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The A-10 Thunderbolt II

Updated on April 9, 2018
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An A-10 demonstrating a straffing run at Andrews AFB, MD.A-10 in flightA-10 in flightA-10 in flightA-10 in inverted flightAn A-10 of the Maryland Air National GuardAn A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012.Nose art on an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012.Nose view of an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012.Artwork on an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2011.An A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2011.
An A-10 demonstrating a straffing run at Andrews AFB, MD.
An A-10 demonstrating a straffing run at Andrews AFB, MD. | Source
A-10 in flight
A-10 in flight | Source
A-10 in flight
A-10 in flight | Source
A-10 in flight
A-10 in flight | Source
A-10 in inverted flight
A-10 in inverted flight | Source
An A-10 of the Maryland Air National Guard
An A-10 of the Maryland Air National Guard | Source
An A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012.
An A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012. | Source
Nose art on an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012.
Nose art on an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012. | Source
Nose view of an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012.
Nose view of an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2012. | Source
Artwork on an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2011.
Artwork on an A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2011. | Source
An A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2011.
An A-10 at Dulles IAP, September 2011. | Source

Concept and Statistics

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is the only United States Air Force (USAF) aircraft designed specifically for close air support. It can carry 8 tons or ordinance. It has a 30mm Gatling gun that can fire up to 4,200 rounds per minute. The 30mm slugs are made of depleted uranium. These rounds can penetrate 17” (43cm) of steel. The aircraft is designed so it could get hit by 23mm cannon fire and continue flying.[i] Titanium armor protects the pilot and parts of the flight-control system.

The USAF named the A-10 the Thunderbolt II. Republic, which Fairchild acquired, built the P-47 Thunderbolt. The A-10 had many similarities to the P-47. They both looked ugly[ii]. They both acquired nicknames that seemed uncomplimentary. Pilots and ground crew refer to the A-10 as “the Warthog.”[iii] The P-47 was famed for returning to base with a great deal of battle damage. The Air Force may have hoped the name Thunderbolt II would give A-10 pilots a sense of security.[iv] The A-10 also had comparable speed to the P-47. World War I ace Oswald Boelcke’s adage, “speed is life”, didn’t speak well for the A-10.

The 1977 book “Arsenal of Democracy” quoted an unnamed ex-Army officer as saying the A-10 was “nothing better than a Stuka”.[v] The Ju 87 Stuka was an easy target for fighters and ground gunners. It was deadly to ground forces and had a reputation for being a tank killer. In the 1970s the USAF hoped to offset the Warsaw Pact’s numerical superiority in tanks with the A-10.

[i] USAF Fact Sheet, http://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104490/a-10-thunderbolt-ii/, last accessed 4/6/2018.

[ii] Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Thunderbolts lacked sleek lines.

[iii] P-47 pilots had many names for it. Probably the most common was “the Jug”.

[iv] Republic also built the F-105 Thunderchief, which also had a reputation for sustaining heavy battle damage.

[v] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi & Bob Adelman. The book claimed the Ju-87 was known for its poor maneuverability.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is the only United States Air Force (USAF) aircraft designed specifically for close air support. It can carry 8 tons or ordinance. It has a 30mm Gatling gun that can fire up to 4,200 rounds per minute. The 30mm slugs are made of depleted uranium. These rounds can penetrate 17” (43cm) of steel. The aircraft is designed so it could get hit by 23mm cannon fire and continue flying.[i] Titanium armor protects the pilot and parts of the flight-control system.

The USAF named the A-10 the Thunderbolt II. Republic, which Fairchild acquired, built the P-47 Thunderbolt. The A-10 had many similarities to the P-47. They both looked ugly[ii]. They both acquired nicknames that seemed uncomplimentary. Pilots and ground crew refer to the A-10 as “the Warthog.”[iii] The P-47 was famed for returning to base with a great deal of battle damage. The Air Force may have hoped the name Thunderbolt II would give A-10 pilots a sense of security.[iv] The A-10 also had comparable speed to the P-47. World War I ace Oswald Boelcke’s adage, “speed is life”, didn’t speak well for the A-10.

The 1977 book “Arsenal of Democracy” quoted an unnamed ex-Army officer as saying the A-10 was “nothing better than a Stuka”.[v] The Ju 87 Stuka was an easy target for fighters and ground gunners. It was deadly to ground forces and had a reputation for being a tank killer. In the 1970s the USAF hoped to offset the Warsaw Pact’s numerical superiority in tanks with the A-10.

[i] USAF Fact Sheet, http://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104490/a-10-thunderbolt-ii/, last accessed 4/6/2018.

[ii] Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Thunderbolts lacked sleek lines.

[iii] P-47 pilots had many names for it. Probably the most common was “the Jug”.

[iv] Republic also built the F-105 Thunderchief, which also had a reputation for sustaining heavy battle damage.

[v] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi & Bob Adelman. The book claimed the Ju-87 was known for its poor maneuverability.

Early History

The A-10 made its first flight on May 10, 1972. [i] Production of the first 54 A-10s were approved in July 1974. An additional 22 were approved in 1975.[ii] Fairchild Republic hoped to sell the A-10 to other countries. They thought they could sell A-10 to Thailand, South Korea, Israel, and NATO countries. On June 3, 1977 an A-10 crashed at the Paris Air Show. The pilot, Director of Fairchild Flight Operations Howard Nelson, died in the crash.[iii] Another A-10 crashed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The pilot, Major Richard H. Rogers, died in the crash. Only the USAF purchased A-10s. The USAF purchased 715 A-10s.[iv] In 1990 the USAF was considering replacing the A-10 with an attack version of the F-16.


[i] Modern Fighters and Attack Aircraft, by Bill Gunston, © 1980 by Salamander Books, Ltd.

[ii] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi & Bob Adelman. The book has a typo so it reads 1954.

[iii] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi & Bob Adelman. The book has a typo so it reads 1954.

[iv] Warthog Aircraft Database, http://warthogaircraftdatabase.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/fy-1975-aircraft.html, last accessed April 8, 2018

A-10 and other Attack Aircraft

 
A-10A
Alpha Jet
Su-25
Max Speed Clean
460mph (740km/h)
576mph (927km/h)
590mph (950km/h)
Endurance
CAS Radius 288 miles (463km)
2 hours, 30 minutes
Combat Range 466miles (760km)
Armament
1x30mm cannon, ordinance load 17,000lb(7,257kg)
2x30mmor27mm cannons, ordinance load 4,850lb (2,200kg)
1x30mm cannon, 2x23mm cannon, ordinance 9,700lb (4,400kg)
Sources: A-10A & Alpha Jet -Modern Fighters and Attack Aircraft Su-25 Wikipedia

Operation Desert Storm

Operation Desert Storm began on January 17, 1991. Aircraft of the United States and coalition forces were facing the 4th largest army in the world. Iraq had 750 fighters, bombers, and armed trainers. These ranged from obsolescent aircraft to the vaunted MiG-29. The Iraqi arsenal included over 16,000 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and 7,000 antiaircraft guns. The missiles ranged from the Vietnam Era SA-2 to the state of the art SA-16 and Roland missiles. The coalition aircraft included 114 A-10s.[i]

A-10s flew missions with sidewinder missiles so they would have a way to fight back against enemy fighters. When Iraq launched SCUD missiles against Saudi Arabia and Israel Lieutenant General Charles A. Horner sent A-10s, and other coalition, aircraft on SCUD hunting missions.[ii]

In January 1991 a 57mm round struck an A-10 piloted by Colonel Bobby Efferson. The aircraft suffered total hydraulic failure but Colonel Efferson managed to fly the A-10 back to base. His plane blew a tire on landing. The maintenance personnel counted 327 holes in the aircraft. Maintenance crews repaired the aircraft and it was flying missions within a week. On the night of January 20 Iraqi air defenses shot down a F-14. The next day an MH-53J helicopter and two A-10s attempted to rescue the crew. Then Captain Paul “P.J.” Johnson[iii] led the A-10s. He instructed the other A-10 to destroy a pickup truck that was closing in on the F-14 pilot, Lt. Devon Jones. The A-10s destroyed the pickup truck and the MH-53J rescued Lt. Jones. The Iraqis captured the F-14’s weapons systems officer. Captain Johnson received the Air Force Cross for his actions on this mission, which also involved an attack on a possible SCUD site.

On January 31 Iraqi air defenses shot down an A-10 about near Kuwait City. Iraqi forces captured the pilot, Captain Richard Dale Storr.

On February 6 Captain Robert Raymond Swain scored the first A-10 air-air kill. He wasn’t able to get a missile lock so he shot down the MBB Bo 105 helicopter with his 30mm cannon.

On February 12 a ground to air missile struck Captain Paul Johnson’s A-10. The missile severely damaged the aircraft’s right wing. The A-10’s right engine ingested a lot of debris and shrapnel. The engine, as designed, spit out the debris and shrapnel then restarted. Captain Johnson flew the A-10 back to base safely. The right wing had to be replaced.[iv]

On February 15 Captain Todd Kevin Sheehy scored the other A-10 air-air kill. He shot down an Mi-8 Hip helicopter with his cannon.

On February 16 a SAM shot down an A-10 piloted by Lieutenant Robert J. Sweet over Kuwait. Captain Stephen R. Phillis circled overhead to protect Lieutenant Sweet. An SA-13 shot down and killed Captain Phillis. With these A-10 losses and 14 other aircraft siting on a runway with battle damage Lt. Gen. Horner ordered all aircraft to fly above 8,000 feet. This put ground targets beyond the effective range of the A-10’s 30mm cannon. General Horner also ordered the A-10s out of Republican Guard areas and had the A-10s assigned to areas that were less dangerous.[v] Two A-10s had most of their tail sections shot away.[vi]

A SAM struck an A-10 on February 22. The pilot, Captain Richard Bailey, ejected safely over Saudi Arabia. The aircraft made a crash landing and was written off. Another A-10 fell to a SAM on February 27. The plane made it to Saudi Arabia but crashed on landing killing the pilot Lt. Patrick Olson.

The Air Force credited the A-10s with destroying 987 tanks, 926 artillery pieces, over 1,300 other vehicles, and 10 aircraft on the ground. The A-10s performance caused the USAF to drop plans for an attack version of the F-16.

[i] Frontline, Air Force Performance in Operation Desert Storm, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/gulf/appendix/whitepaper.html, last accessed, April 7, 2018.

[ii] Airpower in the Gulf by James P. Coyne, © 1992 Air Force Association.

[iii] Paul Johnson retired from the Air Force as a Major General.

[iv] The New & Sports Channel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4C9Mm0RDec, last accessed April 8, 2018.

[v] Airpower in the Gulf by James P. Coyne, © 1992 Air Force Association.

[vi] Airpower in the Gulf by James P. Coyne, © 1992 Air Force Association.

Other Incidents and Operations

On May 27, 1997 Captain Amy Lynn Svoboda was killed when her A-10 crashed at the Barry M. Goldwater range in Arizona. She was the first USAF woman killed while piloting a combat aircraft.

A-10s flew missions in Operations Southern Watch, Provide Comfort, Desert Fox, Noble Anvil, Deny Flight, and Deliberate Guard.

A-10s flew combat missions in Operation Allied Force. A-10s destroyed at least one bridge and a Straight Flush radar. They attacked tanks, artillery pieces, and other vehicles. A-10 provided cover in the successful rescue operation of the downed F-117 pilot. Enemy ground fire damaged 2 A-10s in Operation Allied Force.

21st Century Combat

In Afghanistan A-10s provided cover for the capture and extraction of a senior al-Qaeda officer on March 6, 2002. A-10s prevented a fratricide by redirecting a B-52 in 2002. By January 31, 2003 A-10s had flown almost 300 sorties in Afghanistan. Besides dropping ordinance, A-10s provided shows of force and overwatch. A-10s were involved in the Search and Rescue operation of a crashed Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 on August 31, 2006. They provided overwatch for two downed Apache crew members on December 30, 2011.

In Iraq A-10s dropped 120,000 leaflets on October 3, 2002. On April 23, 2003 an A-10 struck a U.S. Marine AFV and killed as many as ten marines. Eight others died from enemy fire.

On April 7, 2003 then Captain Kim “Killer Chick” Campbell[i] scored a direct hit on an enemy fighting position. This silenced the position. A SAM struck her A-10, Serial Number 81987. Captain Campbell brought the A-10 back to base safely. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission. The aircraft was written off. The next day a Roland 2 shot down an A-10. The pilot ejected safely and was recovered by American ground forces. Captain Campbell flew one of the A-10s sortied to perform the Search and Rescue (SAR) operation.

A-10s flew missions in Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. Among the targets destroyed was a boat which was sunk by A-10 30mm fire. The crew of another boat abandoned ship.

In 2015 A-10s flew 10% of the strike missions against Islamic State forces. From October 2016 through January 2017 A-10s of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Squadron flew 940 sorties, fired 1,680 missiles, and over 90,000 rounds of ammunition.


[i] Colonel Kim Campbell has also flown Enduring Freedom missions.

The A-10 vs Economics

The Air Force announced plans to retire the A-10 in favor of the F-35 in 2014. The reason was economics. The A-10 is an attack aircraft and the F-35 is a multirole aircraft. The logic is an aircraft that can serve as a fighter and a ground attack aircraft is more economical than an aircraft that can only serve as a ground attack aircraft. Economics has retired many Air Force aircraft.

The A-10 has many supporters, including members of the Legislature. In January 2015 word got out Major General James Post had told lower-ranking officers it was treasonous to talk to members of Congress about the A-10’s capabilities. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff; “This is very serious, to accuse people of treason for communicating with Congress.”[i] In October 2015 General Mark Welsh remarked; “Seventy percent of the A-10s used during the first Gulf War suffered battle damage. It’s a rugged airplane, but it’s not hard to hit.” General Welsh had Major Christopher Moore walk back his statement when the John Q. Public pointed out the Gulf War Air Power Survey put the number at about 13%.[ii]

Congressional support for the A-10 and the rise of the Islamic State caused the Air Force to delay the A-10’s retirement. The Air Force will continue flying the A-10 until at least 2022.[iii]


[i] Daily Mail, “Air Force investigate Major General ‘who told officers that talking to members of Congress about A-10 attack aircraft was equivalent to TREASON’”, by Kelly McLaughlin, January 28, 215, (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2930288/Air-Force-probing-alleged-treason-remark-general.html), last accessed April 8, 2018.

[ii] John Q. Public, CSAF Concedes A-10 Battle Damage Claim War Erroneous, (https://www.jqpublicblog.com/csaf-concedes-a-10-battle-damage-claim-was-erroneous/), last accessed 4/8/2018.

[iii] Military.com, A-10’s Earliest Retirement Reset to 2021; General, by Orina Pawlyk, last accessed 4/9/2018.

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image
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      Robert Sacchi 6 days ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked the article and pictures.

    • Rhyme Vine Poetry profile image

      Tamara Yancosky Moore 7 days ago from Uninhabited Regions

      Excellent and concise post, Robert! Love the pictures at the top, as well. Informative table to boot. Thank you for sharing your fountain of knowledge!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
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      Robert Sacchi 10 days ago

      Elgun210 - Üzgünüm Türkçe anlamıyorum.

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      elgun210 11 days ago

      cox weribebir teyyare ilk defedi bele bir wey gorurem

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 11 days ago

      FlourishAnyway - Yes, the fight over the A-10's retirement got ugly. There are a few exchanges on YouTube.

      Nikki Khan - Glad you learned something from the article. There is much to learn from histories of aircraft. When there is a controversy about a new aircraft it's good to study histories of old aircraft, which may have had the same controversies,

      Readmikenow - It is awesome watching aircraft perform.

      Peggy Woods - Yes, a vulnerability of jet engines is ingesting something that plays havoc with the fan blades. The A-10's engines are designed to get around that vulnerability.

      Frank Atanacio - Glad you enjoyed the article and the pics.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 11 days ago from Shelton

      Robert this is so fascinating and detailed.. every thumbnail was worth enlarging... I really enjoyed it.. honestly Frank

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 11 days ago from Houston, Texas

      I am impressed by reading how battle hardy this aircraft is. The part you wrote about the engine spitting out debris and then restarting is amazing. All of the stats are most interesting.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 11 days ago

      I have seen them at a military air show. Fighter aircraft fascinate me. Very good article. I enjoyed reading it.

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 11 days ago from London

      Very informative and interesting read on aircrafts Robert, loved to read it. Picutres are great too, learnt about history of aircraft.A great effort to gather all the knowledge and to share it with us.

      Bless you!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 12 days ago from USA

      My favorite parts of this article included reading about the female fighter pilots and learning about the disagreements regarding the aircraft (treason allegations).

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