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Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War

William L. Smallwood


Another shot of A-10s gacked from Warthog Territory

Shortly after the conclusion of the First Gulf War, Smallwood compiled this book from interviews with 143 pilots. In the introduction, he freely admits an emotional involvement with them and their stories. As the book was written so soon after the even, some events were still not fully understood and one friendly fire incident was still sub judice. On the other hand, memories were still fresh.

Smallwood takes great pains to explain the nature of the aircraft and how the plane is flown. The description of the aircraft is first rate:

One of the reasons they love it is because of the survivability that was designed into the plane. In fact, when one looks at the A-10 and disregards the engines and the placement of the gun, almost everything else one observes is there because it contributes to survivability.

take the double-tail configuration, for example. If one of the vertical fins or rudders gets shot away, the plane can fly almost as well with the one that remains. The same goes for the horizontal stabilizers and elevator. Also, when the plane comes back with one or more of the tail components missing, the parts can be cannibalized from any other A-10 and used on either side - the tail components are symmetrical... 

The landing gear is another example of built-in survivability.  All three of the wheels retract forward against the force of the slipstream - the air streaming over the plane. That's no problem at the slow speed of takeoff and it is a real advantage if the motors that operate the gear are shot out. All the pilot has to do is to release the gear locks manually and the wheels fall down. They are then forced backwards and locked into place by the power of the slipstream...

There are many other survivability features that are not visible. The control system is one example. There are dual hydraulic systems that operate the controls. But unlike other combat aircraft of the era, where the dual hydraulic lines ran side-by side and were highly vulnerable to a single strike, the hydraulic lines in the A-10 were placed in widely separated positions. In addition a manual cable system was also designed into the plane. With both hydraulic systems shot out, the pilot can switch over to the manual flight control system called manual reversion.  This cable and pulley system activates the trim tabs on the controls which, in turn, cause the controls to move the way the pilot wants the plane to go. When flying the manual reversion the pilot is not going to win any dogfights. But there are two A-10 pilots who survived heavy battle damage in the Gulf War and were able to fly home and land because of the system. [Tragically, another died in a crash landing while attempting the same feat.]

The pilots don't like to admit it, but  the survivability feature they probably love the most is the huge chunk of armor that surrounds them, which they call the "titanium bathtub". The pilot literally sits inside thick slabs of titanium bolted into a bathtub-shaped container. During interviews, when many of the pilots told of combat missions during which they experienced heavy AAA fire, they often unconsciously slumped a little lower in their chairs. "And so you hunkered down a little lower in the titanium bathtub, right?" said the author, after he began to notice the reaction. "Right," most of the pilots said, grinning.

[The story does not end there. In April 2003, Captain Kim Campbell made use of the titanium bathtub and manual reversion to land safely and walk away without a scratch after her Hog's hydraulics were shot out over Baghdad. Count the bullet holes.]

Strangely, Smallwood is not much of a "people person" and the pilots come across as two-dimensional and interchangeable. However he is in his element when he describes matter-of-factly how doctrine was cast away in the early days of the war. Instead of flying low like they were taught, the pilots flew high. And for the first time, Hogs flew by night, something that the pilots had never been trained for and the aircraft never intended for. And, most astonishing of all, he describes how the slow, ugly attack aircraft actually scored two victories in air-to-air combat! Thanks to their aircrafts ease of maintenance and consequent high availability, the 144 Warthogs, representing some 15% of the available aircraft, flew 35% of the sorties and were responsible for over 50% of the damage done.

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