Beloved by its allies and hated by the enemy – this is the story behind Fairchild Republic’s A-10 Thunderbolt II, otherwise known as the Warthog.
The A-10 borrowed a lot of concepts from the Henschel Hs 129 and Junkers Ju-87G, both of which were German WWII aircraft known for their roles as “Tank Killers.”
Hs 129s were armed with two 20mm MG151/20 cannons or even a 30mm MK 101 cannon in a mounted gun pod. Later variants were planned – with a 75mm Pak 40-based automatic cannon beneath the fuselage, but these proved to be very difficult to operate even though it was extremely effective.
Meanwhile, the Ju-87G saw success using the Bordkanone BK 3.7, an under-wing gun pod containing 37mm Flak 18 guns.
The Warthog’s claim to fame is its GAU-8/A gun which was created from a program parallel to the A-10’s A-X program. It was based on the Gatling design, with seven barrels providing an insane 3,900 rounds per minute.
But operating such heavy machinery has its own demands. The Avenger takes up around 15% of the aircraft’s total weight, and its front landing gears are offset to the starboard side to make room for the cannon and re-center its recoil.
Why Everyone Loves It
The A-10 cemented its legacy during Operation Iraqi Freedom and during the war in Afghanistan. It could operate very effectively in uncontested airspace, providing close air support to the troops on the ground with its rugged airframe, monstrous cannon, and extremely varied weaponry.
The cockpit is heavily armored with titanium plates, while its main fuel tank is stored behind the GAU-8 ammo protected by platings. If the main tank is leaking, the A-10 can draw fuel from additional fuel tanks located on both wings.
A Formidable Opponent
A-10s also have an almost-inverted gull wing design, similar to the Ju-87 and F4U Corsair, which gives pilots better visibility of the ground and allows larger external bomb loads.
A usual loadout of twin AIM-9 Sidewinders plus its GAU-8/A cannon makes the Warthog a formidable opponent in both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.
First Aerial Victory
The first A-10 aerial victory was credited to Captain Bob Swain, who shot down an Iraqi helicopter.
Here’s what he had to say:
“On the first pass, maybe 75 rounds. The second pass, I put enough bullets down; it looked like I hit him with a bomb.”
“We tried to ID the helicopter after we were done, and it was just in a bunch of little pieces, so we can’t tell what type it was.”
His A-10 was later nicknamed the ‘Chopper Popper.’