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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.

A mockup at the Ling-Temco-Vought company of the A-7A Corsair (SLUF) in 1964.
A mockup at the Ling-Temco-Vought company of the A-7A Corsair (SLUF) in 1964.

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.

Operational History

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.

Two U.S. Navy LTV A-7A Corsair II aircraft of Attack Squadron VA-147 Argonauts taking off from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California (USA), on 15 April 1967. VA-147 made the first deployment of the Corsair II assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61) from 4 November 1967 to 25 May 1968. The squadron flew its first combat mission over Vietnam on on 4 December 1967, losing only one plane during the deployment. The A-7A 153223 was later assigned to VA-153 and crashed into Gulf of Tonkin after launching from the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) on 8 September 1971. The pilot ejected and was rescued. Date 15 April 1967
Two U.S. Navy LTV A-7A Corsair II aircraft of Attack Squadron VA-147 Argonauts taking off from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California (USA), on 15 April 1967. VA-147 made the first deployment of the Corsair II assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61) from 4 November 1967 to 25 May 1968. The squadron flew its first combat mission over Vietnam on on 4 December 1967, losing only one plane during the deployment. The A-7A 153223 was later assigned to VA-153 and crashed into Gulf of Tonkin after launching from the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) on 8 September 1971. The pilot ejected and was rescued. Date 15 April 1967

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.

U.S. Air Force Ling-Temco-Vought A-7D-7-CV Corsair II fighters of the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, Myrlte Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina (USA), in 1971. Via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. Air Force Ling-Temco-Vought A-7D-7-CV Corsair II fighters of the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, Myrlte Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina (USA), in 1971. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

A U.S. Navy flight deck crewman checks an LTV A-7E Corsair II aircraft from attack squadron VA-72 Blue Hawks aboard the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) during flight operations off the coast of Libya on 17 April 1986. The aircraft is armed with an AIM-9L Sidewinder missile on the fuselage station, a Mark 20 Rockeye II bomb on the middle wing pylon and an AGM-45 Shrike missile on the outside wing pylon. VA-72 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1) aboard the America for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 10 March to 15 September 1986. On 15 April 1986 America´s aircraft participated in "Operation El Dorado Canyon", the bombing of Libya. Via Wikimedia Commons
A U.S. Navy flight deck crewman checks an LTV A-7E Corsair II aircraft from attack squadron VA-72 Blue Hawks aboard the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) during flight operations off the coast of Libya on 17 April 1986. The aircraft is armed with an AIM-9L Sidewinder missile on the fuselage station, a Mark 20 Rockeye II bomb on the middle wing pylon and an AGM-45 Shrike missile on the outside wing pylon. VA-72 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1) aboard the America for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 10 March to 15 September 1986. On 15 April 1986 America´s aircraft participated in “Operation El Dorado Canyon”, the bombing of Libya. Via Wikimedia Commons

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.

A U.S. Navy LTV A-7E Corsair II aircraft of attack squadron VA-72 Blue Hawks, assigned to Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), passes over a ruined fort in the Saudi desert during low-level training. Date 17 December 1990. Via Wikimedia Commons.
A U.S. Navy LTV A-7E Corsair II aircraft of attack squadron VA-72 Blue Hawks, assigned to Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), passes over a ruined fort in the Saudi desert during low-level training. Date 17 December 1990. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Variants

A-7A
  • First production version
  • Performance was sluggish
  • Maximum ordnance was limited by performance to 4,000 lb less than planned
  • 199 Built
A-7B
  • Upgraded engine with higher thrust
  • Improved avionics
  • 196 built
Three aircraft of Attack Carrier Air Wing Sixteen (CVW-16) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) in 1969 during a deployment to Vietnam: a Vought A-7B Corsair II of attack squadron VA-25 Fist of the Fleet (foreground), an A-7B of VA-87 Golden Warriors (left background), and a Douglas A-4C Skyhawk of VA-112 Broncos (right background). Via Wikimedia Commons
Three aircraft of Attack Carrier Air Wing Sixteen (CVW-16) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) in 1969 during a deployment to Vietnam: a Vought A-7B Corsair II of attack squadron VA-25 Fist of the Fleet (foreground), an A-7B of VA-87 Golden Warriors (left background), and a Douglas A-4C Skyhawk of VA-112 Broncos (right background). Via Wikimedia Commons
A-7C
  • The first 67 A-7E were fitted with TF30-P-408 engines
  • They were re-designated A-7C
TA-7C
  • Two seat trainer
  • 24 were made, converted from A-7Bs
A-7D
  • 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
Waddington, UK. These aircraft were deployed to the United Kingdom from 21 August through 12 September 1979 for NATO operation CORNET Stallion. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Waddington, UK. These aircraft were deployed to the United Kingdom from 21 August through 12 September 1979 for NATO operation CORNET Stallion. Via Wikimedia Commons.
A-7E
  • 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
A U.S. Navy Ling-Temco-Vought A-7E-5-CV Corsair II (BuNo 156863) of Attack Squadron 146 (VA-146) "Blue Diamonds" in flight on 16 November 1974. VA-146 assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 9 (CVW-9) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA-64) for a deployment to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean from 21 June to 23 December 1974. Via Wikimedia Commons.
A U.S. Navy Ling-Temco-Vought A-7E-5-CV Corsair II (BuNo 156863) of Attack Squadron 146 (VA-146) “Blue Diamonds” in flight on 16 November 1974. VA-146 assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 9 (CVW-9) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA-64) for a deployment to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean from 21 June to 23 December 1974. Via Wikimedia Commons.
A-7H
  • 60 A-7E were modified and sold to Greece
  • No air to air refuelling capability
TA-7H
  • Two seat trainer version of A-7H for Greece
EA-7L
  • Eight TA-7C were modified into ‘electronic aggressor’ aircraft
  • They were upgraded to A-7E standard later
A-7K
  • Two seat trainer designed for Air National Guard
  • 30 built
A-7P
  • 44 ex US Navy A-7As were refurbished
  • They had upgraded avionics and engines, similar to A-7E
  • Were sold to Portuguese Air Force
A Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguese) Ling-Temco-Vought A-7P Corsair II (s/n 5501) in flight. This aircraft had been delivered to the U.S. Navy as A-7A-4c and was retired to the MASDC as 6A0083 on 16 November 1977. Portugal operated A-7P's from 1985 to 1999, but this aircraft was destroyed in an accident in Belgium in 1985. Date circa 1984. Via Wikimedia Commons.
A Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguese) Ling-Temco-Vought A-7P Corsair II (s/n 5501) in flight. This aircraft had been delivered to the U.S. Navy as A-7A-4c and was retired to the MASDC as 6A0083 on 16 November 1977. Portugal operated A-7P’s from 1985 to 1999, but this aircraft was destroyed in an accident in Belgium in 1985. Date circa 1984. Via Wikimedia Commons.
TA-7P
  • Two seat trainer for Portuguese Air Force
  • Six were converted from ex USN A-7As

Videos

Specifications

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)
Number produced 1,569
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
Wingspan 38′ 9″
Length 46′ 2″
Height 16′ 1″
Armament Cannon, rockets, bombs, missiles. You name it.
Payload 15,000 lb of ordnance
Range 1,070 nautical miles
Combat radius Unknown
Service ceiling 42,000′
Cruise speed Unknown
Maximum speed 600 knots at sea level
Claim to fame Only the B-52 dropped more bombs on Hanoi

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