The SLUFF snuffs it

The Short Little Ugly Fat Fellow (SLUFF) has finally had it, bought the farm, bitten the dust, slipped to the other side, snuffed it  – but not silently and not without a surprise. In Greece these days, the Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) A-7 Corsair II is heading into retirement, its career to be celebrated on Friday 17 October 2014 with an airshow at Araxos airbase, the final home of A-7 Corsairs anywhere in the world. A classic carrier aircraft, albeit one that saw service with just four countries since its first flight on 27 September 1965.

Vietnam never was one of those countries, but it was over this country that early in its career the Corsair had its baptism of fire in the hands of US Navy pilots. Less than two years after the first flight, the subsonic A-7A Corsair entered the skies over Vietnam, serving as a bomb truck and operating from US aircraft carriers. The aircraft was still in its early stages. Later US Navy Corsair versions saw improvements in flight characteristics and engine thrust, but when the Vietnam war ended close to a hundred US Navy Corsairs had been lost in action.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
US Navy Corsairs were a colourful bunch for most of their career. This A-7E carries the markings of VA-105 ‘Gunslingers’. It is part of the collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

The US Air Force came up with the land based A-7D, a version that had yet more engine thrust (14,500 pounds over 11,345 pounds for the A-7A) and was one of the first aircraft ever to feature a head-up display (HUD). The type also served in Vietnam, flying Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions under the famous ‘Sandy’ call sign. In later days, the US Air Force A-7Ds transferred to the Air National Guard. The A-7D was only used in anger again during operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
US Air National Guard A-7Ds deployed to Europe on a regular basis. This 174th Tactical Fighter Squadron Corsair was seen in 1990 at Leeuwarden airbase, the Netherlands, far from its home base of Sioux City. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Middle east
Not so for the US Navy A-7E. Lesser known is the deployment of the A-7 during US actions in the Middle East during the early 80s, for example over Lebanon in 1983. A Syrian ground-to-air missile downed one Corsair during that operation. In March 1986, US Navy Corsair took part in strikes against Libya, using anti-radar missiles mostly. US pilots took the Corsair to war for the last time during the 1991 Gulf War, again firing missiles at Iraqi radar sites, but also delivering guided munitions.

After returning from the Gulf, the final US Navy Corsairs were replaced with F/A-18 Hornets. The Air National Guard said its goodbye to the A-7D in 1993, replacing the majority with F-16 Fighting Falcons.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Also seen regularly all over western Europe, were Portuguese Air Force A-7Ps. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Second hand
Most of the US A-7s ended up in storage, but not all. Portugal already got its hand on a batch of second hand US Navy A-7s in 1980, receiving 44 in the end and retiring the last aircraft on 10 June 1999. The type flew a total of 64,000 flight hours in Força Aérea Portuguesa service.

Thai Corsairs were a rare breed: 18 – among which four two seaters – were taken from US surplus in the 90s and based at U-Tapao, to be used by 104 squadron of the Royal Thai Navy Air Arm. The Corsair’s career in Thailand only lasted just over a decade.

The curtain is about to fall for the A-7 Corsair. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

In Greece, it lasted close to four decades. Other than Portugal and Thailand, Greece ordered factory fresh A-7Hs back in 1975, the specifications based on those of the A-7D. The Hellenics liked the Corsair so much, they ordered a batch of former US Navy A-7Es and TA-7C two seaters in the 90s. It are these aircraft that are the world’s last flying Vought A-7 Corsairs, although that distinction will be over and done with by the end of October 2014.

The squadron flying the final aircraft is 336 Mira at Araxos airbase, and over the last few months the pilots took real pride in their mounts. The squadron is well known for painting up aircraft for special occasions, such as the NATO Tiger Meet. The unit also made an effort of proper training up until the very last moments; only last August, an A-7E was lost during a training flight, with the pilot safely using his ejection seat. Going out with a bang, not silently – like we said.

© 2014 editor Elmer van Hest

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Hellenic Tiger Spirit! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Special coloured A-7E of 336Mira on approach at Volkel airbase for the Royal Netherlands Air Force days on 13 June 2013 (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Dark matter: a special coloured A-7E of 336 Mira on approach. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
No prizes for guessing which country this A-7 Corsair comes from.  (Image © Elmer van Hest)
No prizes for guessing which country this A-7 Corsair comes from. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Air National Guard A-7Ds wore a dark green camouflage early on, but this was changed for light grey near the end of their flying career. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
End of the line! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
This is what a real TA-7C should look like! This 336Mira Corsair is on approach at Volkel airbase for the Royal Netherlands Air Force days on 13 June 2013 (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The real deal, in terms of what a military aircraft should look like: a Hellenic Air Force TA-7C, seen here in 2013. (Image © Dennis Spronk)