Random Research Friday – A10 Warthog

What some might not know of me is that I am a person who hardly ever flies, but really loves the subject matter of flight. I am intrigued by the idea that we have the capability of designing machines that lift us off the ground and provide fast travel to anywhere in the world. In addition, I have always been facilitated by the way that we use flying machines for combat.

Of all the planes and flying machines that have existed in combat, there is one that takes the top spot in my list, the A-10 Thunderbolt (aka “Warthog”). It is one of the rare combat planes that has stood the test of time and provided decades of reliable and relevant service.

The question is, “Why would this be my favorite favorite combat plane?” Is it the fastest? Nope. Is it the prettiest? It is cool looking, but not as “pretty” as maybe the F-22. But what makes this plane great is that it is the Hercules of the air. It was meant for air-to-ground combat. As such, it is very close to ground fire. The designers of the A10 made the plane as tough as a tank. With redundancies on all major systems, the A10 can take a punishment and still keep flying.

The single most defining characteristic of the A10 is the 30mm Gatling gun shot from the nose of the plane. The designers actually built the plane around this special gun. I remember the first time I heard of this weapon. I was amazed to hear that pilots could only burst fire the weapon, because if they fired it continuously the barrels would melt.

For a brief overview, the information below was from a email chain letter (I know, I know… but everything is accurate from what I can tell.) There really is a lot to learn about the A10. If you really want to know the full story, I would recommend reading the A10 Warthog Wikipedia article.


Short Story of the A10 Thunderbolt

First there was this gun…


It was developed by General Electric, the “We bring good things to life” people. It’s one of the modern-day Gatling guns. It shoots very big bullets. It shoots them very quickly.

Someone said, “Let’s put it in an airplane.”

Someone else said, “Better still, let’s build an airplane around it.”


So they did. And “they” were the Fairchild-Republic airplane people.

And they had done such a good job with an airplane they developed back in WWII…


…called the P-47 Thunderbolt, they decided to call it the A 10 Thunderbolt. (fondly nicknamed the “WartHog”)


They made it so it was very good at flying low and slow and shooting things with that fabulous gun.

But since it did fly low and slow, they made it bulletproof, or almost so. A lot of bad guys have found you can shoot an A 10 with anything from a pistol to a 23mm Soviet cannon and it just keeps on flying and shooting.

When they got through, it looked like this…


It’s not sleek and sexy like an F18 or the stealthy Raptors and such, but I think it’s such a great airplane because it does what it does better than any other plane in the world.

It kills tanks.

Not only tanks, but armored personnel carriers, radar stations, locomotives, bunkers, fuel depots…just about anything the bad guys thought was bulletproof turned out to be easy pickings for this beast.


See those engines. One of them alone will fly this puppy. The pilot sits in a very thick titanium alloy “bathtub.”

That’s typical of the design.

They were smart enough to make every part the same whether mounted on the left side or right side of the plane, like landing gear, for instance.

Because the engines are mounted so high (away from ground debris) and the landing gear uses such low pressure tires, it can operate from a damaged airport, interstate highway, plowed field, or dirt road.

Everything is redundant. They have two of almost everything. Sometimes they have three of something. Like flight controls. There’s triple redundancy of those, and even if there is a total failure of the double hydraulic system, there is a set of manual flying controls.


Capt. Kim Campbell sustained this damage over Bagdad and flew for another hour before returning to base.

But about that gun…

It’s so hard to grasp just how powerful it is.


This is the closest I could find to showing you just what this cartridge is all about. What the guy is holding is NOT the 30mm round, but a “little” .50 Browing machinegun round and the 20mm cannon round which has been around for a long time.

The 30mm is MUCH bigger.


Down at the bottom are the .50 BMG and 20×102 Vulcan the fellow was holding. A t the bottom right is the bad boy we’re discussing.

Let’s get some perspective here: The .223 Rem (M16 rifle round) is fast. It shoots a 55 or so grain bullet at about 3300 feet/sec, give or take. It’s the fastest of all those rounds shown (except one). When you move up to the .30 caliber rounds, the bullets jump up in weight to 160-200 grains. Speeds run from about 2600 to 3000 fps or so.

The .338 Lapua is the king of the sniper rifles these days and shoots a 350 grain bullet at 2800 fps or so. They kill bad guys at over a mile with that one.

The .50 BMG is really big. Everyone who picks one up thinks it’s some sort of fake, unless they know big ammo. It’s really huge with a bullet that weighs 750 grains and goes as fast the Lapua.

I don’t have data on the Vulcan, but hang on to your hat.

The bullet for the 30×173 Avenger has an aluminum jacket around a spent uranium core and weighs 6560 grains (yes, over 100 times as heavy as the M16 bullet, and flies through the air at 3500 fps (which is faster than the M16 as well).

The gun shoots at a rate of 4200 rounds per minute. Yes, four thousand. Pilots typically shoot either one- or two-second burst which set loose 70 to 150 rounds. The system is optimized for shooting at 4,000 feet.

OK, the best for last.

You’ve got a pretty good idea of how big that cartridge is, but I’ll bet you’re like me and you don’t fully appreciate how big the GAU-8 Avenger really is.

Take a look…


Each of those seven barrels is 112″ long. That’s almost ten feet. The entire gun is 19-1/2 feet long.

Think how impressive it would look set up in your living room.

Oh, by the way, it doesn’t eject the empty shells but runs them back into the storage drum. There’s just so dang many flying out, they felt it might damage the aircraft.

Like I said, this is a beautiful design.


I’m glad it’s ours.

On again…