10 May 1972: Chief test pilot Howard W. (“Sam”) Nelson made the first flight of the prototype Fairchild Republic YA-10A Thunderbolt II, 71-1369, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California.
The production A-10A Thunderbolt II is a single-place, twin engine low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane is 52 feet, 7 inches (16.027 meters) long with a wing span of 57 feet, 6 inches (17.526 meters), and overall height of 14 feet, 8 inches (4.470 meters). Its operating weight is 24,513 pounds (11,119 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 50,000 pounds (22,680 kilograms). This includes the operating weight plus full internal fuel, 1,350 rounds of ammunition and 18 Mk.82 bombs.
The A-10 is powered by two General Electric TF34–GE-100 engines. These are two-spool axial flow turbofans with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor, and 6-stage turbine. The engines produce a maximum 8,900 pounds of thrust ( kilonewtons).
The A-10 was designed and built around its hydraulically-operated General Electric GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm Gatling-type autocannon. The gun has 7 rotating barrels and is capable of firing at a rate of 4,300 rounds per minute. The Thunderbolt II can carry a maximum of 1,350 rounds of high explosive-incendiary or armor piercing-incendiary ammunition.
Howard Verner Nelson was born on New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1924, at Hartford Connecticut. He was the second son of Gustaf B. Nelson, a clerk, and Signe Ottilia Nelson.
Nelson entered the United States Army Air Forces on 20 November 1944, and remained on active duty in the U.S. Air Force until 28 May 1957, when he transferred to the Air Force Reserve. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He flew 105 combat missions during the Korean War.
“Sam” Nelson joined the Republic Aviation Corporation in 1960. He was assigned Republic’s chief test pilot for the F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter bomber. In October 1976, Nelson was promoted to Director of Flight Operations.
Nelson was killed at the Paris Air Show 3 June 1977 while demonstrating an A-10A Thunderbolt II.
Lieutenant Colonel Nelson’s remains were buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes
16 thoughts on “10 May 1972”
2 more… Nelson entered teh United States Army Air Forces on 20 November 1944, and remaned
Already fixed it, Eric. Thanks. 🙂
typos in photo caption.
irector of Flight Operations Howard W. nelson was died enroute to a hospital. (Unattributed)
Thank you, Eric. 🙂
Didn’t know about the Paris Air Show crash.
By the way, outstanding work of enlightment, Bryan. Do not change anything.
Thank you, Val. 🙂
Barely recalled that crash… Great article at
Thank you, sir. Great tribute to both man & machine.
This also happened: On May 10, 1972, the USAF and Navy shot down 11 North Vietnam MiGs in the skies over North Vietnam at a cost of two USAF and two Navy F-4s shot down. Jeffrey Ethell and Alfred Price wrote a great book about this day called “One Day in a Long War, May 10, 1972, Air War, North Vietnam” that describes in detail events of that day. I recommend this book. It’s in my collection of books written about the Vietnam air war. A lot of people I know are mentioned in the book or the appendix that contains the names of all USAF and Navy F-4 air crews who flew north that day. F-4 drivers of the Vietnam war era will probably recognize a lot of names.
“One Day in a Long War recounts firsthand accounts of almost one hundred eye witnesses, analyzes cockpit voice recordings and draws from official documents, many declassified for the first time, to tell its story. During May 10 an elite corps of American fighter pilots – many of them first-generation Top Gun graduates – flew more than 330 sorties against major transportation centers around Hanoi and Haiphong. But the Vietnamese fought back with 03 ground to air missiles and 40 MiG fighters.
What words are spoken in the cockpit of a Phantom as the crew prepares to engage MiGs closing in at nearly 1,000 miles per hour? What thoughts go through the mind of a pilot struggling to hold his crippled plane in the air for one minute longer, to get clear of enemy territory so he and his crewmen can parachute into the sea? How does it feel to be in a Phantom running in to attack the notorious Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi with laser guided bombs as missile after missile streaks through the formation? And what tactics would enable a force of 16 of these fighter bombers to carry out such an attack without the loss of a single plane?
Flew Sam’s wing during A-10 flight tests at Edwards. A true gentleman and dedicated test pilot. RIP Sam
His granddaughter and great granddaughters will love this. Thx.
I am his first grandchild, we never got to meet. He passed 3 years before I was born. If anyone on here knew him and would like to share any stories I would love to hear them and would love to be able to tell my daughters also, so please write back if you can.
Thanks, Sara Nelson
To the Greatest man I never met! I was blessed to have married Sam’s oldest daughter Carla and we will soon celebrate 39 years. God Bless you Sam Nelson.
I am Sam Nelson’s first grandchild that never had the honor to meet him so if there are any of you that knew him and would like to share any stories or feedback on his behalf I would really enjoy it.
Thanks Sara Nelson
This is a great tribute to both the Pilot and the plane.
Great plane. If my memory serves me these came off the showroom floor at less than ten million each. Excellent investment that still is paying off.
Got to sit in one on the factory floor at Farmingdale while I was in high school (my dad was a 35 year Republic Aviation guy) train with them as a hello pilot, and watch them work the ridgelines for us in Afghanistan.
Keep hearing that the AF wants to replace them. Question is: with what?
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