Imagine you’re an ace WWII pilot in your leather flight suit and cap, sitting in a folding wooden chair in a yellow army briefing room, shoulder to shoulder with 14 fellow pilots. The officer before you points his long metal rod at a series of paper sketches on a tack board—an unusually state-of-the-art briefing. His face is grave.
“These sketches, gentlemen, show a new enemy aircraft. The good news is there’s only one of them. Your mission is to find and kill it. We’re sending your entire wing. If you approach high and in loose formation, we expect 100% chance of success and that some of you will definitely come home.”
“That makes no sense, Sir. We’ve shot down a hell of a lot of enemy fighters. Besides, that thing looks like just a bomber with no turrets. We’ll kill it and be home for lunch.”
“It looks like a bomber son, but it moves like our fighters. It has nearly your speed, nearly your maneuverability, practically never runs out of fuel, and is mostly armored beyond your guns’ capacity to damage. Its gun is more powerful than yours, and has longer range. You’ll minimize that advantage by attacking from above—the enemy likes to fly low—and staying engaged until it’s dead. For the love of God don’t turn your back and run. Do that and you’re dead.”
“One gun sir?”
“I’ll spare the details except to say it’s dangerous. Yours converge at 750 feet, with a low percentage kill chance on the enemy. The enemy has a 100% kill chance on you at 4000 feet. Maybe 6000.”
“Loose formation, son.
“I’ll say, sir.”
“One more thing. It carries two seeker-rockets that outrange your guns, so two members of your wing will be down before they get a shot off. It’ll be up to the surviving fighters to down the enemy.”
“…but you said we can’t penetrate it’s armor?”
“It’s not all armored, pilot. Keep shooting and one of you will eventually damage something critical. It can’t outrun you, so you’re guaranteed a win if you stay engaged.”
“Unless we run out of fuel or ammo, right?”
“Best not screw around then, eh?”
FROM THE COMMENTS SECTION…“Did they get it?”
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A stalemate. They can damage the A-10—mostly it’s not “armored” so much as “able to fly while damaged”—but they’ll only get one pass at best.
On their first encounter they catch the A-10 unawares from above but, fearing its gun, they attack from straight on high. Even with their superior dive speed, aren’t able to catch it—they’re not enough faster to cover both the vertical and horizontal distances—and the A-10 escapes without knowing it was pursued.
The next time they spot the A-10, they attack high and front. The A-10 sees them coming and looses its IR-guided defensive Sidewinders, but it’s a warm day and they fail to track the piston driven fighters precisely…two are damaged but still airborne. The A-10 pilot knows that his GAU-8A cannon burns through its 1-ton of ammo in about 9 short bursts, so there’s no way for him to defeat 15 attackers even with an epic feat of precision gunnery. It also occurs to him that, though he’s tagged air targets with his cannon in practice, few A-10 pilots have ever done so in war; the WWII airmen, on the other hand, could be seasoned dogfighters. The pilot’s fingers twitch at his radio: in his own time he’d call for air superiority and F-15s or 16s would be inbound in minutes. Alas.
With a sigh and a grumble he heels the flight stick around. He throttles up and the whine of the General Electric turbofans enfolds him like a defensive blanket. A few shots ping against his airframe but the fighters are firing wild, still well outside their effective range, merely blanketing the airspace with lead in an attempt to prevent his escape.
It’s no use. The flyboys can only watch gape-mouthed as the A-10 climbs away faster than any aircraft they’ve ever seen, vaulted by its great square wings as if borne away into the sky by angels.