The closest thing to a gun with wings, the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II first flew some 50 years ago this week.
Designed as the world's best close-air support aircraft at a time when the Soviets owned the eye-popping figure of something like 50,000 tanks, the first prototype A-10 flew at Edwards Air Force Base on May 10, 1972, a date now known as BRRRRT-Day.
Nixon was in office, Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" was on the top of the charts – which is a beautiful coincidence considering the love the public has for the A-10 – and a gallon of milk cost 52 cents.
The aircraft was designed from the ground up as a tank-killer, and to this day is the only aircraft to carry the massive GAU-8A Avenger cannon, a 30mm electric Gatling gun that delivers seven times the energy per round as the vaunted 20mm M61 Vulcans carried by other American aircraft. For reference, the 30mm PGU-13/14 shells for a GAU-8A weigh 12.48 ounces while a 20mm shell as used in a Vulcan runs a comparatively puny 3.52 ounces. Also, the GAU-8A can spit out shells at a withering 4,200 rounds per minute.
A close up of how the GAU-8A works:
While the Air Force has been trying to put the A-10 out in the boneyard for generations, it just keeps on kicking, and the service recently evaluated the endangered "Warthog" and its GAU-8A against modern tanks systems using Explosive Reactive Armor, concluding that the system is still brutally effective even a half-century after it was designed.
"A typical A-10 gun employment uses 120 rounds, which means an A-10 is capable of employing fires on nine to ten targets before exhausting its gun munitions,” said Air Force Maj. Kyle Adkison, when speaking of the recent tests. "Against large, fielded forces, A-10 formations are capable of engaging nearly 40 armored vehicles with 30 millimeter munitions. That’s a significant amount of firepower."
With that, we'll leave you with a little Brrrt sizzle reel, because we know you love the classics.