The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbotl II was designed in the early '70s to meet a USAF requirement for a tank killing close air support aircraft. It's primary purpose was to defeat the anticipated Soviet tank attack that would come through Germany, should war ever break out.
The A-10 was designed around it's huge 30mm GAU-8 Gatling gun. Firing rounds of depeleted uranium at 2,000 or 4,000 rounds per minute, this awesome weapon was capable of chewing up a tank in short order. 11 weapons hardpoints allow the aircraft to carry a massive amount of varied ordanance.
The A-10 almost immediately gained the nickname 'Warthog' due ito its ungainly appearance. Indeed, few actually refer to the jet as Thunderbolt, most folks just call it 'The Hawg'.
Equipped with twin tails, twin engines, multiple redundant controls, and an armored titanium coccoon around the pilot, the Hawg was designed to take a lot of punishment and get its pilot back home. It is not a fast jet, max speed is about 450mph, but it is highly manueverable, and quiet. Most of its work is done at low level.
Production was 707 airframes, not counting pre-production, buiilt from 1975 to 1982.
With the end of the cold war, many in the Air Force pushed for the retirement of the A-10, saying it was redundant. Some of the earlier airframes started going to the boneyard in the late '80s. It's reprieve came in the form of Desert Storm.
DS operations showed that the A-10 was far from obsolete. It destroyed hundreds of Iraqi tanks and vehicles. 18 A-10s were hit by enemy fire, 4 of which were downed. 2 more A-10s were lost in landing accidents. More than 1 A-10 brought its pilot home after taking significant damage.
The post DS force drawdown initiated by Clinton saw the A-10 active duty force hit hard, with several wings being deactivated. The A-10, however, continued to prove its worth over Bosnia. It has been a critical component of the Global War on Terror, and its presence over Iraq and Afghanistan has been constant since our forces liberated those countries.
Today, about half of the A-10s built are still flying. The majority have been through multiple upgrades and service life extensions that will keep them active for at least another 15 years. While the F-22 and F-35 are set to replace the F-15 and F-16, there is no replacement on the boards for the A-10.
Once the stepchild of the pointy-end fighter Air Force, the 'Hawg continues to prove its worth, and will outlive the jets that came after it - the very ones that were supposed to have made it obsolete.
Lone Star Flight Museum's P-47D Thunderbolt "Tarheel Hal' sitting besides its namesake, A-10A Thunderbolt II 79-0147, 47FS 917WG, at the Hawg's home base of Barksdale AFB. Photo by yours truly.