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 Thunderbolt II was named after the P-47 Thunderbolt.
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.
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.
The test pilot, “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.