‘We joke that the A-10 is really a single-engine aircraft, with half an engine on each side,’ Lynn Taylor, former A-10 Warthog pilot.
The A-10 is the first US Air Force aircraft designed specifically for close air support of ground forces. It is named for the famous P-47 Thunderbolt, a fighter often used in a close air support role during the latter part of World War II. The A-10 is very maneuverable at low speeds and low altitudes to ensure accurate weapons delivery, and it carries the systems and armor needed to survive in this environment. It is intended for use against all ground targets, but specifically tanks and other armored vehicles. The Thunderbolt II’s great endurance gives it a large combat radius and long loiter time in a battle area. Its short takeoff and landing capability permits operation from airstrips close to the front lines. Maintenance at forward bases with limited facilities is possible because of the A-10’s simple design.
But what are the biggest weakness of the venerable A-10?
‘Affectionately known as the Warthog…
‘The top three weaknesses of the A-10 are:
1. Low thrust.
2. Not enough thrust.
3. Engines that don’t generate enough thrust.
‘We joke that the A-10 is really a single-engine aircraft, with half an engine on each side. (Also… do you know what an A-10 simulator is? You go out back, climb in a dumpster, and they throw rocks at you.)
‘In the summer heat of the Sandbox, you have two options:
1. Take off with less than a full weapons load, or
2. Take off with less than full fuel.
‘The engines just don’t push out enough thrust in the summer heat to do both. Since you can get more gas once you’re airborne, but not more weapons, a common solution is to take off with a lighter fuel load, then hit a tanker to top off your tanks on the way out to drop said weapons.
‘The A-10’s engines are the General Electric TF34, a first generation turbofan. ‘It really is a great engine, though, and the perfect kind of engine for the Hawg. IIRC, something like 80% of the thrust comes from bypass air instead of what goes through the engine core. It’s (relatively) quiet, runs cool, is easy to maintain, and very durable. However, being an old first generation motor, the newer ones are much better.’
‘An upgrade wouldn’t even require a new engine design. Back when I was flying Hawgs, we would pine for the same engine used on Canadian biz jets. The General Electric CF34 (a direct descendant of the TF34) has about twice the thrust of the venerable TF34, with only about a 20% increase in fuel flow. The engine mounts would need to be beefed up a bit, but the increased power would more than make up for that.’
Photo credit: Master Sgt. Dale Atkins, U.S. Air Force