Friday, August 14, 2009

Aircraft of the Week: A-10 Thunderbolt II

Welcome to the second installment of the Airplane of the Week. Today, I'll be discussing one of the ugliest airplanes ever flown, so ugly that the men call it "The Warthog". Its designers at Fairchild-Republic named it after the P-47 Thunderbolt, but it is really not a true fighter airplane in that vein (though it can hold its own). A sturdy, reliable weapons platform that can bring fire support in any situation:

The A-10 Thunderbolt II

This profile shows the A-10's uniquely ugly frame. It has a small snout, wings that look cut out by a five year old, and two turbofans unceremoniously mounted on the tail like huge deformities. Despite looking extremely un-aerodynamic, the A-10 will do around 700 kph, and is known for being very manouverable - very important for a ground attack aircraft.

The A-10 is extremely stable and can carry a huge amount of firepower into a situation. The Avenger gatling cannon holds around 1,200 rounds of ammunition with the power to penetrate all but the toughest armour. The A-10 has 11 hardpoints and can haul into battle 8 AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles, a large amount of rocket pods for direct fire support, or any number of bombs & armament up to around 12,000 lbs.

But what makes the A-10 an undeniably great airplane is its success rate. For thirty-two years the A-10 has been the prime vehicle of the USAF in destroying the crap out of enemy ground vehicles and hardpoints. In Gulf War I, A-10s accounted for 900 Iraqi tanks, for a loss of only 4 A-10s in 8,100 sortees. The 95.8% success rate of the A-10 caused the Air Force to abandon plans to replace it. The A-10 is currently slotted to remain in service till 2028.

Why is the A-10 so good? Check this out:

The A-10 can fuckin' take it. The A-10 can fly with one of its huge turbofans disabled. The A-10 can fly with a quarter of one of its wings shorn off. The pilot sits inside a titanium enclosure, and is almost immune to enemy fire. Basically, the A-10 can linger, take whatever the ground has, and blow the shit out of the enemy. It's the ultimate power platform.

Let's talk about the cannon. This thing is an absolute beast. Sure, you think a 30mm cannon is nothing, but it'll pound out 3,900 rounds per minute, specifically designed to punch through tank armour. Check this out:

It's a monster. A huge fucking monster cannon. I don't care what tank I'm in, if that thing is coming after me, I'm damn scared.

The A-10 can carry more air-to-air missiles than any other US aircraft, which means in an air support role it can throw out a hella lot of firepower. With other aircraft nearby to do the dogfighting, the A-10 can knock enemies out of the air. And if you get too close to the Hog, the pilot can stand it on its tail and spray that vicious cannon at you. It's absolutely no slouch against other airplanes.

The USAF intends to operate this plane for at least 51 years. In comparison, the F-14 Tomcat had a lifespan of 34 years; the F-111 strike aircraft lasted 31 years; the amazing F-4 Phantom II lasted 36 years in US hands. The A-10 will be around for 15 more years than the famous F-4. That shows you how utterly irreplacable it is. A lot of talk is made of the F-35 replacing it, but I can't see it - the A-10 can deliver more ordinance than the F-35 and can take a beating while doing it. Another ugly, rough, mean sonofabitch will need to take its place. There's going to be no other solution.

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