It is not easy to replace a legend, but in May 1963, the Navy called upon aircraft manufacturers to submit design proposals to succeed the A-4 Skyhawk in the light attack role. With a desire for the airplane to be in service by 1967, one of the requirements placed on those companies submitting proposals was that the development had to be based on the modification of type of airplane already in service. Thus, Grumman, Chance Vought (later LTV Aerospace), Douglas, and North American submitted designs similar in appearance to some of their successful designs. Chance Vought’s proposal offered the best flying qualities, favorable maintenance characteristics, and lowest vulnerability at the lowest cost. In appearance, it resembled the company’s F-8 Crusader, notably in the single jet intake gaping beneath the nose, but the proposed airplane’s short and stubby silhouette embodied ruggedness and left little doubt that it was designed to carry bombs. While it brought no significant advantage in speed over the A-4 Skyhawk, the aircraft that became known as the A-7 Corsair II boasted nearly double the ordnance payload and a greater range.
The A-7A first took to the air in September 1965, and exactly a year later the first operational squadrons began receiving the type for the training of pilots that would take the airplane into frontline service. By that time, naval aviation was heavily engaged in the air war over Vietnam, meaning that the first tactical squadron equipped with the Corsair II, Attack Squadron (VA) 147, made its first cruise under combat conditions, flying their first missions over North Vietnam in December 1967. By that time, its successor, the A-7B was already in production, its first flight occurring in February 1968. All told, seven production versions of the aircraft operated with the Navy, including the two-seat TA-7C and the EA-7L for electronic countermeasures work. Another version, the A-7D, flew operationally with the U.S. Air Force.
The final version of the Corsair II was the A-7E, which first flew in November 1968, and featured a 14,250 lb. static thrust Allison TF41-A-2 engine, improved avionics and hydraulic systems, and a multi-barrel M61 cannon. Over the course of the production of the A-7E, which encompassed 535 airplanes, such features as Target-Recognition Attack Multi-Sensors (TRAM) and Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) were incorporated to improve the airplane’s attack capabilities.
The A-7E flew its first combat missions over Vietnam in May 1970, and was part of the Navy’s offensive firepower during the Operation Linebacker strikes and the aerial mining of North Vietnamese ports that occurred in 1972. Following the end of the Vietnam War, the A-7E remained a mainstay on carrier flight decks, called into combat action throughout the 1980s in Grenada, Lebanon, Libya, and Panama. By the time Navy carriers launched their first strikes into Iraq and Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Storm in January 1991, only two A-7E squadrons remained, VA-46 and VA-72 operating from John F. Kennedy (CV 67). It marked the final deployment of the venerable Corsair II, whose beginning and end came in the face of enemy fire.
The aircraft on display, A-7E (Bureau Number 160714), last flew operationally with VA-46 off John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) during Operation Desert Storm. It logged 37 combat missions over Iraq and Kuwait during the Gulf War, including the strike against Baghdad on the opening night of the air campaign.
Manufacturer: LTV Aerospace Corporation
Dimensions: Length: 46 ft., 1½ in.; Height: 16 ft., ¾ in.; Wingspan: 38 ft., 9 in.
Weights: Empty: 19,490 lb.; Gross: 49,000 lb.
Power Plant: One 14,250 lb. static thrust Allison TF41-A-2 turbofan
Performance: Maximum Speed: 693 M.P.H. at sea level; Service Ceiling: 43,000 ft.; Range: 980 miles
(with bomb load)
Armament: One 20mm M61-A1 gun; provisions for AIM-9 Sidewinders and 10,000 lb. of ordnance