Affectionately known as the "Hawg," the A-10 Thunderbolt II is essentially a flying gun designed to provide close air support to troops on the ground. The aircraft features a seven-barrel 30 mm Gatling gun that fires about 65 rounds per second. In layman's terms, that's a big can of whoop-ass.
Ground-pounders love the whirring sound the A-10's cannon makes when fired -- lovingly called a "Hawg fart" by pilots -- because it announces certain death to whoever is on the receiving end. An old rumor that a reader recently asked about is the A-10's gun is so powerful that when fired the recoil slows the plane down almost to a complete stop.
But while the A-10's endurance and firepower are legendary, the myth that its cannon drastically decelerates the aircraft is pure "Hawg-wash," said retired Air Force Col. Steve Ruehl.
"I have fired as many as 500 rounds in one trigger burst, that takes just about seven, eight seconds, and [it had] no impact on the air speed of the aircraft," said Ruhel, who has logged 3,500 hours flying A-10s.
It boils down to simple physics: Force = Mass x Acceleration.
"The bullets are only about three-quarters of a pound," Ruehl said. "The airplane, in a typical combat mission, is 40,000 pounds. When you got 40,000 pounds moving at 350 knots, that's a lot more [force] than a three-quarter pound bullet moving at 2,000 feet per second."
Another myth about the A-10's cannon is pilots can only fire short bursts because if they squeeze the trigger for too long, the heat will melt the barrels.
In reality, you will not turn the A-10's gun into molten lava if you fire all 1,150 rounds the plane holds in one long burst, but you will certainly shorten the gun's life, Ruehl said.
"So every time we go out and fire, we come back and we tell the maintenance crews exactly how many rounds we fired and how many trigger pulls we fired, and they put that into a computer system that helps us determine when those barrels need to be replaced," he said.
None of this mean the A-10's cannon is less powerful than advertised. It is the ideal weapon for supporting U.S. troops in close contact with the enemy because the 30 mm rounds are much less likely to injure friendly forces than a smart bomb, Ruehl said.
"It is an awesome gun and I personally believe the most destructive gun ever mounted on an aircraft in the history of mankind," Ruehl said.
THE RUMOR DOCTOR'S DIAGNOSIS: This rumor is false, but no one doubts that the A-10's cannon packs a punch rivaled only by Chuck Norris' roundhouse kick.