Even from the drafting table, the A-10 Thunderbolt II was envisioned to be the best CAS aircraft that the Air Force could get its hands on at the time. The research program that eventually conceived the A-10 — the Attack-Experimental (A-X) program started in 1966 – required every design proposal to include a 30mm rotary cannon to defeat Soviet tanks. The winner of this competition was Fairchild Republic, with its Y-10A prototype, later re-designated the A-10, and that cannon was later designated the GAU-8 Avenger.

In addition to its armor-defeating 3,900-rounds-per-minute cannon, the A-10 can carry 16,000 pounds of mixed ordnance across 11 hardpoints studded under the wings and fuselage. The A-10 is propelled by a pair of General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofans that are uniquely mounted high above the tail to avoid ingesting debris when operating from basic airfields with short, unpaved runways.

Since a ground attack has little need for supersonic speed, the A-10 cruises quite slowly at around 360 knots, which makes it extremely vulnerable to anti-air fire. To make it more survivable, the aircraft is designed with redundant flight systems and, notably, a titanium “bathtub” built around the pilot to protect them from small-arms fire and fragments from exploding munitions. Its durability, combined with its fearsome firepower, has made the A-10 a commander’s favorite for CAS missions since its maiden flight in environments without much anti-aircraft fire.

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