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Feeding the Avenger: Reloading the A-10’s monster Cannon

The A-10 Thunderbolt II has one of the largest cannons on any aircraft in the world. Understandably, reloading this Goliath can be it’s own monster of a task.

Dive in as we take a detailed perspective of what it looks like to reload the cannon on this legendary aircraft – the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger.

Why is the A-10’s gun so big?

The A-10 Thunderbolt’s primary mission with the US Air Force is Close Air Support, or CAS for short. When the aircraft was first in development, the threat of Soviet tanks was still a possibility to be considered and defended against.

One of the solutions developed by US aerospace engineers to defend against Soviet tanks was the amalgam of offensive and defensive capability we see today in the A-10: two massive armored engines mounted high and to the rear, balancing out a fierce device of destruction which dominates the front.

At the end of the day, 30 mm rounds tipped with depleted uranium, fired at an astounding rate of up to 3,900 rounds per minute, is enough to strike fear into the heart of any tank commander or captain.

The A-10’s cannon uses a linkless ammunition feed system to decrease both overall weight and the potential for jamming. Used casings are recycled back into the aircraft after firing to prevent any damage to the airframe when ejecting such large objects.

Each cartridge weighs more than 1.5 pounds.

General Electric GAU-8 Avenger Auto-Cannon

Developed alongside the A-X attack aircraft program in the 1970s, the GAU-8 Avenger auto-cannon was designed and manufactured by General Electric (GE) specifically to be implemented into the airframe.

The famous photo of the cannon next to a VW Beetle, taken around the time the cannon was first introduced to the public, is one of the best illustrations of its sheer size. While the A-10 itself isn’t unreasonably large, it certainly does have a stout, front-heavy fuselage, due to the fact that the plane design was required to accommodate such a massive main gun.