Cold War Era

The story of the US Navy A-7 that gun killed a US Navy pilotless, errant Corsair II

With little time to try to regain control, Lt Cdr Mike Boston pulled the secondary handle between his legs. After hitting the water and eventually getting aboard his survival raft, he could see his A-7 making slow, low passes over him…

The Vietnam War was more than three years old when the first A-7 Corsair lls went into action. These were the fourth generation of tactical jet aircraft that had taken advantage of the fast-paced developments following the end of the Korean War in 1953, featuring such innovations as turbofan engines and computers integrated into the aircraft’s main weapons system.

As explained by Norman Birzer and Peter Mersky in their book US Navy A-7 Corsair II Units of the Vietnam War, the jet was built by Vought as a replacement for the legendary A-4 Skyhawk, but while the latter aeroplane represented the most simple, basic approach to lifting a wide variety of ordnance from an aircraft carrier, the Corsair II evolved into arguably the most successful tactical jet bomber of the Vietnam War.

The first tactical squadron equipped with the Corsair II, Attack Squadron (VA) 147 flew their first missions over North Vietnam in December 1967.

The A-7 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.

Corsair II squadrons subsequently participated in Operations Frequent Wind and Eagle Pull — the American cover for the evacuation of South Vietnam and Cambodia in April 1975 as the final Communist thrust conquered the south. Air wings from Enterprise, Coral Sea, Midway and Hancock protected US forces and those South Vietnamese that could escape.

On May 24, 1975, Lt Cdr Mike Boston, with VA-56 aboard Midway, ejected from A-7A BuNo 152685 NF 413. After supporting the evacuation of Saigon and the Mayaguez operation, CVW-5 had retired to NAS Cubi Point. Lt Cdr Boston was scheduled to make a weapons delivery training flight in company with the air wing commander, Cdr Lew Chatham, and Lt Marvin Hamm. Arriving over the target, the Corsair IIs separated for their delivery dives.

Moments later Lt Cdr Boston began experiencing the onset of grey-out, or tunnel vision — usually signs of the onset of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation. Not sure if he was also experiencing vertigo, he felt he was in a spin low to the water. With little time to try to regain control, he pulled the secondary handle between his legs. After hitting the water and eventually getting aboard his survival raft, he could see his A-7 making slow, low passes over him.

Boston called his flight lead, Lt Hamm, over his PRC-90 survival radio, and soon a helicopter had arrived. The rescue swimmer jumped in and quickly attached the pilot to the rescue sling.

After Lt Cdr Boston was safely aboard the helicopter, attention turned to the fate of his still-airborne A-7. After determining that all aircraft were accounted for, the decision came to shoot down the errant Corsair II. Accordingly, Cdr Chatham positioned himself behind NF 413 and fired his cannon. After approximately 35 rounds, with numerous hits on the target, NF 413 began to smoke, before entering a dive. It hit the water and sank, giving the CAG a confirmed kill.

US Navy A-7 Corsair II Units of the Vietnam War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-7E Corsair II VA-86 Sidewinders, AJ400 / 159292 / 1977

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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