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Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt

 

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Produced in reply to a specification of 1967, which called for a hard-hitting close-support aircraft, the Fairchild A-10A Thunderbolt II (YA-10A) first flew on 10 May 1972 and was selected by the USAF in preference to the Northrop A-9 on 18 January 1973 after a competitive flyoff, and received a contract for six A-10A aircraft, the first of which flew 15 February 1975. The Thunderbolt's appearance derives from the care taken to enhance its survival prospects over the battlefield and incorporate maximum fire-power. Absorbing much of the centre fuselage is a GAU-8/A Avenger seven-barrel 30-mm cannon, the muzzle protruding slightly beneath the nose, which can be fired at the rates of 2,100 or 4,200 rounds per minute. The engine location is considered optimum for minimizing hits by ground-fire, and has the additional advantage that the wing and tail mask the infra-red emissions of exhaust gases and therefore affords some protection against heat-seeking SAMs. All of the A-10's glass is bulletproof and the cockpit itself is surrounded by a heavy tub of titanium. Titanium armor protects both the pilot and critical areas of the flight control system. This titanium "bathtub" can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 37 mm in size. The front windscreen can withstand up to a 23 mm projectile. Fire retardant foam protects the fuel cells which are also self sealing in the event of puncture.


The airframe has numerous constructional features resistant to battle-damage or conducive to swift repair, such as interchangeable (left or right) flaps, fuselage components, rudders, elevators and main landing gear legs. There are two primary hydraulic systems, each with manual back-up, and the landing gear can be extended under gravity if necessary. Well protected electronically by AN/ALQ-119 jamming pods, plus an AN/ALE-40 chaff and flare dispenser, the Thunderbolt carries a Pave Penny laser designation pod on a pylon to the right of the forward fuselage for accurate marking.


The first production A-10A Thunderbolt II flying on 21 October 1975. Entering service in early 1977, these single-seat aircraft are powered by two 9,065 lb thrust General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines.


Armament comprises a seven-barrel, 30-mm gun mounted in the nose, plus a maximum external load of 16,000 lb (7,257 kg) of weapons including air-to-surface missiles. The General Electric Aircraft Armament Subsystem (30 millimeter Gun System) is located in the forward nose section of the fuselage. The gun system consists of the 30 mm Gatling gun mechanism, double-ended link-less ammunition feed, storage assembly and hydraulic drive system. The General Electric GAU-8/A 30 mm seven barrel cannon, specifically designed for the A-10, provides unmatched tank killing capability. The gun fires armor-piercing projectiles capable of penetrating heavy armor. It also fires a high explosive incendiary round, which is extremely effective against soft skinned targets like trucks. The cannon fires at a rate of 4,200 rounds per minute.

 

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Features of the design are very advanced avionics to enhance operational capability and provision of titanium 737 mph armour for the entire cockpit area.


Avionics equipment includes communications, inertial navigation systems, computer-aided fire control and weapons delivery systems, electronic countermeasures, target penetration aids and self-protection systems. The A-10 employs both electronic and infrared countermeasures against enemy weapons systems. The weapons delivery system incorporates a heads-up display that provides the pilot with references for flight control and weapons employment. The weapons delivery systems include head-up displays that indicate airspeed, altitude and dive angle on the windscreen, a low altitude safety and targeting enhancement system (LASTE) which provides constantly computing impact point freefall ordnance delivery; and Pave Penny laser-tracking pods under the fuselage.


Development of a night/adverse weather (N/AW) two-seat version has been initiated, the prototype first flying in 1979. This is intended to allow the pilot to concentrate on control of the air-craft under night or adverse weather conditions, the second seat occupied by a weapons system officer to handle the electronics. The private-venture Thunderbolt N/AW (Night/Adverse Weather) was offered without success.

 

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The A-10/OA-10 have excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and are highly accurate weapons-delivery platforms. The A-10 has half the turning radius of the US Air Force's other primary CAS aircraft, the F-16. After initially leaving a target, the A-10 can turn around and hit the same target again, all in around 7 seconds. Due to its large combat radius, the Thunderbolt II can loiter for extended periods of time, allowing for the coordination required to employ within yards of friendly forces. They can operate under 1,000-foot ceilings (300 meters) with 1.5-mile (2.4 kilometers) visibility. Using night vision goggles, A-10/ OA-10 pilots can conduct their missions during darkness.


The A-10 is capable of sustaining operations on unimproved airfields and the A-10's rapid re-fueling and re-arming capability allows it to operate from forward bases close to the front lines. It is also capable of refueling in the air.


Altogether the USAF has received 713 aircraft, including A-10B dual control-trainers. Modelled on the A-10N/AW evaluator, the A-10B was in production featuring a second cockpit and taller fins.


The USAFs 33rd Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at Davis--Monthan AFB, Arizona, received its first Fairchild A-10A Thunderbolt IIs in February 1976.


The first combat-ready A-10A wing was the 345th Tactical Fighter Wing, based at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to which deliveries began on 20 March 1977. The last of 713 A-10s was handed over to the USAF on 20 March 1984. This was the end of aircraft manufacturing in Hagerstown and Washington County. A-10s were fitted with AIM-9L Sidewinder AAM dual rail adaptors, to allow four missiles to be carried in pairs.


The primary mission of the OA-10 is to act as forward air controller to coordinate and direct friendly air forces in support of land forces.


Northrop Grumman acquired the A-10 programme from Fairchild in 1987.


In 2000 preparations for the Precision Engagement Program (PEP) upgrade program began. PEP gives the A-10 the capability of deploying precision-guided weapons. The upgrade is carried out in two phases, called Spiral One and Spiral Two. The aircraft is designated A-10C. Between July and October 2004 the first A-10C underwent ground and instrumentation tests prior to the first flight in November 2004. In total 13 A-10C aircraft were for flight testing. The entire A-10A fleet is expected to receive the PEP upgrade. The last aircraft due to be modified before the summer of 2009.

 

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Fairchild A-10A Thunderbolt II
Engine: 2 x General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofan, 9065 lb / 4112-kg
Wingspan: 57 ft 6 in / 17.53 m
Length: 53 ft 4 in / 16.25 m
Height: 4.47m / 14 ft 8 in
Wing area: 47 sq.m / 506.0 sq ft
Empty equipped weight: 11,321 kg / 24,959 lb
MTOW: 50,000 lb / 22,680 kg
Wing load : 96.97 lb/sq.ft / 473.0 kg/sq.m
Max speed: 439 mph / 706 kph
Combat limit: 704 km/h (438 mph) at 1525 m (5,000 ft)
Service ceiling 13,636m / 45,000 ft
Initial ROC: 1830  m / min / 6,000 fpm
Ferry range: 2454 sm / 3949 km
Combat radius: 930+ km
T/O run (to 15m): 780 m
Ldg run (from 15m): 715 m
Armament: 1 x 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger seven-barrel cannon (1174 rds)
Pylons: 11 up to 7,258 kg / 16,000 lb
Fuel internal: 6225 lt.
Air refuel: Yes.
Seats: 1

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