Think you have what it takes to be an A-10 Warthog pilot? Then get ready to break out the crayons and colored pencils.
Back in the 1980s, the A-10 was one of the Pentagon’s deadliest tank-killers. The twin-engine A-10 was a veritable flying tank itself, heavily armored and hauling AGM-65 Maverick missiles and a GAU-8/A 30-millimeter Gatling cannon.
When it fires, it sounds like a buzzsaw.
To help them hit their targets, Hog pilots also had their own coloring book. The A-10 Pilots Coloring Book, with the Strangelovian subtitle What You Always Wanted to Know About the T-62 But Were Afraid to Ask, was a tongue-in-cheek and politically incorrect guide on how to destroy Soviet vehicles.
For areas the A-10’s cannon can penetrate, you should color it green. Red is for areas you can’t penetrate at a given angle of attack. And black is for areas that are “ungood, you must learn to hate these areas,” the book states.
Another page shows the underbelly of a T-62 tank, easily penetrated by the A-10’s cannon. “Unfortunately, if you see it from this angle you have just been run over by subject tank,” the book deadpans.
“Color the bottom of the tank green and yourself brown—you dumb shit an A-10 will not fit underneath a T-62 tank and remain airborne.”
Saucy language aside (“Hate that Commie tank,” reads one page), the illustrations have a real educational purpose behind them.
“The point of the article is to highlight for newly assigned pilots the improved vulnerabilities of the tank from a side or rear attack,” Andy Bush, a retired A-10 pilot, tells War is Boring.
Bush flew A-10s from 1982 to 1988, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He acquired a copy of the coloring book while based at RAF Bentwaters in England.
“No idea who wrote it or where,” he says. He shared the illustrations with the aviation geeks at SimHQ more than a decade ago, and they’ve circulated around military forums ever since. We’ve done our best to host the images in high resolution here, and a .zip file containing the full set is available at Imgur.
Among the lessons: The A-10’s main gun is ineffective during a frontal attack on a tank. “If you even think of attacking it this way color yourself very very stupid and ineffective,” the book underlines.
On the other hand, a hit on the T-62’s barrel should “destroy its effectiveness,” though that’s not exactly an easy shot.
At slant ranges in excess of 7,000 feet, an A-10 can penetrate the crew compartment by aiming at the lower sides near the treads. The turret is a no-go, but the upper side of the hull is vulnerable.
Another image has inked-in stick figures representing the crew. “Strafe those atheistic degenerates,” the book spits.
The best place to aim? The rear. “Color it vulnerable green.”
But according to Bush, gun kills on Soviet tanks were likely to be rare even when aiming for the rear.
“Depending on terrain and enemy defenses, these attacks were possible but were far more dangerous than a frontal attack at long range,” he says. “Another consideration is that the T-62 is an older tank, more along the line of Vietnam War era. In the ’80s, we were faced with more modern tanks such as the T-72, with even better armor capability.”
For these tanks—and especially when defended by Soviet anti-air defenses—the A-10 pilots trained to rely on their Maverick precision-guided missiles.
“The A-10 gun is more like shooting a shotgun than a rifle,” Bush says. “We fired into an area—the tank itself—rather than a specific spot. This is particularly true of attacks from longer ranges—4,000 feet or more. The hope was that the large number of rounds would result in some hits in the desired area.”
If Bush had been tasked with flying his A-10 toward invading Soviet armies in a hypothetical World War III, it’s unlikely he’d be alive today. The Air Force once estimated America’s entire Warthog force would be effectively destroyed within two weeks of a conventional European war with Moscow.
“I can’t attest to those numbers,” Bush says. “I suppose in a worst case scenario, they are close to the mark.”
But the A-10 pilots would have done everything they could to avoid a direct fight.
“We used formation tactics that included deception, avoidance of enemy radar and multiple simultaneous attacks to improve our chances,” Bush adds. “How well would this have worked? Who knows. I never was too rosy about our chances if the Rooskies ever came across the border in full force.”
At the same time, Bush cautions not to misrepresent the A-10 as NATO’s primary tank killer, something which military writers are wont to do. It wasn’t. That job was for NATO’s tanks and attack helicopters.
“We were there as an additional force that could response quicker to enemy breakthroughs,” he says. “We supplemented the Army guys, not the other way around.”
The Air Force plans to retire the A-10 fleet over the next five years to make way for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Pentagon and Air Force argue the Warthog is too old, slow and vulnerable to be of much use in a modern battlefield—although it’s carried out brutally effective close-air support in Afghanistan.
“It cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in February.
But Bush thinks retiring the Hog might be a mistake. Before getting in the cockpit of an A-10, Bush flew F-4 Phantom and F-104 Starfighter jets—both capable of close-air support roles.
“Assuming that Iraq and Afghanistan are typical of future conflicts—and that is not a rock-solid assumption—then I think the A-10 type of close-air support weapon to be useful,” he says. “Fast movers cannot do the job as well. I’ve flown CAS in fast movers and it just isn’t going to happen in many situations. Speed in CAS is a detriment, not an asset.”
Bush admits his experience is a bit dated—that doesn’t mean he’s incorrect. “To some extent modern technology has improved this, but ask any grunt what he wants to see overhead, and it isn’t an F-35,” he says.
The coloring book does show that even the A-10 faced serious challenges in its primary role of killing tanks. But it’s unlikely any other piece of flying hardware could do better.