Born in the hangars of Fairchild Republic back in the early 1970s, the Thunderbolt, also known as the Warthog on account of how ugly it is, compared to other planes currently in operation, was the first aircraft the U.S. Air Force (USAF) had made for close air support of ground forces.
The military branch describes this plane as “simple, effective and survivable,” a brute that could cut enemy forces to shreds thanks to the seven-barrel Gatling gun that can rain projectiles from as high as 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), directly into an area on the ground just 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter.
Aside from the gun, it can carry up to 16,000 pounds (7,200 kg) of mixed ordnance, most of it external, hanging from eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylon stations and making it look lethal in the process.
The one we have here, deployed with the forces out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, does not pack the full extent of its gear, but still looks menacing on the surface of a dry lakebed in Cali, where it attended an air-land integration combat training exercise in early January.
It’s one of close to 300 such beasts currently in service with the American military. Despite its age, the brute of an airplane will form the backbone of what the USAF calls its future streamlined fleet of aircraft, which will also include the F-35 Lightning II, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and a future sixth-gen aircraft.