Last week, defense journalist Giovonni Colla spent some time in Greece at Araxos Air Base to capture what would be a bittersweet moment in the history of combat aviation – the retirement of the humble, but incredibly effective, Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 Corsair II. Though it's better known as the SLUF.
Or Short Little Ugly Fucker.
The SLUF, a derivative of America's "last gunfighter," the F-8 Crusader, first flew in 1965. The jet was an incredible mix of just enough kinetic performance, game-changing technology, and a lot of gas and bomb lugging ability, that all came together to be an aircraft that may have been just too logical in retrospect and more suited for the battlefields of today than yesterday. In fact, some thought it greatly deserved one more evolutionary iteration, known as the A-7F "Strikefighter."
The A-7 was retired from US Navy service almost immediately after Desert Storm, with the Air National Guard putting the jet out to pasture in 1993. Portugal followed in 1999, leaving just Greece as the final active A-7 operator.
Greece procured 65 A-7Hs and TA-7Hs between 1975 and 1980, and received another batch of 50 A-7Es and 18 TA-Cs shortly after the US Navy retired the type in 1991. Greece always prized the jet for its incredibly long range (it could self-deploy across the Atlantic), reliability, massive bomb carrying ability, and incredible stability as a low altitude penetration and bombing platform. This led to the jet's indigenous motto:
"Fly low and strike hard."
The SLUF's unique qualities were made even more stark as it operated alongside increasingly modern platforms in Hellenic Air Force service, such as the Mirage 2000 and the F-16 Block 52+. Although these jets were far faster, more manueverable, and featured cutting edge technologies, none packed the bomb-truck qualities or ruggedness of the SLUF. Nor were these supersonic fighters outfitted with armor surrounding the cockpit and critical systems for close air support survivability like the A-7 had.
As for the future of the Hellenic Air Force without the A-7, shrinking budgets and multi-role obsolescence were driving factors in retiring the design, although some would argue a highly upgraded A-7 has more of a home over the actual battlefields of today than a pointy-nosed, fuel thirsty F-16 or Mirage 2000. Nonetheless, the 336th squadron that flew the Corsairs will receive a portion of its sisters squadron's block 52+ F-16s, which are some of the most advanced of their kind in the world today.
Oddly enough, the F-16s Vipers that previous SLUF pilots will fly in the near future are in many ways an evolutionary relative of their prior mount. The A-7 introduced the heads up display (HUD), enhanced navigational automation (waypoint autopilot, moving map displays etc) and cockpit ergonomics that were further refined in the F-16. Still, even with the Viper's advanced sensors and weaponry, high thrust to weight ratio and agility, it can't compare to an A-7 loaded with ten thousands pounds of bombs hustling through the countryside down low in the weeds.
Nor it can ever come close to meeting the SLUF's endurance, even when fitted with conformal fuel tanks and under-wing drop tanks.
A closing ceremony accompanied the Corsair's final farewell on October 17th, one where it was clear that the stubby tank-like jet would be missed. Then again, seeing as the world's military complex has been obsessed with packing as many roles into a single supersonic fighter airframe as possible, maybe we were lucky to have these incredibly efficient, albeit mission-focused aircraft around as long as we have.
Goodbye A-7 Corsair II, your ugly gaping mug will be sorely missed.
A huge thanks for Giovanni Colla for sharing his great shots with us, please make sure to check out more of his amazing work at his great showcase site.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com