At this point, no one should be surprised at what the A-10 Warthog can endure. On many occasions, the aircraft returned to the airbase after sustaining so much damage that it was truly remarkable that it was still flyable. A missing wing, a missing engine, enough bullet holes on the fuselage to use it as a strainer… it’s just a flesh wound. And, of course, we cannot forget the A-10, which landed without a canopy or landing gear.
On July 20 2017, Maj. Brett DeVries was piloting his A-10 Thunderbolt II during a training mission over the Grayling Air Gunnery Range. According to DeVries, the mission was routine, and he had done it hundred times before. The mission included a few bombing runs and one strafing run, which all went smoothly. However, his second strafing run didn’t go as planned. When he fired the iconic 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger cannon, the aircraft suffered a malfunction. The canopy was blown off mid-flight.
“It was like someone sucker punched me,” DeVries said. “I was just dazed for a moment.”
DeVries collected himself, using his wealth of experience from over 100 combat missions, and decided that the best course would be to increase the plane’s altitude. So he climbed to 2000 feet from the initial 150.
After inspecting the extent of the damage DeVries and his wingman, Major Shannon Vickers, started to plan their next move. They decided to lower their landing gear and discovered that the nose gear wouldn’t come down. The plane needs the gears during landing, but it is possible to land it without them. Ironically having some gears down is worse than not having them at all.
DeVries decided to go for a belly landing and retracted all of his gears. Considering the circumstances, he landed the plane perfectly, and the A-10 sustained minimal damage. Both the pilot and the wingman were unscathed. The aircraft was delivered to Hill Air Force Base in 2018 for repairs.
“We knew we could do it, but it would take a long time,” the 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron planning chief Daniel Wise said. “We basically rebuilt the entire front of the A-10 without aided engineering and unprocurable parts that had to be locally manufactured.”
It turned out that most of the damage to the aircraft wasn’t caused by the belly landing but rather by the malfunction of the cannon. “There’s a main nose beam right next to the gun that blew up, so the inside of the entire gun cavity had to be rebuilt.” Scott Oster said, the 571st AMXS lead A-10 planner. “It was just a whole lot of structural work, like 90 percent.”
3 Long years
It took three years for the A-10 to be repaired entirely, which is surprising considering the plane wasn’t severely damaged. But it turns out that it was fairly hard to source spare parts, mainly because of the US Air Force’s ongoing efforts to retire the A-10.
“A lot of the parts are unavailable, so we have to run them through our local manufacturing process and make them ourselves,” Oster said. “With any of the other weapons systems, if they have a bad part, they order it through supply and replace it. On the A-10’s, we’re kind of in a different world.”
While the US Air force is set on retiring the A-10, with many planes being grounded, this one will return to the air.