The LTV A-7 Corsair II was a US carrier-capable subsonic light attack aircraft designed to replace the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The Corsair II initially entered service with the United States Navy (USN) during the Vietnam War. It was later adopted by the United States Air Force (USAF), including the Air National Guard, to replace the Douglas A-1 Sky-raider and North American F-100 Super Sabre. The aircraft was also exported to Greece in the 1970s, and to Portugal in the late 1980s.
The A-7 Corsair was fitted with an AN/APQ-116 radar, later followed by the AN/APQ-126, which was integrated into the ILAAS digital navigation system. The radar also fed a digital weapons computer which made possible accurate delivery of bombs from a greater stand-off distance, greatly improving survivability compared with faster platforms such as the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. It was the first U.S. aircraft to have a modern head-up display, now a standard instrument which displayed information such as dive angle, airspeed, altitude, drift and aiming reticle. The integrated navigation system allowed for another innovation – the projected map display system (PMDS) which accurately showed aircraft position on two different map scales.
The A-7 offered a wide range of cutting-edge avionics compared to contemporary aircraft. This included data link capabilities that, among other features, provided fully "hands-off" carrier landing capability when used in conjunction with its approach power compensator (APC) or auto throttle. Other notable and highly advanced equipment was a projected map display located just below the radar scope. The map display was slaved to the inertial navigation system and provided a high-resolution map image of the aircraft's position superimposed over TPC/JNC charts. Moreover, when slaved to the all-axis auto pilot, the inertial navigation system could fly the aircraft "hands off" to up to nine individual waypoints.
From 1967 to 1971, a total of 27 US Navy squadrons took delivery of four different A-7A/B/C/E models. Pilots of the early A-7s lauded the aircraft for general ease of flying (with the exceptions of poor stability on crosswind landings and miserable stopping performance on wet runways with an inoperative anti-skid braking system) and excellent forward visibility but noted a lack of engine thrust. This was addressed with A-7B and more thoroughly with A-7D/E. The turbofan engine provided a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency compared with earlier turbojets – the A-7D was said to have specific fuel consumption one sixth that of an F-100 Super Sabre at equivalent thrust.
In Vietnam, the hot, humid air robbed even the upgraded A-7D and A-7E of power. Takeoff rolls were lengthy, and fully armed aircraft struggled to reach 500 mph. For A-7A aircraft, high density altitude and maximum weight runway takeoffs often necessitated a "low transition", where the aircraft was intentionally held in "ground effect" a few feet off the runway during gear retraction, and as much as a 10-mile departure at treetop altitude before reaching a safe flap retraction speed.
Carrier catapult launches at maximum weight under these performance-robbing conditions were not significantly better and were characterised by the aircraft decelerating by as much as 20 knots immediately after launch.
In a sortie against the Thanh Hóa Bridge on 6 October 1972, four A-7Cs from VA-82 successfully delivered 8,000 lbs of high explosives with two aircraft carrying two 2,000 lb Walleyes, while two others also carried 2,000 lbs in Mk 84 GP bombs. In a simultaneous attack, the centre piling on the bridge's west side was hit and broke the span in half. After this, the Thanh Hoa bridge was considered permanently destroyed and removed from the target list.
A total of 98 USN A-7 Corsairs were lost during the war.
The USAF A-7D flew a total of 12,928 combat sorties during the war with only six losses – the lowest of any U.S. fighter in the theatre. The aircraft was second only to Boeing B-52 Strato-fortress in the amount of ordnance dropped on Hanoi and dropped more bombs per sortie with greater accuracy than any other U.S. attack aircraft.
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