John and I have been putting in a fair few hours in Digital Combat Simulators lately. It’s a line of high-fidelity flight sims that can be enjoyed in multiplayer. This is the first of three articles on the aircraft we fly, his take on the A-10C. -Fishbreath
Disclaimer: I’m not an actual fighter pilot. I can try to write like one anyway.
The Fairchild-Republic A-10C Warthog (technically its the Thunderbolt II, but no one calls it that) is one of the ugliest planes you will ever lay eyes on. However, it is also the finest ground attack machine ever devised. It is well armored against ground fire, so you can fly as low as you please and not worry about machine guns. In fact, it’s one of the few modern aircraft where you don’t have to care about machine gun fire, because the ‘Hog is built to absorb damage. Losing a hydraulic system is no problem, because the thoughtful designers put in a second one. And if you lose that one too, you have a manual system of cables and pushrods, just like your grandpappy’s P-40 Warhawk. It’s not power assisted, but it will get you home. The fuel tanks are self sealing, so holes in the wings won’t cause you to return all that JP-8 to the earth. Your engines are separated, so if one of them eats a SAM, you still have another functioning one. Oh, and the gear don’t retract all the way, which the fighter pukes will no doubt object to on the grounds of drag, but this way, should your gear fail to drop because they’re too shot up, you can have a much more pleasant belly landing. The ‘Hog’s toughness rivals that of Rocky Balboa, and this toughness will make you love it, even though it’s hideous.
One of the prominent features on the Warthog as you approach it is the gun. This is the General Electric GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon, and it is the greatest aircraft gun ever built by human hands. Thor wishes he has one to shoot lightning bolts at nonbelievers. This gun was not built for the Warthog; the Warthog was built around this gun. It weighs over two tons fully loaded. The ammunition drum is the size of a Volkswagen, and holds 1,150 rounds. Rate of fire can be as high as 4,200 rounds per minute, but the pencil-necked ‘whiz kids’ have limited the nominal rate of fire to 3,900 rounds per minute. Two kinds of rounds are carried: armor-piercing incendiary and high explosive incendiary. Normally, there are four armor-piercing rounds per high explosive round. The armor piercing incendiary rounds contain a depleted uranium core, which will tear through the armor on most tanks. Some studies have linked these rounds to cancer, just in case tearing through the armor of a tank and setting it on fire is insufficient to kill the target.
But all of these features were on the boring old A-10A too. This is the A-10C. What’s different? Well, we have proper multi-function displays (MFDs) now, which let you select and aim weapons, set up a moving map and interface with the brand-new navigation system. The cockpit is now night-vision goggle (NVG) compatible, in case you have to save some army guys late at night. The A-10C is now compatible with a wide variety of smart munitions, including laser guided bombs (LGBs), which are perfect for tank-plinking. Some guys from accounting have told me that tank plinking is a waste of a rather expensive piece of hardware1, but no one listens to the guys from accounting (just look at the JSF project).
Okay, enough blabbing about engineering. Flying impressions. Well, it’s pretty wallowy. It looks like a ‘hog, and it flies like a hog. The boys at Fairchild-Republic picked an engine that has next to no oomph for the A-10. Shove the throttles to the firewall and you feel like you’re trying to run in molasses. You accelerate slowly. You climb slowly. And if you want to do both at once, it will be a long day. Fortunately, the A-10C has big fuel tanks, so you can take your sweet time over the battlefield. Turning is an adventure. You might feel that a nice, straight, boring wing (like on your grandpappy’s P-40) would make for a stable platform. And it does. So long as you keep your turns very gentle. Exceed a standard rate turn and you’ll start bleeding altitude and airspeed really badly. So don’t fly like you’re in a Viper and you’ll be fine. The low speed and stability in level flight makes weapon employment a breeze, even without the use of the autopilot. The LITENING targeting pod is a really great tool, giving you a wonderful perspective of the battlefield, though the field of view is narrow. It can provide a good picture to the MFDs from much farther out than the Maverick’s IR seeker. The A-10 carries a large payload of stores, so you won’t object much to sacrificing a pylon to the LITENING pod, and you’ll be able to dish out plenty of damage. Cueing the Maverick from the LITENING pod takes a little practice, and definitely takes time. At closer ranges, it’s easier to just use the HUD display and the Maverick sight directly. LGB employment is pretty simple when using CCRP (Continuously Calculated Release Point) mode. Nearly all of the work is done for you once you’ve found a target with the targeting pod. You then tell the aircraft that you’re ready to fire, and the aircraft calculates the best time to release the bomb, even if you’re in a climb. The targeting pod handles laser designation, and then your target explodes. Despite low engine power, takeoffs are easy, although long. Landings are similarly easy due to the low stall speed and stable airframe.
1. JDAM and LGB kits for standard dumb bombs are actually way less expensive than Mavericks. -Fishbreath