The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles.
The primary mission of the A-10 is to provide day and night close air combat support for friendly land forces and to act as forward air controller (FAC) to coordinate and direct friendly air forces in support of land forces. The A-10 has a secondary mission of supporting search and rescue and Special Forces operations. It also possesses a limited capability to perform certain types of interdiction. All of these missions may take place in a high or low threat environment.
The A/OA-10 aircraft was specifically developed as a close air support aircraft with reliability and maintainability as major design considerations. The Air Force requirements documents emphasized payload, low altitude flying capability, range and loiter capability, low speed maneuverability and weapons delivery accuracy. The aircraft is capable of worldwide deployment and operation from austere bases with minimal support equipment.
Specific survivability features include titanium armor plated cockpit, redundant flight control system separated by fuel tanks, manual reversion mode for flight controls, foam filled fuel tanks, ballistic foam void fillers, and a redundant primary structure providing “get home” capability after being hit. Design simplicity, ease of access and left to right interchangeable components make the A/OA-10 aircraft readily maintainable and suitable for deployment at advanced bases.
The A-10/OA-10 have excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and are highly accurate weapons-delivery platforms. They can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate under 1,000-foot ceilings (303.3 meters) with 1.5-mile (2.4 kilometers) visibility. Their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. Using night vision goggles, A-10/ OA-10 pilots can conduct their missions during darkness.
The A/OA-10 is a single place, pressurized, low wing and tail aircraft with two General Electric TF-34-100/A turbo-fan engines, each with a sea level static thrust rating of approximately 9000 pounds. The engines are installed in nacelles mounted on pylons extending from the fuselage just aft of and above the wing. Two vertical stabilizers are located at the outboard tips of the horizontal stabilizers. The forward retracting tricycle landing gear incorporates short struts and a wide tread. The nose wheel retracts fully into the fuselage nose. The main gear retracts into streamlined fairing on the wing with the lower portion of the wheel protruding to facilitate emergency gear-up landings. The General Electric Aircraft Armament Subsystem A/A49E-6 (30 millimeter Gun System) is located in the forward nose section of the fuselage. The gun system consists of the 30mm Gatling gun mechanism, double-ended linkless ammunition feed, storage assembly and hydraulic drive system.
Avionics equipment includes communications, inertial navigation systems, fire control and weapons delivery systems, target penetration aids and night vision goggles. Their 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. The aircraft also have armament control panels, and infrared and electronic countermeasures to handle surface-to-air-missile threats.
The Thunderbolt II's 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun can fire 3,900 rounds a minute and can defeat an array of ground targets to include tanks. Some of their other equipment includes an inertial navigation system, electronic countermeasures, target penetration aids, self-protection systems, and AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
Thunderbolt IIs have Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), compatible single-seat cockpits forward of their wings and a large bubble canopy which provides pilots all-around vision. The pilots are encircled by titanium armor that also protects parts of the flight-control system. The redundant primary structural sections allow the aircraft to enjoy better survivability during close air support than did previous aircraft. The aircraft can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles up to 23mm. Their self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam. Their redundant hydraulic flight-control systems are backed up by manual systems. This permits pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power is lost.
The Thunderbolt II can be serviced and operated from bases with limited facilities near battle areas. Many of the aircraft's parts are interchangeable left and right, including the engines, main landing gear and vertical stabilizers.
The first production A-10A was delivered to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., in October 1975. It was designed specially for the close air support mission and had the ability to combine large military loads, long loiter and wide combat radius, which proved to be vital assets to America and its allies during Operation Desert Storm. In the Gulf War, A-10s, with a mission capable rate of 95.7 percent, flew 8,100 sorties and launched 90 percent of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles.