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Behind-the-scenes look at the ‘Warthog’Behind-the-scenes look at the ‘Warthog’

Join us for closeups of the Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jetJoin us for closeups of the Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet

A ground-to-air encounter with Maryland Air National Guard crews flying the fabled and feared Fairchild Republic A–10C led to an up-close-and-personal look at the armament-carrying Thunderbolt II close air support and ground-attack jet affectionately known as the “Warthog” and a chance to fly one—in a simulator.

Lt. Col. Chris “Slug” Palmer, who participated in an A–10C formation flyover of Maryland to salute coronavirus frontline personnel on May 8, invited AOPA for a visit to Martin State Airport near Baltimore to get to know the flying cannon that the U.S. Air Force calls the “first aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces.”

Palmer and Capt. Nick “Rock” Sand are airline pilots and 175th Wing colleagues. They both complimented the twin-engine, twin-rudder jet for its excellent maneuverability at high and low speeds, its range, and its impressive weaponry.

A night vision system allows pilots to spot targets from afar under the cover of darkness, and a bubble canopy provides 360-degree views in the daylight. Titanium armor protects pilots and control systems from ground fire. Armament includes one 30mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun on the aircraft’s nose and up to 16,000 pounds of mixed ordnance. Weaponry is carried on eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylons and includes AGM-65 Maverick missiles, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, laser-guided/electro-optically guided bombs, and numerous countermeasures.

One of the Gatling gun bullets used in a Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet is on display at the 175th Wing. Photo by David Tulis.The robust “Warthog” is nicknamed for its aggressive look, and examples of the jet often include a snarling set of teeth painted on its nose. The U.S. Air Force says it can “survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm. [Its] self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam. Manual systems back up [its] redundant hydraulic flight-control systems so pilots can still limp home to land if hydraulic power is lost. Many of the aircraft’s components are interchangeable from the left and right sides.

AOPA Manager of Aviation Events Erick Webb and I tried our hands at flying the “Warthog” in a simulator outfitted with a dizzying array of advanced weaponry and systems (sorry, no photos allowed). The high-energy, aerobatic experience far surpassed our sedate flights from Frederick in a couple of Cessnas.

Palmer and Sand promised the Thunderbolt II would be easy to fly, and they were right. We quickly grew accustomed to manipulating the dual thrust levers and a control stick that contained push-button weapon triggers in addition to familiar push-to-talk communication and trim buttons.

Yank, bank, and fire were the orders of the day as we encountered battleships mysteriously positioned just off the coast of Maryland and dodged other aircraft shooting at us. The Thunderbolt II responded quickly to stick inputs. Liberal use of the trim switch eased pitch forces, but my right arm was getting a good workout anyway. The jet was just as at home upside down and slamming into numerous high-G banks at 250 knots as it was on final to Runway 15 at a relatively sedate 150 kts. The sky around me lit up in red as I touched down close enough to the centerline to apply liberal braking without swerving while under attack by another Air National Guard pilot practicing his shooting skills. I eased myself out of the cockpit in a full sweat despite the air-conditioned flight simulator environment. Webb and I saluted the pilots who routinely practice to maintain our country’s defense and thanked them for the unique opportunity to fly the feared “Warthog.”

The first Thunderbolt II was delivered in 1975 and the upgraded A–10C version was made operational in 2007. The aircraft’s survivability has been proved in numerous enemy encounters, including during operations Desert Storm, Noble Anvil, and Enduring Freedom, among others. The Air Force describes the flying weapons as “simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles.”

Palmer said Maryland Air National Guard crews can train “down to 100 feet” during “surface attack sorties” that mimic the battlefield arena. However, for safety purposes the aircraft are outfitted with simulated munitions and “everything is done electronically” during training runs in military operating areas near the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River.

Maryland Air National Guard pilots fly the twin-rudder Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by Erick Webb. Maryland Air National Guard Airman 1st Class Andrew Boenig helps 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price before a training mission in a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jet. Photo by Erick Webb. Maryland Air National Guard pilots fly Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jets from Martin State Airport near Baltimore. Photo by Erick Webb. One 30mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun on the aircraft's nose helps identify a Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jet. Photo by Erick Webb. Maryland Air National Guard 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price prepares to taxi out for a mission in a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II. Photo by Erick Webb. Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II armament includes one 30mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun on the aircraft's nose and up to 16,000 pounds of mixed ordnance plus forward-looking infrared and other navigational aids. Photo by Erick Webb. Hill Air Force Base in Utah provided a fresh coat of paint for a Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jet. Photo by Erick Webb. An inert armament is strapped to a Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jet. Photo by Erick Webb. Maryland Air National Guard pilots ready their Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jets for a training mission at Martin State Airport near Baltimore. Photo by Erick Webb. A refueling door reveals a control panel on a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by Erick Webb. Twin rudders and a 30mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun helps identify a Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by Erick Webb. AOPA Manager of Aviation Events Erick Webb suits up in the Maryland Air National Guard ready room at Martin State Airport near Baltimore. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard pilots in the 175th Wing brief before flying Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jets from Martin State Airport near Baltimore on May 15. Photo by David Tulis. One of the two rudders of a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price and his crew chief, Airman 1st Class Andrew Boenig, prepare for a military exercise in a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet that is known for its stout construction and deadly armament. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price taxis a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II "Warthog" for a military exercise departing from Martin State Airport near Baltimore. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard Lt. Col. Chris "Slug" Palmer is reflected in a photo that demonstrates some of the abilities of the Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II "Warthog" close air support jet. Photo by David Tulis. Four Maryland Air National Guard pilots return to base in their Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" after a training mission near Chesapeake Bay. Photo by David Tulis. Air transport, general aviation, and Maryland Air National Guard pilot Capt. Nick "Rock" Sand owns and flies an American Champion Super Decathlon during his time away from a regional jetliner or the Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II "Warthog." Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II weaponry includes AGM-65 Maverick missiles, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, laser-guided/electro-optically guided bombs, and numerous countermeasures. Photo by David Tulis. A Maryland Air National Guard pilot taxis a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet before a mission departing from Martin State Airport near Baltimore. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard crewmembers walk to the ramp after prepping four Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jets for a training mission. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard pilots fly Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jets from Martin State Airport near Baltimore on May 15. Photo by David Tulis. A warthog emblem decorates the engine cowl plug of a Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jet. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price preflights a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price dons his helmet before a training exercise in a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet, an aircraft that is highly praised by pilots and other military defense personnel. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price gets an assist from his his crew chief, Airman 1st Class Andrew Boenig, before departing for a mission in a Fairchild Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II jet. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price gets an assist from his crew chief, Airman 1st Class Andrew Boenig, before departing for a mission in a Fairchild Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet at Martin State Airport near Baltimore on May 15. Photo by David Tulis. A Maryland Air National Guard crewmember inspects a  Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet before a training exercise. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard 1st Lt. Taylor "Pistol" Price readies a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet, an aircraft that is highly praised by pilots and other military defense personnel. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard crewmembers inspect a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jet at Martin State Airport near Baltimore. Photo by David Tulis. The Maryland Air National Guard 175th Wing colors identify a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard Airman 1st Class Andrew Boenig pulls chocks before a training exercise in a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by David Tulis. A distinctive twin-rudder, twin-engine design helps identify a Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jets are on the ground before a training mission. Photo by David Tulis. A Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jet is silhouetted by a general aviation biplane landing at Martin State Airport. Military and GA pilots share the airport near Baltimore. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard crewmembers perform a final inspection before a pilot departs for a training mission in a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet. Photo by David Tulis. Examples of the Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II "Warthog" jet, favored by pilots, often include a snarling set of teeth painted on the nose. Photo by David Tulis. Maryland Air National Guard pilots fly Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II "Warthog" jets nicknamed for an aggressive look. Photo by David Tulis.                                                    Maryland Air National Guard members inspect armament on a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II jet after a mission. Photo by David Tulis. Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II weaponry is carried on eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylons. Photo by David Tulis. AOPA eMedia Associate Editor David Tulis visits the Maryland Air National Guard flight line before flying a Fairchild Republic A–10C Thunderbolt II close air support jet simulator. Photo by David Tulis.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Warbird, Public Benefit Flying

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