Let us set up this video. It’s a one minute clip from an IMAX film, Fighter Pilot, and the whole movie actually tells more of the story of the F-15s than the A-10s they’re escorting, but the clip focuses on one A-10 gun run. This is a trip to the range for live fire, and the sequence of events is this:
- You see F-15s (these might be Strike Eagles) breaking left and right (a two-ship each way).
- A two-ship element of A-10s fires flares, fires a GAU-8 burst, and breaks left.
- Either another element, or the same one shown again? Both A-10 elements are shown first from behind and overhead, then from beside, obviously filmed from another aircraft.
- Then you see the ground point of view. You see F-15s approaching on the deck, and a tank (an old M60A1 deployed as a range target) on the left. If you look closely (and have the video on full screen) you can see the Warthogs below and behind the fighters.
- Some A-10 pilots clearly have more luck, or skill, than others. You can wound personnel in the open with 30mm near-misses, but nothing but hits will kill a tank. You’ll see plenty of hits, though, and the target’s-eye view was worth the risk of an unattended (obviously) camera.
You can dismiss the dopey explanations that come on screen; the poster added them because, well, most YouTube commenters are living proof that half of humanity is below average.
You can’t have just one gun run, although that’s the most beautifully photographed one you’re going to get. Courtesy of the Air Force, here’s two more videos of A-10s in range fire action just last year at the Nevada Test and Training Range.
In the second video, the camera’s further from the action (as you can tell by the elapsed time between the gunsmoke at the Warthog’s nose and the sound of hog-snort). Note that most of the rounds in both videos are near-misses, but there are some spectacular hits. The targets here are old 8″ M107 SP Howitzers.
This airplane is to be scrapped — not because they have anything to replace it, they’re replacing it with empty hangars and unemployed pilots and mechanics. They’re scrapping it because the money is needed for corporate welfare for big contributors, and handouts for the idle.
But we’re not cynical.
To return to the technical stuff that brings us together, can you watch that and not wonder how in hell they reload and maintain that thing? After all, they built the entire plane around it (The A-10 and its unsuccessful A-9 competitor were the first planes built around a gun since the P-39 of the late 1930s, which was built around the M1 37mm cannon made by, of all firms, Oldsmobile).
Unlike World War II, where armorers came out on trucks and handed cans of belted .50 ammo over to bomber gunners or loaded them in the wings or nose of fighters, the GAU-8′s 30mm rounds take some machinery to load up. (Actually, the gun can be loaded by hand, but it’s an ordeal to do it). Normally, the rounds are contained in plastic cylindrical loaders, which the loading machine shucks them out of like husking corn, before stuffing them in the A-10. (In real combat, other ordies would be hanging bombs and/or missiles on the plane’s hard points, but in training they usually separate training for bombing and gunnery).
And if you haven’t had enough, here’s more behind the scenes A-10 reloading (about ten minutes of loading and interviews with ordnance airmen):
And finally, here’s a couple of GAU-8 ground test fires, probably at General Electric’s facilities in Vermont.
Sure, we could talk about the specs of the GAU-8, like its incredible muzzle velocity, uncanny reliability, or four-figure rate of fire, but you know, you can look all that stuff up. We thought we’d just start your day off right with a few videos of eager young aviators delivering the tank-busting Power of Holy Smite from on high, and eager young ground-crew airmen stuffing that power back in the magazine so the whole thing can be done again.
These may be the last months of the service life of these incredible airplanes, and the guns they’re built around. They’re soon to go the way of the Republic Aircraft Thunderbolt (which they’re actually named after, in an official name that’s scarcely used), Republic Thunderchief, and a hundred other combat types. This will be the last plane that carries the lineage of Alexander P. DeSeversky, a White Russian who became an American aviation pioneer, and Sherman Fairchild, who started building airplanes to support an aerial photography business. (Yes, the same Fairchild company that later invested in Armalite in AR-10 prototype days).