During the Vietnam War, the Americans suffered from not having a ground attack aircraft adapted to their needs. The jets of the time, such as the F-100, F-105 and F-4, were not maneuverable enough and the Skyraider was not sufficiently armored and armed.

So the US force launched the Attack Experimental (A-X) program to design a future low-cost attack aircraft, capable of carrying a lot of weapons and returning to its base despite heavy damage sustained during the mission. There was also a controversy with the US Army, which wanted to keep control of all ground support.

On March 6, 1967, the USAF sent a request for information about the A-X project to twenty-one companies. The purpose of this effort was to create a design study for an attack aircraft.

The experience of the Skyraider pilots was used to define the first characteristics of the project: a long time on area, the ability to maneuver at low speed, a powerful gun and a very high survivability, while costing less than 3 million dollars. This low price comes from the multiple military-financial scandals of the time (AH-56, F-111, C-5). This is where the decision to test fly 2 competitors comes from.

In May 1970, the USAF issued a new call for tenders, modified and much more detailed than the previous one, including in particular an all-weather attack capability because the Soviet armoured threat was becoming more serious. Other specifications concerned the design of the aircraft, which had to be designed to carry a 30 mm gun, a maximum speed of 740 km/h, a take-off distance of 1200 m, a carrying capacity of 7300 kg, a range of 460 km and a cost of less than 3 million dollars.

After May 1970, the AX office was created by the US Air Force at Wright Patterson AFB, and directed by Gal James Stewart. 600 aircraft were eventually envisaged. Boeing and Lockheed also proposed projects, but Northrop and Fairchild Republic were selected on 18 November 1970. They were designated A-9 for Northrop and A-10 for Fairchild. Wal Fellers had made the first drawings of the A-9. The project, awarded a $28.9 million contract, was transferred to Dave Deering. The team consisted of 300 people, which does not seem like much.

Northrop YA-9

Northrop YA-9A seen from the rear 2 prototypes were ordered, the 71-1367 and 71-1368. To build them, they reused as much as possible already existing elements: the main landing gear were those of the A-4, the nose gear those of the F-5E, the ejection seat those of the S-3, in order to reduce the costs to a maximum. The titanium bathtub was built in aluminium on the prototypes. Being supposed to operate in clear weather, it was only equipped with an electronic HUD. As for the 30 mm gun, the future GAU-8, it is not yet ready. An M61 gun is installed in a provisional way.

The first flight of the A-9 took place on May 30, 1972, the flights within the framework of the competition took place between October 10 and December 9, 1972. The first YA-9A flew with Lew Nelson for 58 minutes, the second on August 23. During the USAF tests, the first prototype had already accumulated 79 hours in 61 flights, and the second 39 hours in 31 flights. During the tests, the YA-9s accumulated 652 hours of flight in 238 sorties, sometimes flying 8 times a day. The mechanics also tested the machines’ serviceability between 26 December 1972 and 2 January 1973.

The US Air Force declared the A-10 the winner on January 18, 1973. Both aircraft were of the same level, and neither was really superior to the other. Fairchild won, partly because the YA-10 was closer to a production version, and partly, and above all, for economic reasons. Northop already had enough to do with the F-5E and the YF-17, while Fairchild (ex-Republic), with the end of the F-105 production, was about to go bankrupt. Ironically, Fairchild was later bought by Northrop-Grumman, which has since been servicing the A-10.

Consideration was given to transferring the two YA-9 prototypes to NASA for further flight testing, but the project was quickly abandoned. The YA-9’s custom engines were removed and installed in C-8 Buffalo aircraft as part of the Quiet Short-haul Research Aircraft (QSRA) project, a quiet short-haul commercial aircraft.

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