The sturdy A-10 Thunderbolt II, first built in the 1970s, is getting a new wing that will help it meet the demands of today's and tomorrow's war-fighters.
On Feb. 15, Hill Air Force Base and the Boeing Company commemorated completion of the first A-10 with a new enhanced wing assembly, designed to keep the aircraft flying until 2040.
The A-10 Wing Replacement Program is planned to replace 233 A-10 wings that are nearing the end of their structural and economic service life. In 2007, Boeing was awarded a $1.1 billion contract to build replacement wings at its Macon, Ga., plant. Boeing has also contracted with Korean Aerospace Industries to build the outer wing sections. All wing sections, together with two support kits, are brought together at Hill AFB for installation.
"We hired Boeing to build new wings based on the original thick skin wing that Fairchild Republic built 30-plus years ago," said Mark Bibler, A-10 Wing Replacement Program manager for the Aerospace Sustainment Directorate. "However, we did add some enhancements to ease production, as well as several structural improvements to increase service life and ease maintenance."
The improvements target known fatigue locations with the current wing and create an improved wing that can fly for up to 10,000 hours without inspection.
SDLqThis enhanced wing assembly will give the A-10 new strength and a new foundation for its continued service into 2040,SDRq said Mark Bass, Maintenance, Modifications and Upgrades vice president and general manager for Boeing Defense, Space and Security. Bass noted that his father flew the original P-47 Thunderbolt in World War II, while his son, a Soldier serving in Afghanistan, says hearing the A-10 "roll in on the bad guys is one of the best feelings in the world."
"The ground troops love it because when the aircraft shows up, the enemy runs for cover," Bibler added. "The enemy is afraid of the A-10. It's got a very good reputation of supporting troops under fire and helping save the lives of American and Coalition Soldiers."
The first wing arrived at Hill in spring 2011 and underwent an intense set of inspections and checks during installation to ensure that it was a safe, quality product. Once installed, the aircraft flew several test flights to ensure it performed as well in the air as it did on the ground. Testing was completed in late January 2012 with delivery of the aircraft to Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., immediately after the ceremony.
"The test pilots who flew the aircraft said the wing is as good or better than the one it is replacing," Bibler said. "Now the keys to success are producing high quality wings on time, installing them on schedule at Hill Air Force Base and getting the aircraft back into the hands of our pilots and maintainers in the field."
Building the new wing required engineers from Hill AFB and Boeing to take original hand-drawn plans and re-interpret them into 3-D models.
"It was an interesting process to take a two-dimensional design and turn it into a three-dimensional model," said Adam Kite, A-10 Structural Engineer with the A-10 System Program Office at Hill. "There were definitely some hurdles involved with that.SDRq
"We had the original 1970s drawings from Fairchild Republic which we interpreted and made into 3-D models," added Rick Sites, structural engineer for Boeing. "We had to deconflict them SEmD things that are drawn by hand are not always accurate. But this shows we're able to do anything, including taking an airplane made by a different company, put it in a modern form and produce it."
Installation of the new wing takes between 100 and 150 days as some installations will be stand alone and others will be replaced when the aircraft is scheduled for additional depot maintenance.
Brandon Lloyd, an A-10 electrician with the 573rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said the new wing design makes his job easier.
"Before, we had to pull wiring out of the wing in order to lower it off of the aircraft for maintenance," Lloyd said. "Many times, the wiring was damaged SEmD sometimes beyond repair SEmD because we had to pull it through a small bracket. With the new wings, you just disconnect and pull the wires back a little and then drop the wing. It makes the job a lot easier, it saves a tremendous amount of time and a lot of money on repairs."
As part of the A-10 Wing Replacement Program, the A-10 System Program Office is also teamed with Boeing, as well as the 416th Supply Chain Management Squadron and the Defense Logistics Agency SEnD Aviation at Hill to ensure that spare parts are available should a wing be damaged by a bird strike or other unanticipated event in the field.
"We went through a lot of challenges in the government team and industry team to get to the point today where we have a fantastic wing that we can turn over to the warfighter," said Maj. Gen. Andy Busch, Ogden ALC commander. "This project will go on for several years. We are here today because we had a good team in the A-10 System Program Office, led by Col. Chris Roach and others, and the 309th Maintenance Wing, led by Col. Allan Day and others, and our Boeing industry partners."
Along with all its other advantages, the new wing will also help save the Air Force an estimated $1.3 billion over the next 30 years while simultaneously improving mission capability by up to 4 percent.