jump to navigation

Flightline Friday: The almost A-10 February 6, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Basics, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.

Vietnam was a shock to the US military in many respects.  Especially for the Air Force and the Navy’s air arms.  Having focused almost exclusively on the A-1H_602SOS_Jun1970idea of fighting a nuclear war against the Soviet Union for the preceding 20 years, the Air Force found that many of its aircraft, doctrine, and armaments were not suited to a conventional counterinsurgency campaign.  Humiliatingly, the Air Force had to acquire A-1 Skyraiders from the Navy to perform the low level close air support role for troops in contact and during RESCAPs of downed pilots.  The Sandy performed very well, but was an aging type long of of production that couldn’t last forever.

The mighty A-10

The mighty A-10

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Soviets were building up massive conventional armies.  The United States had lost that vast strategic and tactical nuclear superiority that it had enjoyed at the beginning of the 60s (another fruit of democrat administrations and the damnable war in Vietnam), and so the idea that we could use nukes to stop the huge Soviet formations was not nearly so tenable as it had been a few years before.  More and more, both civil and military leaders realized that they might have to slug it out in a conventional fight with the vastly numerically superior Soviets.

Northrop YA-9

Northrop YA-9

So as the 60s drew to a close, the Air Force found itself needing both a low and slow close air support machine for a relatively low-threat environment, and a highly effective killing machine to break up the Soviet hordes, especially their tanks. But the air defense environment over the Central Front in Europe would be anything but low-threat, so the new aircraft needed a good suite of passive and active defenses and, most importantly, to be tough enough to take battle damage and survive to fight another day.

So a program was initiated called A-X, or Attack-Experimental, and bids were sought from various companies.  Eventually, Northrop and Fairchild-Republic were chosen to produce two prototypes for a flyoff competition to be held in late 1972.  Northrop build the YA-9, and Fairchild-Republic (from now on, just Republic) the YA-10A.  These aircraft were less prototypes than development aircraft that would serve as the basis for the quick introduction of whichever type was chosen.  As such, they had to be quite advanced in terms of development completion.General Electric GAU-8/A

General Electric GAU-8/ABoth aircraft were to carry an incredible new weapon, the General Electric GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon.  Firing nearly 1 lb projectiles at the rate of 4000 per minute, and at an incredibly high muzzle velocity, the Avenger would be the prime armament of the new A-X and its primary weapon against tanks.  The Avenger was to be capable to penetrate the horizontal armor of any known Soviet tank at ranges of 2-3000 meters.  And it succeeded.  This gun, and its huge ammunition bay, was so large the aircraft literally had to be designed around it.

However, by the time of the flyoff, the gun was not yet ready, so the two prototypes flew with the older and established M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon




The Air Force project tender emphasized the following traits: long range/loiter capability, heavy load carrying capability, extreme survivability especially against the “golden BBs,” small caliber shots that just happened to hit a vital spot and brought far too many aircraft in the Vietnam era down.  Other emphases were simplicity, relatively austere avionics fit, ability to operate from remote/improvised airstrips, etc.  Low-level maneuverability was also important, but speed was not: the aircraft only had to manage about 360 kts at cruise, and 400 kts top speed.  This was a radical change in emphasis from any previous Air Force development project of the preceding 20 years or so.

Carrying 16 1000 lb bombs and 2 500 lb

Carrying 16 1000 lb bombs and 2 500 lb

Both competing aircraft rolled out at about the same time, and the flyoff began in October of 1972.  The A-9 was the much more conventional of the two designs.  It had a traditional fuselage/empennage with engines mounted on the sides of the fuselage.  With a straight, unswept wing, it looked like a throwback to the earliest jet fighters.  There was much redundancy built in and abundant use of armor, but the radical A-10 design was judged to be much, much more survivable.  By the conclusion of the flyoff, it was a foregone conclusion that Republic had hit a home run and the A-10 had won.  The A-10 was judged to be much superior in terms of survivability/resistance to battle damage, had 20% more thrust, a longer range, and better maneuverability at low level.  The A-a9-59 was marginally faster, could carry a heavier total load (but not as far), easier in some respects to operate and maintain, but also less maneuverable and much less survivable.  The A-10 won going away.

However……..another Air Force was much more impressed with the A-9 design than was the USAF.  That other Air Force was the Soviet Air Force, more specifically, VVS, Soviet Frontal Aviation.  By hook or crook, the Soviets, who quite often seemed to produce aircraft types in a-10-thunderbolt-ii_011response to USAF programs, started a competition of their own shortly after A-X began to produce a similar type aircraft.  The type that won – the Sukhoi Su-25 (NATO reporting name: Frogfoot) – looked more than a little bit like the A-9.  For a long time, it was thought Soviet aircraft that just magically wound up looking almost exactly like their Western counterparts was just the result of similar mission requirements leading to similar results. It became known after the end of the Cold War that there was often more to it than that.  But I’ll let you be the judge of how similar the Su-25 (first flight: 1975) looks compared to the A-9:












Incredibly, given how little known it is, I found a bit of video of the A-9, which was a worthy if not particularly inspired competitor for the A-X program. Northrop did not show a lot of imagination in the project, as they did in the also then-ongoing LWF competition, they more or less made a jet powered A-1.

First up, a brief video from the Air Force Flight Test Center showing both aircraft. The music is unforgivably bad:

This is a longer one.  From back in the day, an Air Force briefing on the then ongoing flight test program.  A lot of good A-9 footage in this one:

And that’s it, as far as I know.  USAF was at the top of its game – even if it didn’t know it at the time! – in the early 70s.  You had the F-15, F-16, F-17 (which became the Navy’s F-18), the A-10, and B-1 all in development and test at the same time.  There hasn’t been a time like it since.  Good stuff.


1. Castellan Raimer - February 6, 2015

Hi Tantum

I’m not sure how much you would be interested, but if you like aviation of war, you might want to check out a videogame called War Thunder. It’s an online game where you play with and against people from all over the world with real aviation from the WW2 era. You have the American, German, Soviet, British and Japanese air forces with a huge number of planes in each side that you can unlock by playing. It’s not hard to start because you have three different game modes that go from the more “arcade” (unrealistic and easy to play) to pure simulation. The planes are very well recreated and most of them have the full cockpit modelled. There are also tanks.

Anyway, if you like you can give it a try at http://warthunder.com/en (check the minimum system requirements to see if your computer can run it before downloading it, because it’s pretty heavy)


Castellan Raimer - February 7, 2015

Sorry for double post, I forgot to say: the game is completely free, you don’t have to buy it.

Sorry comments are closed for this entry

%d bloggers like this: