Saturday, January 17, 2009

Functionality as Art

When form follows function, what would otherwise be an ugly, bronze-plated buffalo chip becomes an invaluable piece of art. And thus it is with the Air Force's A-10 Warthog.
This story narrates how, as the A-10 fleet is upgraded, the F-16 is viewed as an acceptable "replacement platform" for ground support. The F-16 is a beautiful machine, flying at something like Mach-73 while it destroys everything in sight. But I'm not sure it can truly "replace" the Warthog.
The Warthog is an ugly machine, but it was designed specifically to provide support to troops on the ground. It comes in low and slow, and there are few sights as beautiful as an A-10 "shaking off the dirt" as it lines up for a gun run. The pilot sees what you see, and has the time to "dialogue" with you to ensure that he's firing up the right target and not, say, you. The F-16 can't replicate that; it flashes by at 400+ mph and if the pilot blinks, he'll miss the show. Plus, the A-10 is a hardy vehicle. Because its speed makes it a target to the ground forces it's engaging, the pilot sits in basically a titanium bathtub, so he can trade punches as he comes in to line up his 30mm thundersticks. The F-16s speed is its security, and so it probably wouldn't move any slower even if it could.
So the F-16 is the blow-dried pretty boy, employing all the latest gizmos and gadgets to get the job done with style and aplomb, while the A-10 is cauliflower-eared, scarred-knuckle brawler who believes that any mission can be accomplished with the liberal application of brute force and ignorance.
The A-10 Warthog, a work of art.

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