More A-10 stuff, in a sideways sort of way. Although, as you’ll soon see, I have a different ulterior motive for mentioning this.
The air force leadership, during the decades they were very anti-A-10, did not like to discuss the usefulness of A-10s in CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) missions. Yet this was a very popular use of the A-10 because when a pilot had to eject and was on the ground, they quickly learned that if you had the enemy nearby looking for you. What you wanted to see first was not a rescue helicopter, but an A-10, that would make sure the rescue chopper and the downed pilots were not hurt. The A-10s regularly came in low and slow seeking out enemy troops and was, unlike most aircraft, designed and armored to deal with a lot of enemy fire.
This CSAR chore was nothing new for the A-10 and goes back to before the A-10 entered service. Many reserve and National Guard A-10 squadrons regularly practiced CSAR tactics in part because many of the pilots were older and more experienced and retained memories of Vietnam, and the aircraft that inspired the A-10 by showing how such a low and slow aircraft could be invaluable during so many CSAR missions. The Vietnam era A-1 Skyraider (nicknamed “Spad”, after a famous World War I fighter) was one of the inspirations for the A-10. The A-1 was the most popular ground support aircraft during the 1960s and proved a literal lifesaver during hundreds of Vietnam CSAR missions. Developed at the end of World War II, the A-1 was an 11 ton, single seat, propeller driven aircraft that carried 3.5 tons of bombs and four 20mm autocannon. The four 20mm cannon could, altogether, fire 40 rounds a second. Cruising speed was 320 kilometers an hour (versus 560 for the A-10), and the average sortie was about four hours (a little longer than the A-10). The A-10 could go as slow as 220 kilometers an hour, which was nearly as slow as the A-1 could manage but the A-10 had a max speed of 700 kilometers an hour, more than a third faster than the A-1.
Ever since Vietnam ground troops have been agitating for another A-1. The A-10 came close, but did not have the persistence (long time over the combat area) of the A-1. But when the A-10 did get to demonstrate its CSAR capabilities during the 1991 Gulf War, there were still some Vietnam era pilots around who made the A-1/A-10 CSAR connection vividly clear. The A-10 CSAR capabilities are obvious to pilots. The A-10 is built to fly low and slow and better survive any ground fire it encounters. A-10s being jets could get to where the downed pilot was fast and then go down low to better deal with any enemy ground threat until the air force CSAR helicopters arrived. This was the same method used by A-1s in Vietnam.
That ulterior motive I mentioned? Glad you asked:
That there is a pic of me getting some stick time in the trusty Able Dog way back in ’04, which amazing experience I wrote about at greater length, with lots of photos from the flight included, here. Austin Bay’s link to a SP photo of a Skyraider legacy flight with an F-16 is what made me think of it. He says:
In 1999 I was at a small airfield in southern California. A Skyraider rolled onto the landing strip then sat there for about five minutes. The pilot slowly increased rpm until the sound split ears 250 meters away. Then he took off with a rush and climbed quickly. The Skyraider was originally a carrier aircraft. I thought the pilot might be emulating a carrier launch. If not, he was still having fun. Several observers, including me, clapped after the takeoff.
As well you should have, Austin. The Skyraider IS a loud sumbitch sure enough, I’ll testify to that. Big, heavy, sturdy, powerful; a potent attack aircraft packing some serious punch, one that performed its vital CAS/CASR role extremely well—I ask you, what’s not to like?