since it should not be forgotten that their main mission was to support the ground troops located on the front line. These actions were detailed in the so-called Joint Attack Weapons System (JAWS) Tactics Development Evaluation, by which in short, the A-10 was in charge of the airspace beyond the treetops and the Army’s helicopters from below the treetops. The tactics developed in the JAWS consisted of the scout helicopters marking the objectives for the A-10, and these during the attack “uncovered” the air defenses so that they could then be destroyed by the Army’s attack helicopters. During some exercises, this tactic proved so effective that it was quickly included in a tactical manual. The initial forecast of 600 aircraft was increased to a final quantity of 715, (713 A-10s and two YA-10s) delivered until 1984. In 1979 one of the two YA-10s was converted by Fairchild into a new two-seater YA-10B, specially built for night attacks in bad weather. The prototype was designated as A-10 N/AW (Night/Adverse Weather), carrying in the rear seat a weapons system officer in charge of navigation, ECMs and target acquisition. This variant did not arouse the interest of the USAF and was canceled, although a variant for training, (similar in appearance), was ordered in 1981, but it was rejected and never manufactured. Whenever we talk about this aircraft, it comes out, how rough, how ugly and how unattractive its design is, from an aesthetic point of view of course. But everything about the A-10 was designed and built for a particular purpose. For example, the engines were mounted in that position to be separated from each other as much as possible, so that if one was hit and exploded, it would not damage the other engine and the plane would not be totally destroyed. Likewise, both engines are covered in flight by the enormous wings when an anti-aircraft vehicle with guns is attacked from the front side. Even infrared guidance missiles will have a lot of problems targeting the heat emissions from the engines. Another essential reason for this assembly was that they allowed to install more underwing hardpoints and that these could be reloaded safely by ground personnel without having to turn off the engines, which saved a lot of time between missions. The wings are thus designed for better maneuverability at low speed and avoid stalling, and in the case of the twin tails, better directional control is achieved. In addition, some of the wing and tail controls are tripled, which gives great resistance to loss of control as a result of hydraulic damage. The 98% of the panels that make up the A-10 are interchangeable from one aircraft to another, which greatly facilitates work on the battlefield to keep the aircraft operational. Another very careful detail in the A-10 was the construction and installation of the internal fuel tanks. All six fuel tanks are lined with fire suppresant foam that prevents tanks from exploding if hit, even with incendiary rounds. The tanks can be isolated from each other if any of them is holed and both of the wings can be emptied in flight if necessary.