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A-10s expected at air show

September 02, 1997

By KAREN MASTERSON

Staff Writer

Several A-10 Thunderbolt anti-tank planes, built at the now-closed Fairchild Industries plant just north of Hagerstown, are flying here for The Great Hagerstown Air Show next weekend

At least four of the A-10s, known as the Warthog, will be on the ground and in the air during the show Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 6 and 7.

Built as a result of fear of a Soviet tank invasion of Western Europe, the A-10 was produced at Fairchild's Hagerstown plant from 1973 through 1984.

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"It was an awesome weapon," said John F. Dealy, former president of Fairchild Industries.

Fairchild produced 713 of the gray, one-pilot tank killers, Dealy said. More than 300 of the planes remain operational, officials said.

The A-10 didn't come by its "warthog" nickname for no reason.

"They are ugly," said Bernice Swain, who inspected Fairchild's production of fiberglass composites for the plane's wings, and currently is with Rohr Industries Inc.

"It was spectacular ... doing rolls, loops and flying at tree-top levels. A lot of times, I'd be on a boat on the Potomac (River), and there would be A-10s flying overhead," said Dale Purnell, who worked on the plane's final assembly at the Hagerstown plant, examining controls before and after test flights.

Dealy said the company lost a 1969 contract to build the F-15 and, as a result, was on the verge of closing its Hagerstown operation.

The company took a shot at staying in the aeronautics industry when the Department of Defense requested proposals for a specialized aircraft designed to protect ground troops against a Soviet attack, he said.

More than 20 companies competed for the 12-year, multi-billion dollar Air Force contract. Dealy said Fairchild's design came the closest to what the U.S. Air Force was looking for: the ability to destroy enemy tanks and the agility to make quick aerial loops.

"The Air Force wanted an aircraft that could turn in a tight box and was heavily fortified," he said.

"The gun alone is the size of a Volkswagen," he said, describing the 20-foot long, seven-barrel, 30 mm Gatling gun located under the cockpit and capable of shooting 70 rounds per second.

The armor-piercing shells are made of non-radioactive depleted uranium.

The plane also was designed to take hits. Air Force Capt. Frederick S. Fitzsimmons, who flew nearly 150 A-10 missions during the Persian Gulf War and over Bosnia, said the cockpit is made of nearly impenetrable titanium.

In the 1980s its slow speed, relative to other supersonic fighter jets, made it a type of Air Force stepchild. As the threat of war with Russia seemed less likely, so did the A-10's mission. Experts said it was slated for retirement.

Then came the war with Iraq and the need for a rugged attack plane to support troops on the ground. The A-10s flew hundreds of missions, obliterating Iraqi military ground units and proving their military worth.

The A-10 was the last military aircraft contract Fairchild completed before it closed its Hagerstown doors in 1984, according to a comprehensive book on the company, called "Fairchild Aircraft, 1926-1987."

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The Air Show also will feature dozens of vintage World War II military planes and contemporary classics like the B-2 Stealth Bomber.

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