This Is Why The A-10 Thunderbolt Is So Special

Known as “the ‘Warthog’ for its aggressive look, and often painted with teeth on the nose cone, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is the U.S. Air Force’s primary low-altitude close air support aircraft,” according to military.com. Additionally, Thunderbolt “has excellent maneuverability at low airspeeds and altitude, and is a highly accurate and survivable weapons-delivery platform.” Those are just a few of the perks that come along with this incredible aircraft. The Thunderbolt never fails to amaze those interested in military innovations, so we’re willing to bet you’re going to love what lies ahead. Continue reading and learn all you can about the A-10 Thunderbolt II!

Extra Protection For Pilots

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Something that should give pilots an extra sense of security while flying this beautiful aircraft is the extra protection surrounding the cockpit. Developers added an extremely high level of security.

Surrounding the control system is 1,200 pounds of armor that they call the “bathtub.” It has the power to withstand 50-cal bullets or even 23 mm armor-piercing rounds. That means it takes a ton to penetrate into where the pilot sits, providing a clearer mindset to those who fly.

The Heaviest Automatic Cannon

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Knowing that you not only have superior protection while piloting, as well as a record-breaking weapon, should make you even more fearless while flying. The Thunderbolt has a 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger in the front.

The barrel points out from the nose, and boy is it something special. It’s the most massive automatic cannon ever to be installed on an aircraft. Opposing jets and planes that have to face off with the A-10 need to have a strategy before approaching.

Maintenance Requires Special Techniques

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

While the Gatling gun is the heaviest ever mounted on an aircraft, it surprisingly only takes up a small percentage of the entire weight of the Thunderbolt. The cannon makes up 16 percent of the overall weight.

When techs have to perform maintenance on it and remove that heavy thing, special steps come into play. A support wedge goes under the tail so that the nose won’t tip over. Tipping might cause irreparable damages.

Fooling The Enemies

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Rose Reynolds/USAF
Rose Reynolds/USAF

Participating in a war or battle involves a certain amount of trickery. The Thunderbolt has a nice trick up its sleeve to help make potential enemies think twice about attacking.

Some of the A-10s have a “false canopy” painted underneath them. The paint supposedly confuses the opposition into thinking there’s a shadow cast by a real canopy. The result is that the enemy thinks the aircraft isn’t going in the direction they believe and that it’s at a different altitude.

Help For Ground Fire

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In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Engineers have unique ways of ensuring the utmost protection. Engine placement matters a great deal for the A-10. The General Electric TF-34-GE-100 engines sit high, above and behind the wings.

Why are they that way? Well, placing them there helps protect against ground fire. You wouldn’t want the engines to be compromised before the craft even gets the chance to soar the skies, or for them to be blasted from someone shooting from below the carrier.

3,900 Rounds Per Minute!

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Getting hit by a regular bullet from a pistol is already devastating. Then, you take it up a step to an automatic gun, and things get even more deadly.

With the A-10, the Gatling gun fires out high explosive incendiary and armor-piercing depleted uranium rounds! They fire at a rate of 3,900 rounds per minute, so that means in one second your life is over if you get hit by something like that.

The Thunderbolt Monster Truck

thunderbolt
Reed T/Pinterest
Reed T/Pinterest

As cool as the aerial version of the A-10, there might be an even better version of it. Monster trucks are always fun to watch as they crush anything remotely smaller than them.

The Thunderbolt has a monster truck version that the Air Force uses for marketing. These days, you have to get creative to have a successful marketing campaign, and this is a pretty great idea. It travels around America, and the fans love it.

Where Did The Name Come From?

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Alain Nogues/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Alain Nogues/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Where did the name Thunderbolt II originate? Since things don’t start as the “second,” it’s safe to say the military got the name from another version.

Well, the Thunderbolt II gets that name from the P47 Thunderbolt. Military forces used the P47 during WWII. Both of them are/were a ground support aircraft in case you weren’t sure. Overall, they made some pretty significant upgrades to the A-10 that have helped a lot.

Flying Through Storms

flying through the air
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

We’ve already touched on how powerfully reinforced the armor is on these planes, but let’s dive in a little deeper now. Can you imagine your car getting struck by lightning? It wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

Well, the heavy protection on the Thunderbolt II allows it to fly through super-cell thunderstorms! That’s an incredible thing that it can do, and the Air Force doesn’t take it for granted. They use the aircraft to monitor the weather systems.

Operating Low

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Ghosttanker/Pinterest
Ghosttanker/Pinterest

One of the main aspects of the A-10 is how it can go about its business at very low altitudes. The Thunderbolt can operate under 1,000-foot ceilings while maintaining 1.5-mile visibility.

Being able to do that, combined with its long loiter time, are two of the reasons why the A-10 receives so much praise. The ground support capability makes the Thunderbolt II give military officials a more peaceful rest when they sleep at night.

Special Requirements For Loading The Ammo

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

If you’ve caught on, then by now you know that the Thunderbolt II isn’t your average aircraft. The uniqueness it possesses makes it an incredibly valuable asset for the American military.

One of the unique requirements it has is how you need to load the ammunition on it. They created a particular vehicle to get the ammo into the aircraft. They call it “The Dragon.” We couldn’t think of a more fitting name for this beast.

Careful Not To Overheat

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Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Mirrorpix/Getty Images

As we’ve mentioned earlier, the cannon on the Thunderbolt II can shoot 3,900 rounds per minute! That’s a lot of ammo coming out, but there is a limit to how much it can fire.

The Gatling gun heats up pretty quickly, so they can only use it in short bursts. Anything more than that and the barrel will overheat, rendering it ineffective. With great power comes great responsibility, so pilots need to keep that in mind.

Don’t Call It Ambidextrous

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Someone who is ambidextrous can use both their right and left hands with equal capabilities. The Thunderbolt II has a similar feature. The engines, landing gear, and vertical stabilizers are left and right interchangeable.

All that means is that those things, as well as a few others, can operate on both sides. Being able to do that allows it to get serviced at a forward location, meaning it can get back into battle sooner.

Large Wings And Wide Wheelbase

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CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

If you’ve paid attention to detail, then you’ve noticed that the Thunderbolt II has very large wings and a wide wheelbase. What is the purpose of these features, and what benefits do they bring?

These things didn’t get added for no reason. The wide wheelbase and gigantic wings let the A-10 land and take off from a short runway. That means it has the power to get extremely close to the front line of battle.

Weight Distribution

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Stan Parker/USAF
Stan Parker/USAF

Remember earlier when we told you that the cannon makes up 16 percent of the overall weight? Well, that’s when it’s without any ammunition. Surprisingly enough, the Thunderbolt II carries more weight in weapons than the aircraft weighs itself.

That’s absolutely insane when you think about it. Alone, the A-10 weighs 12 tons! the GAU-8 holds a maximum of 13 tons of armament. That’s one-ton more than the beast of an aircraft, which we can’t believe.

Built To Last

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

When they created the A-10, they wanted to make sure it could survive a plethora of events. The extra protection for the cockpit is only the tip of the iceberg.

With the Thunderbolt II, the hydraulics system is double-redundant. Furthermore, there’s a mechanical backup system that controls the plane if the hydraulics get lost! “Hydraulic systems are used on aircraft to move and actuate landing gear, flaps, and brakes,” experimentalaircraft.info said. “Larger aircraft use these systems also on flight controls, spoilers, thrust reverses, and whatnot.”

The First Battle

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USAF
USAF

When was the first time the A-10 saw battle? The first time the Thunderbolt II went into action was in 1991 to fight during the Persian Gulf War. What a time for it to show its worth!

The statistics it put up were great! The Thunderbolt II ended up destroying 900 tanks, 1,200 artillery pieces, 2,000 other military vehicles, and had two air-to-air victories. That’s quite the showing for the first time going into war!

Helping With A Rescue

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Independent News and Media/Getty Images
Independent News and Media/Getty Images

Eight years after entering its first battle, the A-10 provided some critical help to someone in need. In 1999, the Thunderbolt II helped rescue a downed F-117 pilot in Kosovo. How exactly did it do this?

Well, the aircraft provided its superior ground support as three helicopters performed the rescue mission. It was a total team effort, but with the assist on the ground level, the results might have turned out differently. That pilot has four aircraft to thank.

Fighting To Keep It Alive

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

There was a time when the A-10 almost ceased to exist. The government and the Air Force had to strike a deal to keep this aircraft alive, but what were the agreements?

In 1973, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger thought of a nice compromise. He said he would get rid of the cap on the number of wings (not wings on a plane, think hangar) that Air Force fighters could have, but only if Air Force General George Brown would keep the Thunderbolt around.

Long And Wide

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Every plane or jet has a different length and width. Not all are the same, and we can learn that from the A-10, which has an interesting feature about it.

The Thunderbolt II has a wingspan of 57 feet and six inches. Its length comes in at 53 feet and four inches. That means that it’s almost as wide as it is long. That’s not something you see every day in planes, but the Thunderbolt II is one exception.

A Special Piece Of Armament

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USAF
USAF

We’ve touched on numerous pieces of equipment that the Thunderbolt II. One that hasn’t been mentioned is the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile. That sounds as intense as the heavy cannon it has!

Well, that’s because it is. Each of the missiles weigh 670 pounds and can obliterate a tank with only one shot. You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for tanks that get in the way of this thing.

So Many Features!

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Stan Parker/USAF
Stan Parker/USAF

As you know from earlier, the A-10 can survive thunderstorms, so they use it to check the weather in severe conditions. Not only is it an all-weather aircraft, but it can do more too.

It’s also what you call an all-day aircraft. They have Night Vision Imaging Systems installed. There is also a goggle-compatible seat for pilots found in the cockpit. The Thunderbolt II can do so many things, its no wonder Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger wanted it to stay around.

Where Was The First Production Set?

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USAF
USAF

They didn’t just start making this aircraft in the middle of nowhere, it had be constructed somewhere safe. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona saw the first-ever production of the Thunderbolt II.

The year was 1975, so it would be 15 years before they used it in battle. Knowing that the military had something like this waiting in the trenches, everyone was probably quite relieved when it had finally been produced.

Fighting Every Battle

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USAF
USAF

When you have something as impactful as the A-10, then what you’re about to read next shouldn’t come as a surprise. Ever since it finished production and was ready for battle, it didn’t miss one.

Starting in 1991 after the Thunderbolt II took part in the Persian Gulf War, it never missed a major conflict for the United States. The question we ask is why not? The A-10 can do so much that America needs it.

A Defining Trait

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Once again, we’re going to blow your mind. The A-10 can survive so many things because that’s how America engineered it. For example, it has a honeycomb panel design, but do you know what that does?

The honeycomb panel helps to make the whole aircraft capable of taking even more damage in battle. America didn’t want to take any chances when they put the Thunderbolt II into production and started using it in battles.

Special Landing Tricks

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Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images
Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images

Here’s another trick the A-10 has that you can enjoy. The front landing gear comes out from under the wings in opposing positions. The back wheels are also in line with the fuselage.

What does this all mean to the casual person? Well, that set up lets them have room for the huge machine gun that sits in the nose. They had to figure out some way to make that happen and this was the best plan of action.

Take A Closer Look At The Wheels

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Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images
Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images

Okay, now we ask that you take a closer look at the wheels. Is there something out of the ordinary that catches your eye? If you can’t guess, it’s that the wheels stick out a tiny bit.

Even when retracted, the wheels protrude a certain amount. They do that just in case the aircraft has to land with its gear up. If that happens, then it helps prevent some of the damage the Thunderbolt would receive.

Larger Than Most

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Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Another incredible fact about the A-10 is that the right and left ailerons ( defined as: “hinged surface[s] in the trailing edge of an airplane wing, used to control lateral balance”) are larger than most others.

Given that they’re bigger than most, it helps the Thunderbolt II move around better. This feature gives it greater maneuverability than its air-to-ground assault counterparts. This aircraft continues to impress us with all that it can do!

NFL Player Takes Flight

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Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Did you think military officials are the only ones who can take flight in the Thunderbolt II? Nope, they aren’t and we’re going to tell you which outsider got to pilot one of these sensational planes.

Chad Hennings, a former defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, once piloted the A-10. He did so during the Persian Gulf War, but he also spent some time in the Air Force. He didn’t go into the NFL until after he finished serving America.

Massive Ammunition

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Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

If you had to guess how large the bullets were for the A-10, what would you say? If you guessed the size of beer bottles, then you’re correct! No wonder those things are armor-piercing.

Remember, they have to use a special vehicle called “The Dragon” to load those bullets, but what is the size of the gun that fires them? Well, the gun is larger than a Volkswagen Bug, in case you wanted a more precise visual.