Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Face Only It's Mother Could Love, The A-10 Thunderbolt II

The A-10 is probably the ugliest airplane in skies today but, it is arguably the most dangerous aircraft ever built.
     The A-10 began life as a contender in the A-X program competing against the Northrop YA-9  for the job of being the Air Force's tank buster. The YA-10 first flew on May 10, 1972 and on January 18, 1973 was picked by the Air Force for production. Between 1973 and 1984 over 700 A-10s were built and, as of 2008 335 A-10s and OA-10s (The OA-10 is an A-10 used by forward air controllers, there is no difference between the two versions.) were still in service with the Air Force.
     One of the defining characteristics of the A-10 is the A-10's durability. The A-10 is capable of withstanding multiple hits by small to medium caliber weapons without crashing. The A-10's durability culminates in 1200lbs of titanium armor surrounding some flight control systems and the cockpit, the titanium is so strong that it can withstand hits by 23mm ammunition and some places 57mm hits. The photo below is a graphic example of the A-10's durability, that particular A-10 was damaged when flying over Baghdad in 2003.
       However, the thing that sets the A-10 apart from most ground attack aircraft is it's massive ordnance payload and cannon.The A-10 carries the one of the largest weapons mounted on an aircraft, the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon, the GAU-8 fires a mixture of high explosive round and incendiary rounds and is the ultimate tank busting gun (as the video below shows). The A-10 also can carry up 16,000lbs of ordnance ranging from unguided rocket pods to AGM-65 Maverick missiles. The A-10 has even scored 2 air-to-air kills using it's cannon during the Gulf War, shooting down two Iraqi helicopters.
     The A-10 is not known for it's speed and range like it's more glamorous counterparts, the F-15, F-15E and F-16, with a max speed of around 440 MPH and a combat range of roughly 250 miles depending on the mission. The A-10 may not have a high max speed like the F-16 but, the A-10 has excellent low speed handling especially at low altitude. 
     While the A-10 might have been built in the 1970s for destroying Soviet tanks in Germany the A-10 continues to provide excellent close air support in Afghanistan and previously Iraq and, will continue to do so until 2028 when it will be replaced by the F-35, over 50 years after the A-10's first flight

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

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