Simple Design and Redundancy of the A-10 Warthog

Nov. 18, 2021
Redundancy and solid design were useful to the A-10, but they're also useful for applications like self-driving cars.

The idea of redundancy and simple design is not new, but it's important these days when considering everything from medical devices to self-driving cars. I ran across this video, The Insane Engineering of the A-10 Warthog, that I thought was a great example of a successful system that had interesting design tradeoffs. Though these tended to be more mechanical in nature, the idea of easy replacement or exchange of electronics as well as how redundancy was implemented is worthwhile for any developer. 

One of the key features of the A-10 Warthog, nickname the "hog," is the dual hydraulic system. There's a hydraulic pump in each engine with these driving redundant flight controls. The plane is designed to continue to work even if one, or part of one, hydraulic system is destroyed. Getting the pilot and aircraft back is very important; many of these planes have made it back where others would not have lasted after being damaged.  

Cost and performance are two factors of the design, but the higher priority of the two was cost. The idea was to be able to build a lot of these. Likewise, field support was critical. 

Consumer or industrial products will probably not need the ruggedness of the A-10cost over features is something that many consumers would prefer these days. It's always great to add bells and whistles, but those aren't useful if the product no longer works. Still, some features on the A-10 were included because of the need to operate at forward bases that would not have all the features and equipment found at sites farther from the front lines.

The main feature is an on-board auxiliary power unit (APU). The APU can drive systems before the main engines are started; it also can be used to start the main engines. Commercial aircraft tend to have on-board APUs, but other military aircraft often forego the APU to save weight so that other devices (e.g., more bombs and missiles) can be included.