The venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II is ready to “burrrrrrt” another day, thanks to an ambitious upgrade plan being completed by the U.S. Air Force.
You’ve probably seen the unique aircraft in action, either at an air show or in dramatic video of the fix-wing aircraft maneuvering and firing. The A-10 is so odd-looking that it was lovingly dubbed the “Warthog” by crews when it debuted in the early 1970s, but it has proven its worth in combat.
That last line was no typo. Although the Thunderbolt first entered service way back in 1972 — when Richard Nixon sat in the White House — it has played a major role in countless engagements since. Plans to retire the aircraft keep being pushed back, and now it could stay flying for another decade.
“The Air Force said Monday that it has finished installing new wings on the last of 173 A-10 Thunderbolt IIs,” the Air Force Times reported. “The re-winging of the venerable attack aircraft, popularly known as the Warthog, is expected to allow it to keep flying until the late 2030s, Air Force Materiel Command said in a release.”
If that timeline holds, the Thunderbolt would have over six decades of service, a staggering feat. The reason for its success is simple: It works, and the military hasn’t found better replacements for it in the close air support role that made it famous.
That’s where the “burrrrrrt” comes into play. That is roughly the sound the A-10’s 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon makes while firing at an incredible 3,900 rounds per minute, or 65 rounds per second.
It is this capability that makes the Thunderbolt legendary on the battlefield, where it can take on everything from enemy troops to armored tanks and change the course of a fight just by showing up.
But everything wears out, and the A-10 is no exception. Several rounds of upgrade programs have kept the aircraft up to date with newer avionics, and now improved wings will keep nearly 200 of the Thunderbolts at the cutting edge of warfare.
“The upgraded wings should last for up to 10,000 flight hours without requiring a depot inspection, AFMC said. And they have an improved, newly designed wire harness to make the wings easier to remove, and lessen the chance of damaging the wing during the removal process,” The Times said.
As you might imagine, upgrading 173 aircraft with a design that goes back nearly fifty years was a challenging task.
“At the end of the program, making sure we had all the pieces and parts that we needed to make that happen required a really significant team effort,” said Stephen Zaiser, who directs the 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
“I think the fact that we produced the aircraft so successfully is a testament to the whole team, the special program office, Boeing and others that were a part of making it all work,” he continued.
Upgrades of this sort take on extra importance when the lives of pilots and American ground troops are on the line, but test pilot Lt. Col. Ryan Richardson had positive words for the program.
“It flew great and passed all the [functional check flight] checks,” Richardson said. “It’s unusual to have an airplane in production for as long as this one was and have it come out and fly as well as this one did.”
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