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Dark spot under cockpit of A-10s (stackexchange.com)
772 points by mholt on Mar 6, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 185 comments

While off topic, i found this interesting bit of information on the a10's gun wiki page.

"The recoil force of the GAU-8/A[16] is 10,000 pounds-force (45 kN),[3] which is slightly more than the output of one of the A-10's two TF34 engines (9,065 lbf / 40.3 kN each).[17] While this recoil force is significant, in practice cannon fire only slows the aircraft a few miles per hour in level flight."

The gun firing produces more force through recoil on the plane then is produced by one of the plane's engines. That is simply amazing.

Edit: The guns wiki page(it has a wiki page).


It's also mentioned in an XKCD "what if":


> The GAU-8 Avenger fires up to sixty one-pound bullets a second. It produces almost five tons of recoil force, which is crazy considering that it’s mounted in a type of plane (the A-10 “Warthog”) whose two engines produce only four tons of thrust each. If you put two of them in one aircraft, and fired both guns forward while opening up the throttle, the guns would win and you’d accelerate backward.

> To put it another way: If I mounted a GAU-8 on my car, put the car in neutral, and started firing backward from a standstill, I would be breaking the interstate speed limit in less than three seconds.

> To put it another way: If I mounted a GAU-8 on my car, put the car in neutral, and started firing backward from a standstill, I would be breaking the interstate speed limit in less than three seconds.

More likely, you would have a cabrio in 1.62 seconds.

you mean you'd have to cut off the roof to mount it?



And make sure everyone was clear of the 'exhaust' for a few miles.

The next part is the funniest though...

As good as this gun would be as a rocket pack engine, the Russians built one that would work even better. The Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-6-30 weighs half as much as the GAU-8 and has an even higher fire rate. Its thrust-to-weight ratio approaches 40, which means if you pointed one at the ground and fired, not only would it take off in a rapidly expanding spray of deadly metal fragments, but you would experience 40 gees of acceleration. This is way too much. In fact, even when it was firmly mounted in an aircraft, the acceleration was a problem:

[T]he recoil … still had a tendency to inflict damage on the aircraft. The rate of fire was reduced to 4,000 rounds a minute but it didn't help much. Landing lights almost always broke after firing … Firing more than about 30 rounds in a burst was asking for trouble from overheating …

But if you somehow braced the human rider, made the craft strong enough to survive the acceleration, wrapped it in an aerodynamic shell, and made sure it was adequately cooled... ... with a GSH-6-30, you could jump mountains.

When you (jokingly, obviously) mention mounting it on a car, does this imply that you think the gun is mounted on the A-10?

When we look at cutaway drawings of the A-10, we see that it's almost more like the A-10 is mounted on the GAU-8 Avenger. Seriously, it's a pretty major part of the fuselage!

http://www.foodman123.com/cut42.jpg http://img143.imageshack.us/img143/5306/v38136usa10fairchild...

The A-10 is a truly amazing airplane, in large part due to the main gun, and has proved its usefulness again and again in real combat situations. Its extended air-to-ground capabilities (which are the vast majority of our air power needs in modern warfare) are unmatched by any other plane or chopper on the armed forces, and for all that it was a remarkably inexpensive plane to build. But despite all that, no new A-10s have been produced in 20 years, they're being retired at the rate of two each month, and the Air Force wants to replace them with the debacle that is the F-35.

The A-10 is extremely vulnerable to man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs), which are difficult to spot and nearly impossible to avoid at the low altitudes within which the A-10 best performs. MANPADs are more and more common on the modern battlefield, and the supply exploded after the 2011 Libyan Civil War. Furthermore, the GAU-8, while an impressive weapon, doesn't hold its own against any tank built within the last twenty years. This leaves the A-10 as a slow, unstealthy delivery platform for AGM-65 Maverick missiles and JDAMs, a role better performed by higher-performance aircraft.

I say all that as a huge fan of the A-10c, with many hours spent in the DCS sim. People seem to get bizarrely hyperbolic over the capabilities of this plane, but it's really a dinosaur.

When was the last time an A-10 was shot down by a MANPAD? And what is your proof that it is ineffective against modern tanks?

I ask as an actual A-10C pilot, with many more hours flying it than you have in a "sim".

Do you know anything about changes in tactics related to MANPAD threats, then? I read some about the Soviet war in Afghanistan, where we supplied MANPADs to the rebels for use against Soviet helicopters. Reportedly, they didn't actually shoot down very many helicopters, but they were very effective in that the threat of them forced the helicopters to engage from much further away from the battle and move at higher speeds to limit their vulnerability, but also limiting their effectiveness.

I wonder if there has been an affect like that on the A10s. And I wonder if anybody who knows is actually allowed to tell us.

When was the last time an A-10 was shot down in air-to-air combat? Never? They must be unstoppable!

But, seriously, there's that old saying: the only way to bring down an A-10 is to put a suicidal pilot in the cockpit.

Thanks for this. I don't see why people think 30 mm slugs are effective against tanks designed to resist 120 mm penetrators or shaped charges, including top armor hits. And simply enduring battle damage is insane against modern MANPADS with large warheads. The A-10, along with the B-17, is one of the most over-romanticized aircraft of all time.

Jeez. Tanks?

You're neglecting one of the most valuable roles for the A-10: close air support for ground troops in contact.

In that situation (read: the entirety of our conflict in Afghanistan/Iraq) tanks had NO ROLE. You're fighting a highly mobile ground force that often have an armament/position advantage and that's where the A-10 CAS really really makes a difference. Nobody fought TANKS in Afghanistan.

Ask anyone who's been in contact with the enemy how they feel when they hear that distinctive "BRRRRRRRAAAAAP!"


I think this needs illustration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuYmn_xYB78

My father worked on A-10s in the Air Guard, I thought was very familiar with them... but it wasn't really until I saw that video that I realized how terrifying they are in the appropriate situation. While the above video is a friendly-fire close call, you're probably not going to find video like that from the other side of the line.

Wow, it sounds just like a dragon's roar there. It must have a hell of an effect on morale...

Thanks for posting that video. Very informative!

Yeah, apparently the problem with using high speed jets if they can't hang out close to look out the window and figure which people are the bad guys. Helicopters are too lightly armoured and get shot down and current drones are a bit lightly armed to hold off loads of enemy troops. Maybe in the future when the drones are more like http://youtu.be/zjympX1bxI4?t=18s retiring the A10 would make sense

The problem isn't the drone airframe. It's taking the person OUT of the airframe.

Having that pilot in that seat removes the need to replicate the kind of situational awareness you have when you're flying your plane 100-1000 feet off the ground and making passes to identify who is who so you avoid a friendly fire incident. Until we have the kind of immersive, low-latency, realtime kind of virtual reality you'd need, using drones for CAS is a pipe-dream.

This, right here.

Doing close air support you want A-10 pilots or Marines.

When the Air Force first wanted to retire the A-10, there was an article [1] proposal: Give the A-10s to the Marine Corps.

Even if the machine could not be retrofitted for carrier operations, the Corps could fly them from airfields ashore, and would really value an excellent ground-attack aircraft, and would take good extra-special care of them.

[1] in the Marine Corps Gazette I think.

What about the depleted uranium bullits the A-10 uses? I read they are are threat to friendly ground forces when they cross the fields the A-10 fired up on? Targets hit by the A-10 basically become biohazard... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depleted_uranium

The A-10 can fire lead ammo as well. The uranium stuff is only needed for tank armour.

Ask a soldier or Marine if they'd make that trade. Dead now or dead much much later?

Yes, the A-10 is outdated and couldn't tear through the armor of a modern tank like it could to the tanks of Yore. But you also need to remember that the chain breaks at its weakest link. A strafing run from the GAU-8 will absolutely shred the tracks, gun, and exterior sensors of anything it comes near. Sure the crew might live through the concussions and blunt force trauma, but that vehicle is no longer in the fight.

Sometimes an M-Kill is better than destroying the entire thing because you can target support troops when they bring in a wrecker.

Well yes. Of course 30mm rounds are effective against tanks. It's simply a matter of how MANY you throw at the beast. At 3,000 rounds/minute you can hit the tank up real good.

Secondly, not every enemy has the latest tank. In fact, most potentially hostile nations (speaking from the POV of NATO) do NOT have modern tanks.

>I don't see why people think 30 mm slugs are effective against tanks designed to resist 120 mm penetrators or shaped charges, including top armor hits.

Because tanks only have that sort of armour on their frontal aspect and turret sides, and the top armour is very thin. Even if the turret top is armoured enough it is likely the engine deck can be penetrated and produce a mobility kill.

Also, hardly anyone besides the US and extremely close allies has ultra-modern tanks like late series Abrams or the Challenger II (and I have seen no evidence that those tanks are immune to the GAU-8).

P.S. There are also cheap ways to reduce shape charge effectiveness that don't work against solid penetrators. Things like the TUSK upgrade are designed to defeat RPGs not 30mm cannon.

Most assmetric warfare in current theatres is not fought against tanks of the caliber of the modern western main battle tanks. Until these types of conflicts are unlikely, I don't see why you would prefer an f-35 in CAS vs a comination of A10s and (if really a problem) drones or F16s.

Yep, the A-10c can take a real beating, but there's a huge gap between combat readiness and limping back to base for expensive repairs, assuming you survive the initial SAM strike. Much better to never be hit (or even seen!) in the first place.

Uh huh. You're saying this based on how many deployments?

it's not just the caliber of the ammo, it's also the velocity. I'm certainly not an expert, but I did my military service in a base used for tank training. Back then, it was already a done deal : no armor could resist the amount of energy released by anti-tank ordnance, in particular kinetic penetrators. I've seen up close old tanks which were used for training. On the entry side of the impact you have a perfectly cut circular hole a few cm in diameter, with slits all around like petal flowers. On the exit side you have a big open tear. In between, there was a jet stream of molten metal. Bottom line : a spotted tank is a dead tank.

That was a fairly long time ago, but unless armor has made huge progress since then, producing something hard enough to deflect this kind of force and yet light enough that the tank can move, I'd still bet on an A10 against anything rolling on the ground.

Yeah but that good Armour is on the front of the tank - you know the bit thats radically sloped.

The top of a tank not so much and if you blow a track of that's a mobility kill - almost as good as a full brew up.

The A-10 is extremely vulnerable to man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs), which are difficult to spot and nearly impossible to avoid at the low altitudes within which the A-10 best performs.

How about building a ground support platform that can deal with this? Apparently, the Army has tried with helicopters with instrument pods above their rotors, so they can target enemies from behind cover. Perhaps the solution will be many small drones taking the place of one manned aircraft.

A-10s have a missile warning system that is tied directly to the flare dispenser.

I'll keep track of all this for the next time I play Civilizations.

Forgive my ignorance. I thought the AC-130 was starting to fill more of the A-10 roles given a lack of enemy fighter aircraft in recent conflicts and the desire to carry more armaments.

Quoting my own comment from another subtree below. AC-130s circle low and slow, and cannot maneuver quickly, which makes them very very good SAM targets.

After an AC-130 was shot down in Iraq, they only fly at night.

They can also take an incredible amount of damage, to the point of being able to be brought back to base missing one of the wings.


This one came back with bullet holes, but still had both wings.

On a truck? No A-10 can fly while missing an entire wing. :)

No An A-10 has successfully returned to base with half of one wing missing. Big difference. It's not the only plane to claim this (notably, the B-17).

Also, an Israeli F-15 flew back to base after having one entire wing sheared off in a mid-air collision.


An F-8 Crusader Navy jet could take off with its wings still folded, then come around and land again.


(Search for "wings folded". I like the part about the pilot complaining that the controls felt "heavy.")

I am sort of thinking that someone in the pentagon is thinking drones for the future of this type of mission...

Guns producing more recoil than an aircraft's powertrain is nothing new. In WW2 fighters would be slowed when firing larger calibre weapons, noticeably impacting airspeed, especially with repeated firing.


Guns producing more recoil than an aircraft's powertrain is nothing new.

Yes, but AFAIK, the A-10 is the only plane that was designed by starting with a BFG, then building a plane around it.

You are forgetting the Bell P-39 Aircobra and P-63 King Cobra, both airframes designed around their cannon.

Ah, yeah, though I wasn't aware they really did start with the particular gun and work their out. Ok, yeah, they even had the specific gun in mind! The Oldsmobile T9 Cannon, you learn something new everyday!


Upvoted for the elegant use of "BFG."

Sometimes "elegant" == "obvious"

There is a difference between just slowing the craft and producing recoil force on the same order as the engines. If a plane is flying at a constant speed, then its in equilibrium. The engines are producing an equal amount of thrust to the amount of drag on the plane. Any recoil force will upset this and slow the plane down. This doesnt mean that they are producing more force than the powertrain.

The A10 doesnt do this either of course. It produces more recoil force than one engine, but not both.

This part is interesting too :

The A-10 engines were initially susceptible to flameout when subjected to gases generated in the firing of the gun. When the GAU-8 is being fired, the smoke from the gun can make the engines stop, and this did occur during initial flight testing. Gun exhaust is essentially oxygen-free, and is certainly capable of causing flame-outs of gas turbines. The A-10 engines now have a self-sustaining combustion section. When the gun is fired the igniters come on to reduce the possibility of a flame-out.

Used for propulsion, the GAU-8 would run out of "fuel" after only 18 seconds, and would burn out its barrels after 5 minutes.

At top speed, the Bugatti Veyron's tires only last 15 minutes. But that's OK, because the fuel tank only lasts 12 minutes.

Yes, yes, but what a glorious 18 seconds!

This reminded me of driving the tanks in the video game Grand Theft Auto, Vice City. If you wanted to go faster, a good option was to turn the turret backwards and fire.

I remember seeing the gun at air shows as a kid. It was fascinating.

My dad has always said that the A-10 is an infantryman's best friend. an F-16 or F-18 will straff over the battle field and is gone. an A-10 will just hang around.

When I was younger we went to a nature preserve that is adjacent to the gunnery range at Moody Air Force base. We went up in an observation tower overlooking the preserve and watched A-10s do strafing practice. The sound of the GAU-8 main gun is something you have to hear to believe. If bad intentions have a sound it's that gun.

It really demonstrates the problem with the American military bureaucratic structure - all the best attempts they made with rotary combat aircraft couldn't really measure up to the A-10 in that role, but the army wasn't allowed to operate fixed-wing combat aircraft so they had to rely on the air-force to do that... and the air-force infrastructure and culture doesn't really properly "map" to the kind of work the A-10 did.

Regardless, the A-10 is an anachronism now. Its chief advantage was its ruggedness and ability to properly explore the battlefield when attacking unlike faster, more fragile aircraft... and now they have drones that fill that role of "slow enough to look around before opening fire and we don't care quite so much if it gets shot".

>Regardless, the A-10 is an anachronism now


>Its chief advantage was its ruggedness and ability to properly explore the battlefield when attacking

Well, not really. While those are both big advantages it enjoys, its chief advantage and the mission is was designed for was that it carries enough ordinance to stop a Soviet tank column rolling into Germany in its tracks.

The A-10 is absolutely overkill for any modern CAS mission, and the airframes are simply 40 years old. Extending their life is only a temporary solution; they'll have to be replaced sooner or later. When they are replaced, there really isn't much of an argument for building a direct replacement instead of farming its various roles out to other platforms {hang and wait: predator, strike: f-35, CAS: Apache}

...it carries enough ordinance to stop a Soviet tank column...

If we don't need them there would probably be some interested parties in Eastern Europe right about now...

And that's how the US Air Force became Rent-A-Warthog.

It's like Uber for ground-attack aircraft!

Uber Alles

Just don't tell Bloomberg.

Well, I meant in recent engagements. I mean, how many times was the A-10 actually used to attack a Soviet tank-column vs. gunning down a bunch of poor guys with AKs hiding in light cover?

Maybe not soviet, but it sure racked up an insane count & ratio on Iraqi columns:

Destroying: - more than 1,000 tanks - 1,200 artillery pieces - 2,000 other military vehicles Confirmed kills include: - 967 tanks - 926 artillery pieces - 1,306 trucks - 501 armored personnel carriers - 28 command posts - Successfully hunted and destroyed SCUD missiles - Suppressed enemy air defenses - Attacked early warning radars

Those numbers to 5 losses in Desert Storm alone...

Well, none. Deterrence, dude.

If you think the A-10's an anachronism, the B-52 has been around for 60 years and is planned to be around for 30 more.

I imagine that a few depleted uranium rounds are a cheaper way to kill a tank than a hellfire, though?

The A10's gun has no (declassified) rounds capable of piercing a tank's armor. Sorry I can't find a more reliable source but http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090812213536AA... Its anti-tank weapons are missiles.

I put "declassified" in there because I saw a video a few years ago that claimed to show an A10 ripping through a tank. No idea what those rounds were.

Perhaps not through the front armor of a current MBT, but that's not where the guns aims. Instead it hits the top of the turret, the engine deck, and treads. This may not always result in an explosive, turret tossing engagement, but it definitely will result in a mission kill.

Every video I've ever seen of the A-10 involved it doing nasty things to tanks with its gun, at the very least rendering the tank inoperative. From wiki, sounds like it uses 5:1 mix of ~1 pound AP and HE rounds.

Like greedo alluded to, MBT armor is usually concentrated in the front (and angled) to defeat rounds from other tanks fired from roughly on the level, they tend to skimp everywhere else, and especially on the top.

Yes but count in the time of the whole operation, I bet that equation looks a bit different.

Stuff like loiter times to find the tank, risk to pilots. I bet pilots are the most expensive component in the aircraft. Wikipedia says a helfire is $68,000 usd. Say you fit 8 on an aricraft, how many depleted uranium rounds must you have to take out 8 targets (and account for misses). That takes logistics to move, occupies room.

Oh, I thought they cost significantly more, not bad (much cheaper than an Abrahms)

>>> The sound of the GAU-8 main gun is something you have to hear to believe.

Proof right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wQ0BXExYkg

The commentary is priceless on this one.

More proof right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrhoYnpgm-g

Get goosebumps every time I watch those. Too bad they're being retired.

This one is also amazing and scary at the same time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4zm5duK3hY

The cannons on the A-10 sounds like an angry bull.

Thanks for these. I had never heard it before.

It sounds like two-three main sounds. There's a snappy one, then a grunty one, then a crackly one.

Is the snappy the bombs exploding reaching, the grunty the gun sounds reaching the mic and the crackly one some kind of secondary explosion?

Crack is the supersonic crack of the round, then explosion of the round when it hits the ground and the "brrrr" is the sound of the propellent gases leaving the barrel of the gun.

The rounds are supersonic, so the first sound you hear is the sound of the rounds hitting the target, then you hear the sound of the gun firing arriving at the much slower speed of sound.

I played Battlefield 1942: Desert Combat when I was much younger, and the developers did a pretty great job of replicating the A10 sound, you felt incredibly powerful controlling that vehicle for the sound alone.

Desert combat was a fantastic mod! I remember helicopters being very tricky to control (you actually had to balance cyclic & collective controls)

Bit of a learning curve for sure, but flying them was amazing when you got good at it! I remember especially the Apache being a juggernaut in any situation, even in dogfights with planes like the A-10.

No kidding! I was at a shooting range long time ago, and I still remember that "brup BRUP!" of those cannons going off (double because you hear the sonic boom of the bullets before you hear the bullets themselves).

One of my favorite military planes for sure. Sad that it's getting decommissioned but it has served us well.

If you ask any soldier who's been in Iraq or Afghanistan what their favorite sound is, everyone will answer that it's the Warthog providing air support. It's provided welcome relief the world over.

It's a shame that it's being mothballed. The Air Force has always hated the plane. It's a shame we can't just turn it over to the Army.

I would still bet that its life will get extended. Every time that the AF has actually moved to get rid of them the Army jumps up and says, "yes! we'll take them off your hands," and suddenly the AF grudgingly extends the service life because they don't want the Army to get back into the business of having fixed wing aircraft...

I heard USAF at point offered to sell the A-10 to South Korea. Pretty clever of USAF if true. They were not 'retiring' them but still getting rid of them AND not giving Army a chance to say 'we will take over the A-10'.

Lucky for US Army, South Korean govt supposedly declined the offer.

I dunno, I'd rather see an AC-130 H/U/J/W or an Apache in the air above me providing continuous support rather than a few strafing runs from a fast moving A-10.

The A-10 can get to the scene faster, that's about it.

Quoting my own comment from another subtree below. AC-130s circle low and slow, and cannot maneuver quickly, which makes them very very good SAM targets. The A-10 is very maneuverable and quick by comparison.

After an AC-130 was shot down in Iraq, they only fly at night.

Medium speed, but not low, they're pressurized and all of the equipment can operate at very high altitudes. The A-10 is designed to operate below 1,000 feet, low and fast. The A-10 can operate in the lower 400 mph range and the AC-130 in the lower 300s, so not too much difference.

The software and sensors have always been the major limiting factors but the US definitely sees the value of the AC-130, so there's has been a good amount of money put into it, and it's paid off.

The crash in Iraq was in 1991, 23 years ago. Since then the crew size has decreased, software has gotten exponentially better, hardware has gotten dramatically better, and they've learned from incidents to protect the crew.

Large SAM targets should always be taken out first with cruise-missiles or bombs from a high altitude. Handheld SAM launchers like the one that shot the AC-130 in Iraq down are possible to prevent with sufficient chaff (which the AC-130 has a good amount of) combined with fast enough software and senors to detect the missile. There are even more counter-measures in the new versions of the aircraft and there was a ton of money spend to preventing the loss

I really don't see why a system can't be developed these days that can effectively destroy any SAM missiles by having a dedicated cannon which can auto-target and engage any SAM, considering the processing abilities and advanced sensors available today.

The AC-130 could be the future of combat if we can perfect SAM countermeasures, which we are spending lots of money on.

Oh yeah, I forgot about flak and cannon fire from the ground. Maybe that's why it hasn't been used more. Maybe they'll be able to create advanced light-weight armor and make them autonomous eventually. Lasers and rail-guns would probably render the AC-130 ineffective though.

It's basically a flying battleship.

Here's a cool video of JATOs being used 30+ years ago:


If you ask any soldier

Surely that would vary depending on which side the soldier was fighting on?

The sound of the GAU-8 main gun is something you have to hear to believe. If bad intentions have a sound it's that gun.

This is going in the quotes file. I logged in just to upvote you for that.

Another great advantage of that plane is just how durable it was. It could take massive damage yet stay in the air. Of course, pilot skill's important, too.

For proof, look at the story of Kim Campbell:


The article has loads of good pictures of the plane, the gun, and the damage she took over Iraq. It's amazing to see.

> The sound of the GAU-8 main gun is something you have to hear to believe. If bad intentions have a sound it's that gun.

I've only heard it in videos, and all I could think of is that it sounds like God Himself farting. You can't hear individual reports, just one long BRRAAAAP.

I understand the sound of the gun is known as "The Devils Fart" :)

Yeah that burp is awesome. Most of the plane is gun. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GAU-8_Avenger

The A-10 is one on of the aircraft that is on the list for retirement from the US Air Force. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairchild_Republic_A-10_Thunder...

The A-10 is a cold war designed attack jet to be used to take out Soviet tanks. Its really good at slow (relatively) , guided, precise air-to-ground strikes. I think it would make a good candidate for a new class of a drones fleet.

Yeah, possibly. What is indisputable is that the mooted replacement (the F-35) is as useless as tits on a boar for close ground support.

Realistically, the F-35 isn't the replacement for the A-10, drones are. Slow enough to look around and, much like the A-10, if they get shot then the pilot lives through it.

Sure. Drones are the future of air power, anyway, but the question is what do we use for CAS until the drones are ready? If the A-10 is mothballed, it's nothing but unsuitable fixed-wing aircraft until the drones are Good Enough. And if the last twenty years of hot wars have taught us anything, it's that air superiority and bombs dropped from B-52s is nowhere near sufficient.

Apache is the CAS solution. Operated by the Army, too.

Most drones only carry IIRC a single hellfire missile. Not particularly useful against Infantry, and a 1 shot and you're done.

An aircraft like the A10 (and a helo like the Apache, as noted below) has a huge benefit over a drone in its ability to stay on station. As also noted above, other aircraft like F16, F15, etc move fast and generally come in, take out a single target, and move out. A10 can circle, move slow, and continue taking out targets as they appear.

You may take out one or two armored vehicles visible on the battlefield, only to have more pop up over a ridge after your CAS has departed. An aircraft that can stay on station has a tremendous benefit.

Survivability of course matters in something like Close Air Support, with a long on-station time. As I recall, the armoring on the A10 is staggering (Wikipedia says 1,200 pounds (540 kg) of armor just for the cockpit and main aviation systems).

With the Apaches as well, the advent of the Longbow mast (360º radar mounted above the main rotor) after Desert Storm gives it an incredible ability to stay out of view, and pop up just long enough to get a weapon off. I believe the concern with attack helicopters though is tremendous susceptibility to fast movers, and even ground attack by RPG (Al Qaeda in Somalia perfected the art of short fuse detonation of RPG rounds near the rear stabilising rotor. See: Black Hawk Down)

I should note as well that as I recall, the Navy & Air Force ran into similar problems in Vietnam as may happen soon. They phased out most of their prop aircraft in favor of much faster jet bombers (and strategic bombers like the Aardvark that couldn't provide CAS). They ended up using carrier launched A-1 Skyhawks – an aircraft first built in 1945 – for close air support and helicopter rescue escorts (Often seen in vietnam era film as "Sandies").

Infantry support seems to be something that historically the military continues to forget until they suddenly need it, and scramble to stopgap a solution from whatever is laying around. It wouldn't be surprising if the A-10 comes back from the dead in some future conflict for just that reason.

One of the interesting points made in that long Vanity Fair piece about the F-35 [1] is that drone operators just don't have sufficient field of vision to make assessments that a human pilot loitering over a battlefield can. I don't doubt that we'll get there eventually, but I think it's a pretty interesting argument (albeit one advanced by an A-10 pilot.)

[1] http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2013/09/joint-strike-figh...

That's a truly fantastic article. And a bit scary, considering I have a family member training to fly one.

> Most drones only carry IIRC a single hellfire missile. Not particularly useful against Infantry, and a 1 shot and you're done.

Typical payloads on MQ-9 Reapers go up to 4 Hellfires and 2 500 pound bombs at one time. It's still a lot less than an A10 but it's enough for many situations.

> An aircraft like the A10 (and a helo like the Apache, as noted below) has a huge benefit over a drone in its ability to stay on station.

airframe per airframe, sure.

dollar per dollar (either production costs or operations/support cost)? Less likely.

It truly baffles me just how many very effective and specialized planes are supposed to be replaced by the F-35, which, it seems, can't really do any of those tasks right.

There's a very good reason why there were so many specialized aircraft in the first place.

The problem is that the F-35 costs a gazillion dollars, and (partly because it costs a gazillion dollars) the program is too politically wired-in to cancel. So they have to cut other planes to make room for it, and the only way to do that is to claim the F-35 can do the missions those other planes currently do.

Which it can't, of course, but since admitting that would require keeping the other planes, which would require canceling the F-35, which can't happen, everybody has sort of agreed to pretend it can.

Norman Augustine: Augustine's Laws

In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3-1/2 days per week, except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.

(From Joseph Tainter)

Diminishing returns to complexity. Drones would, of course, be one way of addressing this phenomenon.

One of the reasons is that the last time we tried this, the TFX, we ended up with one useful airplane type and mission, the F-111, and after a long pause went back to specialized types like the F-14, F-15, F-16 and the A-10.

Hope we don't declare victory with the F-35, field it, and then suffer in our next serious war....

All this reminds me of when bozos start talking about "convergence" in the technology sphere. The US: doomed by middle management.

Not just the US. Netherland stupidly insists on following the US in this, despite it being abundantly clear that the F-35 (or JSF, as it's usually called here) is a fiasco. But it's American, therefore it must be superior to anything else.

Our airforce is usually a bit more than 100 fighters. Always has been. Now we're going to get about 30 F-35s, and they're going to be slower and less maneuverable than our old F-16s. But they have stealth, and some other fighters that we don't have can take off and land vertically, so it's all good I guess.

I seriously think this is going to be the end of western air supremacy.

Taking everything literally, tits on a boar could actually provide fairly good close ground support

Isn't the Spectre Gunship (AC-130) also in service and suitable for a similar role?

Yes but limited range and larger risk of ground-to-air defences.

After an AC-130 was shot down in Iraq, they only fly at night.

Given it was designed as a tank killer, but it has done an amazing job of supporting our ground troops in a way the F-35 is never going to fulfill. The amount of time and continued fire support it can give has not been matched.

Not to mention the robustness of that damned machine...

> The aircraft is designed to fly with one engine, one tail, one elevator, and half of one wing missing.

This is almost certainly the military equivalent of an urban legend, but I remember hearing a story once about an A-10 that ate an anti-aircraft missile. The missile entered the engine nacelle. I don't know whether the missile detonated or not, but, according to the story, the plane turned around, flew back to base, ground crew replaced the engine, and the plane returned to service.

My dad always said that he'd take one A-10 covering him over an entire squadron of F-16s.

That's mostly because A-10's were specifically designed for engaging ground targets, while F-16's were originally designed for air superiority and later evolved into a multi role platform.

Every time someone tries to retire something from the Cold War, turns out we need it after all.

Ughh, why does the CIA always pop up to say this? b^)

More like we grab something from the cold war that probably wouldn't have worked as intended and use it for doing something that wasn't even imagined.

> I think it would make a good candidate for a new class of a drones fleet.

It would (a drone fleet could have an even better "hang time" than an A10) but afaik there's no such class right now, and there's definitely no plan to build drones around the Avenger.

The Avenger is probably overkill anyways for modern warfare. At this point its advantages over a lighter Gatling-style cannon were probably more psychological than physical - the enemy doesn't have tanks.

I could see the US military fielding a drone built around a 20-mm Gatling gun to fill the void left by the A10, if they really felt that bullets were better than Hellfires for the role.

Why do with a missile what can be done with a bullet? Hellfires are pretty pricey...

> if they really felt that bullets were better than Hellfires for the role.

Well, Drones currently carry a single hellfire (at best), the unit cost is $68000 and the anti-personnel version is pretty nasty (it's a thermobaric warhead). A gatling-type cannon provides better precision, more staying time and much cheaper (even for the A10's 30mm, rounds are ~$750 per hundred for HE to ~$1300 per hundred for DU, 20mm rounds are $300 per hundred for HE to $500 per hundred for SAPHEI, you can literally get a truckload of high-caliber rounds for the price of each Hellfire).

>Well, Drones currently carry a single hellfire (at best)


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MQ-9_Reaper - at least 4 missiles.

As it is, drones are only going to get bigger and better performing.

A-10 was a Boyd sponsored aircraft, a fun topic: http://www.win-vector.com/blog/2010/04/deming-wald-and-boyd-...

A joke I heard is that if Air Force was allowed to buy whatever plane it wanted, every single one of them would be a single seat jet fighter that goes very fast. No cargo plane, no helicopter, no tanker, no CAS plane.

Air Force should just hand over A-10 to Army, the ones who really know how valuable A-10 is.

Except the a10 pilots, there is a love affair there...

Except the 'love affair' between a10 pilots and a10 is kinda like one in an arranged marriage. There was NO love at first but it kinds grew after they were forced to be together...

The most fascinating thing about this for me is that it's nothing more than what many fishes do.

What they didn't mention was that it relies on the idea that turns are made using a pull back as you can handle a higher number of positive Gs than negative.

I was really expecting something 10x more complex (e.g. A special WiFi-reflecting paint that prevents missiles from stealing the A-10s bandwidth or some such).

I love how simple yet effective it is. A very "just-use-a-pencil-in-outer-space"-type solution.

Note that what you seem to be referring to is an urban legend [1]. Initially both NASA and the Russians used pencils, but they were quickly deemed potentially hazardous because they shed graphite flakes that in microgravity may end up in places where you don't want them - being electrically conductive they may even cause short-circuits. Simple ball-point pens work fine in microgravity because they rely on the capillary effect, not gravity, to work.

[1] http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

Also, not mentioned in the Snopes article, is that the refill cartridge and ink used in the pen weren't even developed specifically with NASA in mind. Fisher wanted to create a ballpoint pen that would work in all manner of extreme environments, write on wet surfaces, and work upside down. Microgravity was just one of those extreme environments.

pencil in outer space is an urban legend: http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

A pencil in space is a very bad idea. It will create floating graphite shards that are conductive and could short out critical equipment (as well as not being great health-wise).

Actually, even though it is an urban legend, it is something I could see the USSR doing with their disregard for their astronauts' safety.

Pretty clever.

False cockpit aside, the A-10 is my favorite plane of all time. It has a sound that's really unmistakable.

(well, technically I guess it's the GAU-8 making the sound...)

Slightly off topic...

The village where I grew up in Scotland is on a headland on the coast and was near a couple of RAF bases - it seemed a popular route point so my childhood had a lot of very low flying military aircraft about so I guess we were all used to the noise.

Then came the day when there was a Vulcan bomber doing apparently doing aerobatics at a fairly low level over the village - it's probably close to 40 years but I don't think I will ever forget that utterly glorious sound....

[Edit: the sight of a Vulcan being thrown around the sky isn't something I'll forget either!]

Here is a video of a Vulcan taking off - that "howl" is pretty distinctive!


I have to assume that the secret UK war plan wasn't to drop H-bombs on the Soviets but to deafen them into submission.

At an airshow, I saw a US Harrier do a vertical take off. It was really loud! At a different airshow, I saw an SR-71 take off and fly around. That was pretty damn loud, too. It set off every car alarm in the parking lot.

I saw one doing tricks at an airshow at RAF Valley many years ago. It sounded like tearing silk.

The painted false cockpit was first operationally used on Canadian CF-18 Hornets, but derived from USAF research in conjunction with an aviation artist.

So the A-10 community adopted it second-hand.

Its engines are most definitely distinctive, that fan sound is some sweet music.

I figured that dark spot was just the result of pilots doing dangerous maneuvers while getting shot at by tanks and AA. I'd leave a dark spot, too.

Bigger question -- who knew there was an aviation Stack Exchange??!? I always went to quora to read kind of stuff.

Stack Exchange is evolving towards Reddit, which has subreddits for every conceivable topic and then some.

The amount of silly garbage in this thread is astounding. I thought you HN folks were supposed to be smart. Anyone here actually fly A-10s? Or been on the ground and had one support you?

No, the plane does not slow down when you shoot the gun.

Source: I have almost 3000 hours in this plane. Flew today, actually.


As opposed to speak authoritatively on a topic with ZERO experience beyond a Wiki page?

This thread got cross-linked to some forums where ACTUAL COMBAT VETS frequent. You'd be wise to ask your questions of them instead of talking out of your ass.

Interesting answer. My offhand guess would have been discoloration in the metal due to heat put off by this monster:


My guess was a variation: as a warning to ground personnel not to touch that area of the fuselage, as after any recent firing of the GAU-8 that area would be "HOT PLATE".

When I was a kid I saw this demo tape and was blown away by how lethal and intimidating the A-10 looked. Ever since I've been fascinated with it. The video quality is very poor because this was shot in the late seventies or early eighties but it demonstrates the ferocity of the plane pretty well.


I don't know how accurate it is, but I remember this entertaining video of A-10 designer Pierre Sprey talking about how the new F-35 is garbage:


Themes of bloat and unwarranted complexity are perhaps universal.

For those interested in the unusual development of the A-10, see the book "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War".

Ships in WWII used to use techniques like this as well. I saw a great exhibit on camouflage at the Imperial War Museum that featured quite a few examples of this:


I think it deserves a little more explanation:

This camouflage was effective not at hiding the ship, but denying the U-Boat captains the ability to see in which direction it's moving to properly launch torpedoes. The patterned painting makes it harder to find where the bow is pointing to.

Thank you, because I was just imagining painting the bottom of the ship to look like the top, to confuse subs into thinking it had capsized or something.

I think it deserves a little more explanation

That is probably why they included the hyperlink.

dazzle camo (razzle dazzle): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dazzle_camouflage

Whoa. Cool.

I was more surprised to read that it was patented. Not that it doesn't make sense, but I had never considered that governments might not use a particular military tool because of a licensing issue.

Reminds me of eye mimicry in animal camouflage:


Is there air-air combat happening somewhere in the world? If not, when was the last time this could have been used?

It has no place in air-to-air combat other than trying to not get shot down. It is a dedicated ground attack, CAS platform. It has seen plenty of use in that role in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe the Soviets in Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising, and the Taliban both refer to it as the "Devil's Cross".

Probably one of my greatest memories from NTC is being on a hill, and having an A-10 crest the hill, inverted, and then roll over as it continues down the other side on its way to attack a column of OPFOR armor. F-16s and F-18s would just zip right by and be gone in a second. The A-10s would lazily swing back and forth as they worked their way down the valley.

That 'crest the hill inverted' trick is insane... They do it because following the contour of the hill while flying right sire up would result in too many negative g's. By flipping inverted, the g-force is now 'down' (relative to the pilot) and they can pull a lot harder (since the body is much better at dealing with g-foreces in that direction).

I don't think there has been really Air - Air combat in a very long time. (Vietnam?) - though using this on a A10 makes a lot of sense, tricking ground forces yo think you're banking in their direction when your not and tricking enemy aircraft of the same can give an advantage.

The Bekaa Valley in the 80s the Israelis hammered the Syrian Air Force without, I believe, any losses of their own.


Equally as interesting is the Naval efforts of many countries to camo their ships. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dazzle_camouflage - Jazz Hands, anyone?

"I have an A-10 with this stain under the cockpit. I've tried scrubbing it with soap and water, jet fuel, and degreaser, but it stays there. Does anyone know a better solvent?"

I was expecting something like that from the title...

I like it! Very much like mimicking the nature. That type of naturally evolved patterns are common in nature (fish, birds, insects, etc.) to confuse predators.

I wonder how badly that would mess up combat drones' vision systems?

Welcome to a world of anti-machine-vision camouflage.

That plane has to be quite sturdy to fire that gun. 10 tonnes from the front and four from the back.

This is seriously turning more and more into reddit.

Boys with toys. Toys for killing people.

Octopus-driven security.

old school technology borrowed from nature!

Before this, the armchair generals were all "stupid military, retiring the A-1 Skyraider with a jet! How can a jet loiter on target long enough to do close air support worth a shit!".

Sorta. Same mission and all, but the A-29 is a turboprop because it's a) cheaper and b) simpler to fly and maintain than a military jet intended for militaries that are primarily concerned about such things. The A-1 was a prop because it was part of the last generation of military prop planes. I don't think the designers of the A-29 were looking to recreate the success of the A-1. Looks like an effective platform, tho.

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