A-10 Warthog proposed, again, as an air tanker

(Last Updated On: September 26, 2014)
A-10 Thunderbolt II
An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. USAF photo by SRA Greg L. Davis.

We thought the concept of using the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt as an air tanker had finally been given a dignified burial after the “Firehog” was discussed, cussed, and debated to death in the 1990s.

Affectionately known as the Warthog, the A-10 is a low-altitude close air support aircraft that is built around its awesome, 20-foot long, seven-barrel GAU-8 Avenger 30mm gatling gun designed to fire armor-piercing depleted uranium and high explosive incendiary rounds. The projectiles, each weighting almost a pound, are fired at 3,900 rounds per minute. The recoil from the gun, which is usually fired in one or two-second bursts, is equal to the forward thrust of one of the two engines on the aircraft.

If the 620-pound gun is removed for maintenance, the plane will tip over backward unless a jack stand is placed under the tail. That weight and balance issue would be a significant obstacle to overcome when converting it to an air tanker.

On September 10 a group calling itself USA Firefighting Air Corps made a presentation to the Colorado legislature’s Wildfire Matters Review Committee. The company proposes to have state fire organizations acquire military surplus A-10s and then through a public-private partnership, convert and operate the air tankers.

The name chosen by the new Denver company, USA Firefighting Air Corps (USAFAC), is very similar to the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps which was recently organized within the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. The individuals listed on the USAFAC website are Chris Olson, Gerry Fitzgerald, and John Simmons. Mr. Simmons until recently was a Special Aide to Colorado state Senator Steve King who has been extremely active in pushing the state to acquire a fleet of firefighting aircraft. In March Senator King introduced a bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 164, to authorize the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) to acquire helicopters and air tankers for the newly created agency.

Mr. Simmons told us that his role in the USAFAC is a media contact and “work incidental to the formation of this company”.

Using the designs of Edward Herlik from the 1990s, the organization claims “the [A-10 air tanker] could fly very low, fly night missions, see through smoke, drop retardant with pinpoint accuracy, and even reload its 2,000-gallon retardant tank in mid-air”. Their proposal uses arguments mentioned by other companies that have little to no experience in aerial firefighting — they emphasize electronics and technology that they claim will make their concept much better than existing air tankers. While there is room for improvement in constant flow retardant delivery systems, the A-10’s bomb sights and infrared sensors are not game changers.

The Air Force has been trying off and on to retire the A-10 which was designed during the Vietnam War. It was almost heading to the boneyard until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan broke out. They still want to get rid of it but there is new opposition from Congress, including from Senator John McCain who jumped into the fray this summer. The Air Force estimates it will save $3.7 billion over five years by retiring the almost 300 A-10s that remain in the inventory. A few lawmakers claim it is essential for protecting ground troops. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is destined to replace the A-10 and other aircraft beginning in 2016, but the program has had repeated cost overruns and schedule delays due to hardware and software problems.

There are 172 A-10s listed in the inventory of the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group’s aircraft boneyard in Tucson, but it is unknown if or when the Air Force will make those available for transfer to other organizations.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Bean.

32 thoughts on “A-10 Warthog proposed, again, as an air tanker”

  1. How about that? Add this to the list (L.A.I.) of folks that probably have limited experience (if at all) in wildfire suppression. The companies currently providing fixed wing air tankers have a good idea of what the end user, fire fighter, on the ground needs to accomplish the task.

  2. If you haven’t already sent a copy of this post to the committee in Colorado, you should do it today. No sense going through THAT wringer and spin cycle again.

  3. There are a lot of wholes in making an A-10 a into a Air Tanker. The statement above really says we don’t know anything about what we’re doing is ” air refilling retardant in flight – sorry but that is more stupid then fighting fires at night with any kind of fixed wing aircraft, helo OK @ nite! Yes, I have – civilian and combat time in both types.

    Besides the fact that it would take a ton of $$$ to convert A-10’s that have been in storage for years. The real reality is that the aircraft wouldn’t be a good tanker, but you could waste a lot of tax payers $$$ on the project and get nothing back. This A-10 project would be twice the nightmares that the USFS C-130H program is going to have if it’s completed.

    Leave it to the companies that know what their doing and have been for years!

  4. Whoooo boy

    I know a USAF retiree that went into contract work after 25 years in the A-10

    Suprisingly as of 3-5 yrs ago…the USAF was doing wing structures work to beef up the wings at Hill AFB……………………………….

    All I can say is here we go again…..a new “Next Gen” fighter aircraft designed just after Viet Nam and fielded in the 1979 era…

    Besides I did a 20 page technical report in 1992 for a college tech writing class and that is where I learned how the USAF learned to laugh especially taking the titanium tub out and also that thar GAU-8 30mm swis cheese creator

    But hey bring it on……le th e TRUE A-10 drivers and mechanics tell you what is up and the costs

    Brings me to the thoughts of the DoD 1130 program or whatever the number….frrreeeeeeeeeebies to all tthe police departments…you know….MRAP’s and other heavy equipment that you know EVERRRY PD and LE has the replacement parts and shops to accomodate this

    See the same thing coming with the A-10…….yep 170 available

    I am with Mr Cupido on this one…….oh and HOW is that C130H project coming along, Bill?

    Does USAFAC even have a website and who are the players…

    1. Half the A-10 fleet have new wings and continue to have them installed. They are a dream to work on, and by far one of the most robust and easiest airframes to maintain. Future air tanker…no. But would make a superior forward control aircraft.

      Not sure what your comments about the gun and tub are about.

    2. GAU, 30 mm Swiss Cheese Creator, excellent! Was there a 50mm variant? A.U. was just one air tanker company that took a hard look. C.G. issues the gun and tub was the culprit.

  5. I have always prided myself as an aviator, fire fighter, inventor constantly looking outside the box for new ideas, fifty fire seasons worth. I have tried to look into the future. February-April 1980 I had two published papers, agricultural airplanes for rapid intervention on new wildfires and jumbo jets for WUI areas. It took three decades to rise to the occasion. I have adjusted my telescope to “high power” looking way out of the “box”, nothing yet , especially the A 10. USAFAC revisit a good idea that didn’t quite work as planned. Evergreen’s 747 without the pressure tank; gravity flow RAD tank?

  6. Leave the gun in place, use it as a Leadplane. The gun will come in handy for that 5th recon ship of the hour or pesky nonparticipating aircraft. Fill with incendiary rounds and the Leadplane could initiate burnout operations as soon as the retardant line is completed.

  7. Why bother. The USFS is in love with the DC -10. Anything less that 10000 gallons per drop is apparently ineffictive anymore.

    1. Well it is the most effective Air Tanker out there, which is not to say smaller tankers are ineffective. I’d love to take a SEAT out for some fun. They are all weapons to fight fires and they all have there place. The new change to jet aircraft has and will make a major difference in fighting fires. The larger loads and speed making the biggest difference. The biggest issue for operators is the high cost of newer ex-airliners or even ex-military aircraft – both P3 and C130 have proven track records.

  8. Hoss,
    I used a ruler!
    You know as well as I we could talk about this all day. Also realize that this is just my opinion based on my experience, no more. The DC10 is currently the most bang for the buck for the taxpayers $$$. It’s flight performance as well it’s cost per-flight hour and per-gallon dropped.
    What else is there? The C-130 is a great tanker as was the P3, but there is only one C130 flying and one coming in a few months. I didn’t forget about the possible 7 USFS C130’s because there not flying yet, if ever. Can’t really count the USAF C130’s because their only on when all civilian tankers are flying. Besides aren’t there a few articles on how the pressured systems are not as effective as gravity tanks, another issue some other time.
    The P2V is on its last legs, but still effective as long as their maintenance holds up. The CL415 – way over priced aircraft for its capabilities, but again it’s has its place because of the amphibious capability. Many Air Force’s (Spain, France, Thailand, etc…) operate them because there government owned, so the taxpayers $$$ covers their total cost.
    Now then there is the MD87, sorry but this was a mistake from the start, enough said. Now then there is the BA146 & RJ basically the same. They must be cheap to buy, but on the operation side not the case. Performance, I don’t have a clue, have never flown one because it’s British – joke! Haven’t heard good or bad about there about their capabilities on fires, but justify the differences in hourly flight rate, makes no sense between the operation of a same type aircraft. Whatever, not my deal.
    The Canadian’s do very well with their Convair 580’s and Electra’s as well as lots of SEATS.
    I look forward to seeing where the industry goes in coming years. Colorado is looking like a political nightmare already with the A10 tanker concept. It’s was good to look at it years ago, but get over it, it won’t work! The only 2 military aircraft that should be tanked are the C130 and P3, but politics and Bozos are in the way of that happening. The C27 has a major parts issue, you can’t get them!
    So tell me what’s best with what’s being used?

    1. I dont know where you are getting your numbers but a SEAT is way more cheaper as cost per gallon dropped and even more so when you add in the daily rate just to have them sitting on the ground waiting for a fire not to mention the rate for flight time and ground crew etc! dc10 way over priced!! you could have a small fleet of SEATS for the cost of 1 DC10!

      1. Even with that fleet you still couldn’t get the volume of retardant to the fire for as cheaply as the DC10 does it.

        The other factor that so many people forget is the lack of overlap and inherent waste of retardant with one long line. What about reduction of risk for Tanker pilots and Leadplane pilots? Several passes instead of 15?

    2. “Most effective tool in the tool box”

      I am pretty sure the SEAT driver that boxed in the new start at 1/10 of an acre and held it until ground troops got there would disagree with you.

      The S-2 drivers that are able to be over any fire in the state of CA would take exception to that statement.

      The crane operator working close air support with the hand crew building line would disagree.

      The CL-215 crews that traverse 1/2 of Alaska and are still able to move large volumes of water over the fire for the next 3.5 hours on a single fuel cycle would disagree.

      As for the 415, does it cost a couple bucks, yep. What do we get, a factory NEW airplane that is purpose built to do one thing, fight fire. Along with that we get a maintenance program that is tailored to the mission. By the way T-260 has hauled over 1.5 million gallons on its own this summer. 90% of that has been since mid July in the mountain west. And it does not need a tanker base to operate out of. Pretty efficient.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think the DC-10 has it’s place in the tool box, and they do a good job of building line when that is needed. I find their crews to be quite professional to work with over the fire. I also think they have been very effective at PR. When you do the math, don’t forget to add in the total costs, they are on a dry rate so fuel needs to be added into that mix as well as increased ground support, and she likes her gas.

      As for Neptune’s 146s and Aero-Flites RJ-85s, I think time will prove them to be some of the most capable retardant delivery aircraft fielded. With a good mix of speed, payload, ability to fit into current infrastructure, very maneuverable, ability to pressurize and go to altitude with a load, good performance, good quick turn ability, and the ability to IA a fire. Folks on the ground and in the air like the tank performance of both.

      My point is there are a lot of great tools in the tool box, and they are all efficient/ effective when they are properly used. Be careful with the blanket statements.

      1. Oops, meant to say “the S-2 drivers that are able to be over any fire in the state of CA in under 30 minutes”

  9. Brian
    In order for the dream A-10 to even be considered for Airtanker duty…..it has been rehashed that the tub and Gatling Gun aid need to be removed

    THAT is what has to be done to even consider tanking it….

    Removal of those two items would definitely have CG issues…..if you know what I mean……

      1. If that didn’t work add an additional powerplant. A mini DC10. Wheels should stay round, not square. If CAFC continues to travel this “route” contact the companies developing parachute retardant, borate in a box, and fire pellets. All seem to be on the same page. I usually get paid for my consultations. This is a freebee.

  10. What is baffling to me about this proposal, who and what is dragging this dead horse? A newly formed State agency (CFAC) is already taking a worn out path (A 10 route) traveled by many decades ago. Call me “old school” but at this point in the CFAC I would look into contracting a multi-year seven day coverage round engines air tankers as a proven start. Also I would continue a strong presents in SEATS.

  11. Johnny

    You, again, are bringing common sense to an already baffled and rehash of old history.

    I would invite all these folks who think they have the answer of the A-10, S3 and other military hardware that were introduced 20 years ago to put it out on the website, after all it was information gained on government time that everyone here should be able to see

    The aircraft and airtanker industry have been MORE transparent (other than proprietary items) than most of any information from all at WO-FAM in ANY stretch

  12. David,

    David,

    It would take 14 SEATS – 14 pilots – 14 off-loads. On the other hand, one DC10 – 3 flight crew = 1 DC10 sortie, which is more productive in getting the fire out?
    One big load or 14 loads over X amount of time?

    Lots of variables. All depends on the size and the size usually gets bigger because there aren’t enough tankers to control it. There both good aircraft for the mission, just depends how there used. We could go on, no point, it was just my opinion.

  13. Joe Cupido

    Calfire takes care of 97% of fires in their response area due to the Initial Attack Concept… tactical spread of Tanker/Copter Bases + rapid dispatch + coordination of Air/Ground resources… to actually fight fires!
    Not saying large Tankers aren’t needed because they’re good at building retardant lines and they’re great assets but IA is the most effective tactic.
    So instead of only looking at number of airplanes, please consider the strategy and tactics.

  14. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that USAFAC is different than the CFAC. While it’s fun and easy to blame politicians, I suspect they may be the wrong target, this time. I would bet that USAFAC is a consultant that is trying to sell Colorado a concept, hoping to cash in on their inexperience. If my paranoia is NOT misplaced, then bad on them.

    Dang it, leo, I wanted to bring up the S-3. I still think THAT one makes sense!

    And really, it’s kind of weird that everyone is arguing the same side of the coin, ‘the A-10 is a great aircraft, but isn’t feasible as a tanker’.

  15. ALERT ALERT ALERT

    Page 15 of Aviation Week and Space Technology in the Feedback commentary section

    A reader is suggesting that the USAF sells the A-10 fleet to Israeli Defense Forces

    NOW there is a number of folks that could REALLY use the transfer of technology, after all I helped ship out the last of the AH-1F series to both Foreign Military Sales and for all I know……FIREWATCH Bell 209’s

    Hurrrryyyy Colorado……get some before some folks who could equally put the aircraft through the paces even more so than folks wanting to bring a 20 year old AT idea back to life…..

    I could truly see the reasoning behind that idea and the real intention of the aircraft in what it was truly built for

    HURRY Colorado before Foreign Military Sales grabs these babies up…..better flying over Israel and maybe bustin up ISIS than some no pay, no contract, and delays in IATB testing let alone State testing operations where LMA organization have no operational knowledge or capability of supporting an aircraft other than what they heard on the news or see on TV!!

    Read AW&ST 15 September 2014 …..a marvelous suggestion!!!!!!

    1. The issue now with the A-10 is the problem with ISIS
      and co-Reavers. This is a job the A-10 is needed for.
      Read that Indiana an Idaho are sending their A-10 Air Guard units to -Kuwait ….
      It will be a while….
      BTW Oregon’s SEAT Program coupled with perfectly good DC7s is working well…

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