Initial operational basing/homeporting for U.S. Navy A-7 squadrons was at NAS Cecil Field, Florida for Atlantic Fleet units and NAS Lemoore, California for Pacific Fleet units. This was in keeping with the role of these bases in already hosting the A-4 Skyhawk attack squadrons that would eventually transition to the A-7.
From 1967 to 1971, a total of 27 Navy squadrons took delivery of four different A-7A/B/C/E models. The Vought plant in Dallas, TX employed up to 35,000 workers who turned out one aircraft a day for several years to support the Navy carrier-based needs for Vietnam and SE Asia and commitments to NATO in Europe. In 1974, when the USS Midway (CV-41) became the first Forward Deployed Naval Force (FDNF) aircraft carrier to be homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, two A-7B squadrons assigned to Carrier Air Wing FIVE (CVW-5) were concurrently homeported at NAF Atsugi, Japan. In 1976, these squadrons (VA-93 and VA-56) finally transitioned to the much more advanced A-7E model. Six Naval Reserve attack squadrons would also eventually transition to the A-7, operating from NAS Cecil Field, Florida; NAS Atlanta/Dobbins ARB, Georgia; NAS New Orleans, Louisiana; NAS Alameda, California and NAS Point Mugu, California. An additional active duty squadron stood up in the 1980s, Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 34 (VAQ-34) at NAS Point Mugu, which would operate twin-seat TA-7C and EA-7L aircraft with both a pilot and a naval flight officer in an adversary electronic warfare role.
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. An A-7D carrying 12 x 500 lb (227 kg) bombs at 480 mph (775 km/h) at 33,000 ft (10,000 m) used only 3,350 lb (1,500 kg) of fuel per hour. Typical fuel consumption at mission retrograde during aircraft carrier recovery was approximately 30 pounds per minute compared to 100+ pounds per minute for the Phantom F-4J/N series. The A-7 Corsair II was tagged with the nickname "SLUF" ("Short Little Ugly Fucker") by pilots.
Southeast Asia carrier use
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 (800 km/h). 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 (16 km) departure at treetop altitude before reaching a safe flap retraction speed. (A-7A wing flap systems were either fully extended or fully retracted. The A-7A flap handle did not have the microswitch feature of later models that permitted the flaps to be slowly raised by several degrees per tap of the flap handle as airspeed slowly increased during max-weight takeoffs.)
Carrier catapult launches at maximum weight under these performance-robbing conditions were not significantly better and were characterized by the aircraft decelerating by as much as 20 knots (37 km/h) immediately after launch. As a result, A-7A units operated their aircraft 4,000 pounds below the max-rated takeoff weight for the A-7E.
In a sortie against the Thanh Hoa bridge, four A-7Cs from VA-82 successfully delivered 8,000 lbs of high explosives with two planes carrying two 2,000 lb (910 kg) Walleyes, while two others also carried 2,000 lbs in Mk 84 GP bombs. In a simultaneous attack, the center 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.
United States Air Force A-7D
The United States Army has not been permitted to operate fixed-wing combat aircraft since the establishment of an independent United States Air Force in 1947. To meet its need for close air support of its troops in South Vietnam, the Army pressured the Air Force to procure a specialized subsonic close air support fixed-wing aircraft that would suit its needs better than the general-purpose supersonic aircraft that the USAF preferred.
The Vought A-7 seemed to be a relatively quick and inexpensive way to satisfy this need. However, the USAF was initially reluctant to take on yet another Navy-designed aircraft, but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was insistent. On 5 November 1965, Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown and USAF Chief of Staff General John P. McConnell announced that they had decided to order a version of the Corsair II, designated A-7D, for the Tactical Air Command.
The A-7D differed from the Navy's Corsair II in several ways. For one, the Air Force insisted on significantly more power for its Corsair II version, and they selected the Allison TF41-A-1 turbofan engine, which was a license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Spey. It offered a thrust of 14,500 pounds, over 2000 pounds greater than that of the TF30 that powered the Navy's Corsair IIs. Other changes included a head-up display, a new avionics package, and an M61A1 rotary cannon in place of the two single-barreled 20-mm cannon. Also included was a computerized navigation/weapons delivery system with AN/APQ-126 radar and a head-up display.
Two YA-7D prototypes were completed with TF30-P-6 engines, and the first of these flew on 6 April 1968. The first Spey-powered A-7D (67-14854) flew for the first time on 26 September 1968. The seventeenth production aircraft introduced a provision for boom flight refueling in place of the Navy's probe/drogue system, with the boom receptacle being on the top of the fuselage behind the cockpit and offset to port.
The A-7D first entered service in 1970 with the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing at Luke AFB Arizona, and the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina was equipped with four squadrons of A-7Ds by 1972; the 355th TFW at Davis-Monthan AFB was equipped with four squadrons in 1972, and in 1973, the 23d TFW at England AFB, Louisiana was fully equipped with A-7Ds.
The 354th TFW first deployed two squadrons of A-7Ds to Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand in September 1972 as part of Operation Cornet Dancer, The A-7Ds were quickly assigned the "Sandy mission" of providing air cover for Combat Search and Rescue missions of downed pilots.
Taking over for Douglas A-1 Skyraiders (and adopting their call sign of "Sandy"), the A-7's higher speed was somewhat detrimental for escorting the helicopters but the aircraft's high endurance and durability were an asset and it performed admirably.
On 18 November 1972, Major Colin A. Clarke led a successful CSAR mission near Thanh Hoa to rescue a downed F-105 Wild Weasel crew. The mission lasted a total of 8.8 hours during which Clarke and his wingman took a number of hits from 0.51 cal (12.7 mm) anti-aircraft fire. For his actions in coordinating the rescue, Clarke was awarded the Air Force Cross, the USAF's second-highest decoration for valor, and his A-7D (AF Serial No. 70-0970) was eventually placed on display on 31 January 1992 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
With the end of US involvement in South Vietnam, the 354th TFW (Deployed) at Korat began flying combat sorties in Cambodia to support the Lon Nol government in support of Khmer National Armed Forces against the Khmer Rouge. Rotational deployments began to Korat from the 355th TFW and 23d TFW, with pilots and support personnel beginning six-months deployment cycles. In March 1973, the 354th transferred a squadron of A-7Ds to the 388th TFW, the host wing at Korat RTAFB at the time, which re-established the 3d Tactical Fighter Squadron and created a permanent USAF A-7D presence in Southeast Asia. A-7Ds from both wings stationed at Korat engaged in combat operations in Cambodia until 15 August 1973 when an A-7D of the deployed 353d TFS/354th TFW carried out the last air support mission. In March 1974, the 354th TFW transferred several more aircraft to the 3d TFS prior to its return to Myrtle Beach AFB.
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 theater. The aircraft was second only to Boeing B-52 Stratofortress in the amount of ordnance dropped on Hanoi and dropped more bombs per sortie with greater accuracy than any other U.S. attack aircraft.