Ordinarily, the aircraft would have been repaired, but as this was its last cruise A-7 BuNo 157478 was struck below to the hangar bay, its flying days over.
At the A-7 Corsair II’s peak in the mid-1980s, some 30 US Navy squadrons flew various versions of the aircraft, including six Naval Air Reserve units, and these many of these units saw action across the Middle East. By the time the jet saw combat in Operation Desert Storm (1991), there remained only two fleet squadrons – many fleet squadrons having either disestablished or transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet – but both of these units (VA-46 and VA-72) played a major role in the campaign to free Kuwait.
As explained by Peter Mersky with Mike Crutch and Tony Holmes in their book A-7 Corsair II Units 1975-91, thanks to the A 7’s outstanding reliability, VA 46 and VA 72 managed to twice launch 19 of their combined force of 20 jets during the first few days of Desert Storm, drawing praise from Rear Admiral Mixson. From Jan. 24, 1991, however, there were only 19 Corsair IIs available to USS John F Kennedy‘s CVW 3 following a landing incident involving VA 72 A 7E BuNo 157478.
As the aircraft had accelerated down the catapult to signal the start of a mission to attack a lightly defended facility in western Iraq, Lt Tom Dostie felt his aircraft wobble. Something was not right. Once airborne, he started checking things out. An observer on the flightdeck said it looked like he had blown a tyre. Checking his instruments, Dostie saw his No 2 hydraulic pressure rapidly declining, but the engine sounded alright. Nevertheless, he kept his landing gear down. As the spare A 7 launched to take his place, he had another pilot check the jet. ‘Looks like the nose gear is trailing’, the second A 7 pilot reported.
As he reached the designated area, Dostie punched the salvo jettison button and dropped three Mk 83 1000 lb bombs from stations 1, 2 and 8. The weapon on station 6, right above the AIM 9 on station 5, remained where it was. With the jet’s gear down and locked, an interlocker prevented ordnance from jettisoning from the inboard weapons stations for fear of them hitting the extended undercarriage.
Dostie then spent a considerable period of time orbiting the carrier and discussing his predicament with deck personnel on the ship and other Naval Aviators in the air while the A 7’s fuel load burned down to lighten the aircraft to a safe landing weight. Maintaining an airspeed of 200 knots, Dostie prepared for a low approach so observers on ‘JFK’ could examine his A 7. Another Corsair II pilot was sent to make a second visual inspection. As he approached the crippled A 7, he called, ‘Oh, man! There’s no way you’re gonna trap this one!’ He had seen the nose gear was down and locked, but it had only one wheel! The axle had broken during the catapult shot and a wheel was gone, while the second was barely hanging on. ‘Beauty!’ was all Dostie could manage in acknowledgement.
The decision was made to barricade the A 7, and senior officers on board the carrier each gave the oncoming lieutenant a word of encouragement before leaving him to make his approach and, hopefully, his trap.
Setting up for a six mile straight in approach, he closed on CV 67. At four miles, the low fuel master caution light lit up. Dostie was a little below glide slope, but otherwise in a good position. He realised the glide slope setting was off by 0.5 degrees and corrected. Making minor adjustments close in, the hard pressed pilot concentrated on getting his aircraft over the deck. At 1436 hrs, his tailhook snagged the targeted 1 wire and the jet slipped past the remaining three cables to push through the nylon barricade and then come to a halt.
Ordinarily, the aircraft would have been repaired, but as this was its last cruise BuNo 157478 was struck below to the hangar bay, its flying days over. Forty eight hours later, after it had been stripped of any valuable parts that could be used to keep other A 7s flying, the Corsair II was buried at sea with full military honours. Although it had slid off John F Kennedy’s elevator No 4 without any resistance, BuNo 157478 refused to sink beneath the waves until it had been strafed by air wing jets.
Update: Mark Rodgers, a reader of The Aviation Geek Club and former US Navy Tactical Action Officer (TAO) explained us that “No strafing involved. Full military honors (Marines, Flags, Taps, etc) were in fact rendered. Twice.
‘First attempt to shove the carcass over the side were impeded by the deck edge combing. Tilly was called up and the carcass was repositioned for a second (slightly quicker) ceremony, then lifted and dropped over the side. The venerable Corsair refused to sink and the ship’s company Gunners Mates broke out half a dozen M2 .50 cal machine guns and opened fire while we circled the target. 45 minutes later, AC403 slipped beneath the waves. And all broadcast on ship’s CCTV.
‘The “Funeral” was quite the Corsair Event. Scheduled on a No-Fly Day. Dress uniforms. Parade the Colors. Bugler. All the bells and whistles. Notable Corsair drivers in attendance included our 2-Star, Ship’s Captain, CAG, D-CAG, and of course, both squadrons. “Farewell, faithful Corsair!”… oops!’
A-7 Corsair II Units 1975-91 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy