aircraft military air force army The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is an American twin-engine, straight-wing jet aircraft developed by Fairchild-Republic in the early 1970s. The only United States Air Force aircraft designed solely for close air support of ground forces, the A-10 was built to attack tanks, armored vehicles, and other ground targets with limited air defenses.
The A-10 was designed around the GAU-8 Avenger, a 30 mm rotary cannon that is the airplane's primary armament and the heaviest such automatic cannon mounted on an aircraft. The A-10's airframe was designed for survivability, with measures such as 1,200 pounds (540 kg) of armor for protection of the cockpit and aircraft systems that enables the aircraft to continue flying after taking significant damage. The A-10A single-seat variant was the only version built, though one A-10A was converted to the A-10B twin-seat version. In 2005, a program was begun to upgrade A-10A aircraft to the A-10C configuration.
The A-10's official name comes from the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt of World War II, a fighter that was particularly effective at close air support. The A-10 is more commonly known by its nicknames "Warthog" or "Hog". It also has a secondary mission, where it provides airborne forward air control, directing other aircraft in attacks on ground targets. Aircraft used primarily in this role are designated OA-10. With a variety of upgrades and wing replacements, the A-10's service life may be extended to 2028.
The A-10 has superior maneuverability at low speeds and altitude because of its large wing area, high wing aspect ratio, and large ailerons. The high aspect ratio wing also allows short takeoffs and landings, permitting operations from primitive forward airfields near front lines. The aircraft can loiter for extended periods and operate under 1,000 ft (300 m) ceilings with 1.5 mi (2.4 km) visibility. It typically flies at a relatively slow speed of 300 knots (350 mph; 560 km/h), which makes it a much better platform for the ground-attack role than fast fighter-bombers, which often have difficulty targeting small and slow-moving targets.
The leading edge of the wing has honeycomb panel construction to provide strength with minimal weight compromise; similar panels cover the flap shrouds, elevators, rudders and other sections of the fins. The skin panels are integral with the stringers and are fabricated using computer-controlled machining, reducing production time and cost. Combat experience has shown that this type of panel is more resistant to damage. The skin is not load-bearing, so damaged skin sections can be easily replaced in the field, with makeshift materials if necessary. The ailerons are at the far ends of the wings for greater rolling moment and have two distinguishing features: The ailerons are larger than is typical, almost 50% of the wingspan, providing improved control even at slow speeds; the aileron is also split, making it a deceleron.
The A-10 is designed to be refueled, rearmed, and serviced with minimal equipment. Also, most repairs can be done in the field. An unusual feature is that many of the aircraft's parts are interchangeable between the left and right sides, including the engines, main landing gear, and vertical stabilizers. The sturdy landing gear, low-pressure tires and large,straight wings allow operation from short rough strips even with a heavy ordnance load, allowing the aircraft to operate from damaged airbases, flying from taxiways or even straight roadway sections.
The front landing gear is offset to the aircraft's right to allow placement of the 30 mm cannon with its firing barrel along the centerline of the aircraft. During ground taxi, the offset front landing gear causes the A-10 to have dissimilar turning radii. Turning to the right on the ground takes less distance than turning left.[Note 1] The wheels of the main landing gear partially protrude from their nacelles when retracted, making gear-up belly landings easier to control and less damaging to the underside. All landing gears are hinged toward the rear of the aircraft; if hydraulic power is lost, a combination of gravity and wind resistance can open and lock the gear in place.
Although the A-10 can carry considerable disposable stores, its primary built-in weapon is the 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling-type cannon. One of the most powerful aircraft cannons ever flown, it fires large depleted uranium armor-piercing shells. In the original design, the pilot could switch between two rates of fire: 2,100 or 4,200 rounds per minute; this was changed to a fixed rate of 3,900 rounds per minute. The cannon takes about half a second to come up to speed, so 50 rounds are fired during the first second, 65 or 70 rounds per second thereafter.