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A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt II


In the Vietnam conflict concentrated small-arms fire, ground-to-air missiles, and other more sophisticated defenses were particularly lethal to aircraft flying close-support missions. This situation resulted in dramatic changes in philosophy for the capabilities of aircraft conducting these missions. A need arose during the Vietnam conflict for a specialized aircraft capable of giving close air support to troops operating in the forward battle area. Needed was a heavily armed aircraft that could respond rapidly to a call for help and had the ability to destroy tanks, artillery batteries, and other types of enemy strongholds. Neither a fast aircraft nor one with long range was required; good maneuverability, extended loiter time in the battle area, and a lethal weapons load were needed. Low cost, easy maintenance with minimum turnaround time, and high survivability in the face of enemy ground fire were other characteristics desired. The aircraft was intended only for daytime operations in fair weather.

On 6 March, 1967, requests for proposals went to twenty-one companies for design studies on a low-cost attack aircraft given the designation A-X or "Attack-Experimental" aircraft. In the years following 1967, the A-X mission requirements began to change as the threat of Soviet armor and all-weather operations became embedded in military priorities.

In 1970, the requirements for the A-X mission were changed, and the Air Force issued a new request for proposals (RFP). Detailed requirements for such a close-air- support aircraft were issued by the USAF in May 1970. Six companies responded to the RFP. Fairchild- Republic and Northrop were given contracts for the construction of prototypes to be used in a flyoff competition from which a winner would be selected for production. Northrop's YA-9A and the Republic Aviation Division of Fairchild-Hiller's YA-10A became finalists in the contract bid. The Air Force gave each company funding in order to build prototypes of their aircraft for testing. At the end of the flight and maintenance comparison, on 10 January 1973, the US Air Force announced the selection of the Fairchild aircraft.

First flight of the aircraft occurred in May 1972, and the first squadron to be equipped with the A-10A became operational in October 1977.

Since the A-10 was built around the General Electric GAU-8 Avenger 30-mm cannon, its performance in testing was crucial in determining how many A-10's would be built. The GAU-8 Avenger exceeded all expectations. Not only was it extremely accurate, it could fire from 2100 to 4200 shots per minute without complications. The 30-mm projectile has two times the range, three times the mass, and half the time of flight of projectiles carried on CAS aircraft comparable to the A-10. After designers integrated the Avenger into the A-10's design, Fairchild-Republic made preparations for full production. Technicians at NASA's Ames Research Center provided additional wind tunnel tests of Fairchild's YA-10A late in 1973. Here, the A-10 received its final design refinements before entering mass production. As Fairchild delivered the first units, the A-10's unusual appearance and odd flight characteristics led to its nickname of the "Warthog".

The first production A-10 flew in October 1975. Delivery of this model began in March, 1976 to the 355th Tactical Training Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. Fairchild Republic produced A-10s in their Farmington, N.Y., plant for 11 years. At peak production, 12 of these rugged aircraft rolled out each month. A-10 production ceased in 1984, twelve years after the first YA-10 rolled out of Fairchild-Republic's factory in 1972. In those twelve years, 715 A-10's were built and, with the exception of the two prototypes and one tandem-seat modification, the basic airframe design has remained unchanged.

Designed specially for the close air support mission and with the ability to combine large military loads, long loiter and wide combat radius, the A-10 proved to be vital assets to America and its allies during Operation Desert Storm. In the Gulf War, A-10s, with a mission capable rate of 95.7 percent, flew 8,100 sorties and launched 90 percent of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles. A-10's were seldom grounded due to maintenance problems or conditions unsuitable for flying during the Operation DESERT STORM. No other aircraft could carry as much ordnance over a target for so long, doling out and taking as much punishment, and return to an unimproved field to turn around quickly and strike at an enemy again.

According the Iraqi POWs, the single most recognizable and feared aircraft at low altitude was the Thunderbolt II. This black-colored jet was seen as deadly accurate, rarely missing its target. Seen conducting bombing raids three or four times a day, the A-10 was a seemingly ubiquitous threat. Although the actual bomb run was terrifying, the aircraft loitering around the target prior to target acquisition caused as much, if not more, anxiety since the Iraqi soldiers were unsure of the chosen target.

Desert Storm A-10 Mission Results Targets Confirmed Destroyed

Tanks 987
Artillery 926
APCs 501
Trucks 1,106
Command Vehicles 249
Military Structures 112
Radars 96
Helicopters (Air to Air) 2
Bunkers 72
Scud Missiles 51
Anti-Aircraft Artillery 50
Command Post  28
Frog Missiles 11
SAMs 9
Fuel Tanks 8
Fighters (Air to Ground) 10

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