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Mon, Apr 14, 2003

A-10 Developers Watching Prodigy's Progress In Iraq

Parent's Pride

Gordon Rosenthal, 77, of Boca Raton (FL), doesn't have a son or daughter stationed with American troops in Iraq. Still, the retired aeronautical engineer watches the war with the pride of a parent who does. Rosenthal's prodigy: the Air Force's A-10 Thunderbolt II. The heavily armored, ungainly combat plane known as the Warthog is flying close-air support missions to protect American ground forces.

As an engineer with military contractor Fairchild Republic Co. of Long Island, N.Y., he was a key member of the team that developed the A-10 in the late 1960s. He eagerly reads news reports, watches cable news and searches the Internet for any scrap of information about the Warthog's performance in Iraq, just as he did during the Persian Gulf War when the lumbering tank-killer saw its first combat missions and was deemed an unqualified success.

The "Rodney Dangerfield" Of Warplanes

"It's the Rodney Dangerfield of aircraft, that no one has any respect for it. The Warthog is really an affectionate term. The pilots who fly it love it," Rosenthal said. "There is only one airplane for close-air support, and this is it."

Respect This!

The Warthog is designed around a giant cannon, the seven-barrel Gatling gun capable of firing 3,900 rounds per minute. The cannon weighs about 4,000 pounds and holds 1,174 rounds of 30 mm armor-piercing ammunition. The Warthog is lethal to tanks, artillery and other armored vehicles; pilots need to fire only for a few seconds. The Warthog also carries Maverick anti-tank missiles that can be fired 25 miles away from a target, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and a range of bombs.

"The gun is really something else," said Raul Benedicto, 80, of Boca Raton, another Fairchild Republic aeronautical engineer who worked on the design. "The only problem with our airplane is that it is ugly as can be. It doesn't bother me, because it was designed to meet certain requirements."

"I get a great feeling of pride seeing the damn thing in action," Rosenthal said. "As far as I can tell, it's doing what it's supposed to do."

Rosenthal experienced triumph and despair when the A-10 was put into action in the 1991 Gulf War, where the Warthog is credited with wreaking half the destruction done to Iraq's military weapons, including tanks, Scud missiles and helicopters. The highly maneuverable Warthog is built to withstand small-arms fire and 23 mm cannon fire. A titanium "bathtub" protects the pilot and control systems.

A-10 pilots charge into the thick of battle, often loitering only hundreds of feet in the air to select targets and move in on them with devastating results. U.S. ground troops cheer the planes into action because they are so effective. "It's a frightening thing when you stand on the ground and you have one of these things coming down at you," Rosenthal said.

But the Warthog is not completely invulnerable; five were shot down during the 1991 Gulf War. "I felt like a parent sending his son off to war, and every time I saw one get hit, I felt a pang," Rosenthal said.

Constantine Michael, 84, of Wellington, is another retired Fairchild Republic engineer who is proud of his work on the A-10. "It has proven to be a good vehicle. It's kind of old for modern day warfare, but it's the best in the house for that particular application," he said. "It's not an aerodynamic dream, but it's a flying tank, basically. It has all kinds of ordnance, plus the Gatling gun."

Rosenthal avidly followed two recent stories involving Warthogs that took enemy fire around Baghdad. One unidentified A-10 pilot was hit by a surface-to-air missile, but he ejected safely and was picked up by U.S. troops.

The Ballad Of "Killer Chick"

Another dramatic mission unfolded when Air Force Capt. Kim Campbell was called in to assist ground troops. Campbell is known by her call sign "KC," for "Killer Chick." She took heavy fire in Her A-10 took heavy fire that crippled its redundant hydraulic control systems.

If both systems fail, the Warthog can be flown manually, though it is difficult. Engineers designed and extensively tested the plane so it could return home with heavy damage, even missing large pieces (file photo, below).

Campbell was determined to get her plane back to base, and she succeeded after an hour-long struggle. Her squadron members marveled at the damage the plane sustained -- the empinage was riddled with holes, and a 1-foot section of a rear stabilizer had been blown off.

"The plane is designed to come home. We designed it specially with those requirements," Benedicto said.

Only about 720 Warthogs were built, and Rosenthal laments that there are no other planes in development for the Air Force that would improve upon the Warthog's capabilities. There are 359 Warthogs in the Air Force's fleet, and there are plans to keep updating the planes through 2011.

Rosenthal said every aspect of the plane was conceived to make it the companion in the sky to ground troops. "That's the only way you win the war, by winning the battle on the ground," he said.

"It's not sexy," Benedicto said. "It's functional."

FMI: www.af.mil/news/factsheets/A_10_OA_10_Thunderbolt_II.html


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