LTV A-7 Corsair II – The ‘SLUF’
The Ling Temco Vought (LTV) Corsair II proudly wears the nickname of the SLUF – the Short Little Ugly F****. The Corsair II was a light attack aircraft looking much like a smaller version of the Crusader, but without the variable incidence wing.
Intended to replace the venerable Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, the A-7 was produced over a nearly twenty year period, and fought in numerous major conflicts around the world. It flew with the US Navy, then was adopted by the US Air Force and was last used in US service by the Air National Guard.
The appeal of the design was reflected in the number of foreign operators of the type, including Greece, Thailand and Portugal. Sales to Pakistan might have proceeded as well, if not for political disapproval of that countries nuclear program.
Design and Development
The ‘VAX’ program to replace the Skyhawk began in 1962 with a US Navy requirement for what was essentially a more modern type with greater range and payload. This evolved a year later into the ‘VAL’ program – for a modern, carrier-capable, light attack jet aircraft.
To save money it was a requirement that all designs submitted should be based on existing designs. Four companies responded and the Vought proposal was successful and was selected as the winner on 11 February 1964.
A few weeks later the company received a contract for an initial production run of the aircraft, which was christened Corsair II, after the same companies successful piston fighter from World War 2.
The design was shorter but wider than the Crusader, and had a non-afterburning turbofan engine that provided considerably greater endurance, but also led to early complaints about the types overall lack of performance.
The SLUF featured a terrain-following radar, digital inertial navigation system, a digital weapons computer, a head-up display and a moving map display. Not only that, but it incorporated an all-axis autopilot, digital data-link, auto-throttle and automatic hands-off carrier landings.
This was all heady stuff for the mid 1960s, and was an early indication of the trend that key capabilities in future aircraft would be based around powerful, compact and highly integrated digital systems.
First flight of the A-7 was on 27th September 1965 and it entered service with the US Navy in late 1966, with the first squadrons becoming operational in early 1967.
Between 1967 and 1971 four different A-7 models entered service with 27 US Navy squadrons. Early pilot reports were positive, notwithstanding a lack of engine thrust. This was addressed in subsequent models.
The benefits of the turbofan engine design remained, with it using one sixth of the fuel of the Super Sabre at equivalent power settings, and less than a third of the fuel used by the F-4 Phantom.
Being introduced smack bang in the middle of the Vietnam War meant an almost immediate exposure to combat missions. The under-powered A-7 suffered from the hot and humid conditions found in South-East Asia, exacerbating the already less than stellar performance.
Takeoff runs were lengthy, followed by a period above the runway in ground effect, followed by another period at tree-top height while the aircraft slowly reached flap retraction speed. The lack of performance no doubt contributed to the SLUF moniker.
Carrier catapult launches suffered too, with the aircraft losing 20 knots immediately once airborne, and struggling with a full bomb load. This led to the aircraft being operated at around 4,000 lb less than maximum weight in order to preserve an adequate performance margin in critical phases of flight.
In 1965 the US Army expressed an urgent need for the Air Force to provide close air support to their troops in Vietnam. The Air Force had no equivalent type, and despite initial reluctance, eventually agreed to take on the A-7 (a Navy plane!) and use it in that role.
This version was designated A-7D and was used by the Tactical Air Command. It had a British Rolls Royce Spey turbofan built under licence in the US by Allison. This engine transformed the performance of the A-7, or at least brought it up to acceptable levels.
As well as more thrust, the A-7D had an M-61 rotary cannon, enhanced navigation and avionics systems, and incorporated a boom refuelling receptacle in place of the Navy probe. The type first flew in September 1968 and it entered service in 1970.
The type provided air cover for combat search and rescue missions, replacing the Douglas Skyraider in that role. Following the Vietnam war the SLUF saw service over Cambodia, supporting the Khmer National Armed Forces until 1973.
The A-7D flew 12,928 missions in Vietnam with six losses – the least of any fighter in the war. During the war only one aircraft dropped more bombs on Hanoi – the Boeing B-52.
The Navy were impressed with the improved performance offered by the new engine in the USAF variant and introduced their own version – the A-7E. It entered service with the USS America in May 1970 and was involved in numerous missions over North and South Vietnam, notably the Linebacker and Linebacker II operations. Total losses of A-7s in the Vietnam War amounted to 98 aircraft.
After the war the A-7D version of the SLUF was introduced to several Air National Guard squadrons, beginning in 1974. From 1977 the USAF began receiving it’s own close air support aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and the outflow of its A-7Ds continued to the ANG.
Navy A-7E squadrons saw service in Lebanon and Grenada in 1983, providing close air support in both cases. A-7s saw further action three years later above Libya, firing HARM and Shrike missiles at Libyan SAM sites.
The action was far from over for the SLUF however. In 1990 A-7Es from the US Navy served in Operation Desert Shield, and again in Operation Desert Storm in 1990/91. In that final war zone they flew from the USS John F Kennedy in the Red Sea to attack targets throughout Iraq.
The last Navy SLUF airframes were retired shortly after their return from the Gulf. By the end of 1998 all A-7 airframes had been disposed of. Some were passed on to Greece, Thailand and Portugal. Greece retired it’s A-7s in 2014. The Vought Corsair II had, by then, been in service for nearly 50 years.
- First production version
- Performance was sluggish
- Maximum ordnance was limited by performance to 4,000 lb less than planned
- 199 Built
- Upgraded engine with higher thrust
- Improved avionics
- 196 built
- The first 67 A-7E were fitted with TF30-P-408 engines
- They were re-designated A-7C
- Two seat trainer
- 24 were made, converted from A-7Bs
- The version built for the US Air Force
- Had a more powerful turbofan Rolls Royce Spey, built under licence in the US
- Had a M-61 Vulcan rotary cannon
- Improved avionics
- 459 built
- Naval carrier-capable version of the A-7D
- All but the first 67 airframes were powered by the Spey (known as the Allison TF-41)
- Various avionics changes
- 529 built
- 60 A-7E were modified and sold to Greece
- No air to air refuelling capability
- Two seat trainer version of A-7H for Greece
- Eight TA-7C were modified into ‘electronic aggressor’ aircraft
- They were upgraded to A-7E standard later
- Two seat trainer designed for Air National Guard
- 30 built
- 44 ex US Navy A-7As were refurbished
- They had upgraded avionics and engines, similar to A-7E
- Were sold to Portuguese Air Force
- Two seat trainer for Portuguese Air Force
- Six were converted from ex USN A-7As
|Make||Ling Temco Vought|
|Model||A-7E Corsair II|
|Aircraft Type||Single engine jet aircraft|
|Role||Attack, Close Air Support, Interdiction|
|Crew complement||Single Pilot|
|First flight||27 September 1965 (A-7A)|
|Retired||2014 (Hellenic Air Force)|
|Unit cost||USD $2.86 million|
|Maximum weight||41,998 lb|
|Powerplant(s)||One Allison TF41 (Rolls Royce Spey) non-afterburning turbofan producing 15,000 lb of thrust|
|Armament||Cannon, rockets, bombs, missiles. You name it.|
|Payload||15,000 lb of ordnance|
|Range||1,070 nautical miles|
|Maximum speed||600 knots at sea level|
|Claim to fame||Only the B-52 dropped more bombs on Hanoi|