Finding A Replacement
America’s leading ground-attack aircraft in the early days of the Vietnam War was the A-1 Skyraider. The Skyraider carried a large payload, but its propeller design was already outdated by the 1960s.
In September of 1966, US Air Force Chief of Staff General John McConnell ordered the development of a rugged and survivable CAS aircraft to protect troops on the ground. The winner of the contract was Fairchild Republic.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, twin-turbofan, straight-wing, subsonic attack aircraft.
It has excellent maneuverability, high accuracy, a top speed of 420 mph, a wide combat radius, and the ability to take off and land in austere environments. Furthermore, the warplane’s cockpit and its systems are protected by 1,200 lbs of titanium armor.
The A-10 has the ability to carry a wide array of bombs, but one of its main selling points is the 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon.
Impressive Wartime Capabilities
After a relatively peaceful two decades of service, the Warthogs first saw combat during the 1991 Gulf War. Captain Robert Swain achieved the A-10’s first air-to-air victory after shooting down an Iraqi helicopter.
During the 40-day-long conflict, the A-10 had a mission-capable rate of 95.7%, flying over 8,000 sorties and launching 90% of the missiles fired in the war.
A-10s would also take part in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999. There, several Thunderbolt IIs escorted and supported search and rescue missions and performed ground attack missions until the combat ended.
It was also part of Operation Anaconda and the Iraq War, beginning with Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 20, 2003. Later on, the A-10 would also do several missions in Afghanistan, Libya, and other parts of the Middle East.
Pushing Its Limit
The A-10’s armor was put to the test on April 7, 2003. That day, Major Kim Campbell was tasked to pinpoint Iraqi targets when she received a call asking for immediate assistance against enemy fire.
Campbell quickly responded to the scene, descending from the clouds to scout the area. She and her wingman did multiple passes over the enemy while accurately firing their autocannons and letting go of their high-explosive rockets. As Campbell maneuvered away from the area after her last pass, she heard a large explosion at the tail of the Warthog.
The plane wouldn’t respond to any of her control inputs, no matter what she tried. Campbell then put the fighter into manual reversion and flew the A-10 without any hydraulics – after all, the aircraft was designed to be able to fly with just one engine, half a tail and wing, and only one elevator.
She managed to land the A-10 even without brakes. Upon inspection, it was found that her A-10 had sustained damage to one engine, as well as the redundant hydraulic systems which disabled all flight controls, landing gear, brakes, and horizontal stabilizers.
Major Campbell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for her bravery in aerial combat. To this day, she is one of only a handful of pilots who landed the Warthog in manual mode.