A-9A — The Survivors
When a pilot went down in Vietnam, one of the first actions taken was to launch the Douglas Skyraiders, a WWII era hold-over of a piston powered aircraft known to her crews as Sandy. Sandy carried a powerful punch. Two working in concert could keep ammunition on the enemy while the other was turning around to make its pass. The Skyraider could stay on the scene for hours protecting downed airmen while a rescue effort was planned and executed.
While the Skyraider was great at its job, it did have a few short-comings. First, it was slow, so it took a long time to get on site and later return home. Second, it was limited in how much munitions it could carry. Third, it was the last gas powered airplane in all-jet military groups.
To counter these short-comings, the US Air Force issued a request for a new series of ground attack aircraft under the A-X program. The A-X would have the speed of a jet, the loiter ability of the Sandy, and carry the new GE Avenger cannon. Several companies responded to the A-X proposal, but only two were selected to build prototypes for a fly-off. These two were the Northrop YA-9A and the Hiller-Fairchild YA-10A.
Both the YA-9A and YA-10A had many features in common. Both had big wings with lots of hard points to carry bombs. Both could carry the GE cannon. Both had redundant hydraulic systems, self-sealing fuel tanks, armor plating in key areas, and a titanium bathtub to protect the pilot.
The fly-off ran through the autumn of 1972. Both aircraft performed well and met all of their objectives. In the end, the YA-10A prevailed. A key reason was the high mounted engines on the YA-10A, which hid the engine from shoulder-fired missiles, allowed the plane to be re-armed with the engines running, and left more space under the wings for hard points. The A-10 went into production as the Thunderbolt II, a plane we know as the premier tank killer from the 1991 gulf war.
The YA-9A prototypes were sent to NASA, and retired to museums shortly thereafter. But, as they say, that was not the end of the story. The Soviet Union deployed a new ground attack airplane designated the Su-25 in the mid-1970s. Called the Frogfoot, it was baptized under fire in Afghanistan in the early 1980's. What is remarkable about the Su-25 is that it looks exactly like the Northrop A-9A. The looks are so similar that some speculate that the Soviets obtained the plans for the A-9A as the basis for the Su-25.
A-9A On Static Display
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.
Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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