Military Aviation

A-10 Designer, A-10 Pilot Explain how the Warthog Became ‘The Most Survivable Plane Ever Built’

‘The Hawg doesn’t mind the risk of taking some fire to get the job done, because it’s been built to take it,’ Lynn Taylor, former A-10 Warthog Pilot.

The video in this post features Pierre Sprey, one of the A-10 designers, explaining how the Warthog became the most survivable aircraft ever built.  

‘“Armor” exists to prevent penetration by bits of hot metal. The only real “armor” on the Hawg is the bathtub and the front windscreen,’ explains Lynn Taylor, A-10 Pilot, Joint Firepower Course Instructor, Air Liaison Officer. ‘Enclosed within the titanium armor are the two components that are least resistant to damage: the flight control junction box (where everything connects to the stick), and the stick actuator (that’s the pilot, lad).’

Taylor continues:

‘The front windscreen is rather thick ballistic glass that is intended to deflect smaller caliber rounds (like a 12.7mm… about the size of a .50 cal).

‘The big bubble canopy is not armored at all. In fact, there is a “canopy breaker tool” in the cockpit (essentially a dull, curved-blade knife) for use in case you are trapped inside on a sunny day and can’t raise the canopy any other way. Obviously, if there is any chance of breaking through with a dull blade, the material isn’t going to stop a bullet.

‘Outside of the armored area are a plethora of genius designs that would make Leonardo da Vinci proud:

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-10C Thunderbolt II 23d W, 74th FS Flying Tigers, FT/80-144. Moody AFB, GA – 2011
  • Twin engines set high and to the rear, external to the fuselage.
  • Cool-running high-bypass turbofans. (Even if they are weak first-generation models. Don’t get me started on engine upgrades.)
  • Twin tails that shield the engine exhaust.
  • Dual hydraulic systems, with a tertiary emergency backup system.
  • Manual reversion flight system that allows for flying the jet with no hydraulics at all.
  • Beefy wings that can break two of three spars and stay attached. (This has been ops tested in combat. Most impressive.)
  • Main landing gear that hangs out of the fairings a little when retracted, facilitating gear-up landings. (Fun fact: the A-10 is the only plane I know of with landing distance tables for gear up landings. If you don’t remember to activate the emergency hydraulic system before you land, you won’t have brake pressure and it’s possible to drive off the end of the runway… gear up.)
  • Redundant internal systems routed so that a hit in any one place will not incapacitate the jet.

‘Of course, the idea is to not get hit in the first place. Anyone who insists that the Hawg only flies “low and slow” is operating on decades-old intel. These days the venerable Hawg typically operates up in the lower stratosphere like all of the (other) fast movers and slings JDAMs and Mavericks like the rest of them.

‘That said, it can still get down in the weeds when necessary to get below the weather, or to deliver crazy accurate fire with a small collateral damage footprint, because the guys on the ground are in a virtual knife fight and need air support.

‘When that call comes, the Hawg doesn’t mind the risk of taking some fire to get the job done, because it’s been built to take it.’

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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