The A-7 Attack Jet's Head Up Display Was A Revolution In Air Combat Tech

It was the first use of a true Head Up Display on a U.S. combat aircraft and historic videos show just how it worked and how much they got right.

Navy

The Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 Corsair II wasn't sexy, it looked like a fat version of the F-8 Crusader from which it drew its lineage, but it sure was smart. It featured a slew of advanced avionics that would make its single pilot's job easier and their attacks far more precise. One of these features was central to the leap in combat capabilities the stubby aircraft represented—the Head Up Display (HUD). 

The A-7 was the first operational American combat aircraft to get a fully instrumented HUD as we understand the concept today. This new addition was a monumental revolution in technology that changed air combat forever.

USN

A-7s with their predecessor, the A-4 Skyhawk, aboard the USS Ticonderoga in 1968.

Before the A-7, tactical jets were receiving increasingly complex holographic gunsights with simple symbology, but nothing was tied directly to computers that worked to present all the key weapons delivery and primary flight information right up in front of the pilot's eyes as they peered through the windscreen.

Rochester Avionic Archives

The A-7 HUD, EU, and PDU shown by Colin Marshall. In October 1967 it was announced from Dallas in Texas U.S.A that Elliott Flight Automation had been awarded a four-year contract to supply LTV with Head Up Displays for the A-7. The initial contract was worth £14million for 1,200 displays and was the largest ever awarded to a British firm.

Looking back at the A-7's AN/AVQ-7(V) HUD, which was made by Elliott Flight Automation along with Marconi, it is amazing what they pulled off in the mid-1960s. Much of the HUD's general layout and symbology is still in use today, and just how deeply integrated the HUD was with the jet's radar, navigation, and other systems is absolutely remarkable. Flight data 'tapes,' velocity vector, pitch ladder, steering cues, targeting points, bomb azimuth guides, AoA E-bracket, and much more are all there, just as they remain on so many tactical aircraft HUDs today.

US Government Photo

A-7 Cockpit

The aircraft's HUD and the avionics and sensors that were tied into it greatly helped the A-7 become renowned as an incredibly precise weapons delivery platform in an age that predated the widespread use of precision-guided weapons. Various reports state that the A-7 improved the accuracy of weapons delivery by a multiple over the aircraft that came before it, most notably the plane it was meant to initially replace within the U.S. Navy, the A-4 Skyhawk. The A-7 would go on to serve in the USAF and Hellenic Air Force, as well as with Portugal and Thailand.

Check out the absolutely awesome time capsule-like industry videos below that go over the symbology and functionality of the Corsair II's revolutionary HUD:

 

The A-7 would continue to make history in terms of pilot visual and targeting aids with the introduction of the first raster scan/CRT HUD that allowed for video imagery, as well as HUD symbology, to be projected in front of the pilot. As such, video from a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) pod could be projected into the pilot's forward field of view, giving them a degree of night vision. When tied to terrain-following radar, precision all-weather, day-night attack capability was had. The FLIR pods could also be used to verify targets via a zoom function. This program was known as the A-7E Target Recognition Attack Multisensor (TRAM) configuration.

Roughly over a decade and a half later, this capability would become a staple on many U.S. fighters, especially those that used the LANTIRN system, such as the Block 40 F-16C/D and the F-15E. The F/A-18 Hornet also had this capability via its AAS-38A/B Nite Hawk pod and its raster-scan HUD. 

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A-7s carrying TRAM FLIR pods. 

In many ways, the A-7 was ahead of its time, with its incredible mix of extreme range, payload, avionics, and overall efficiency. What it didn't have going for it was looks or speed, which can be a deadly mix of deficiencies for a tactical jet trying to survive in a fighter pilot-Pentagon.  I often muse that such an aircraft in updated form would have been extremely valuable during the Global War On Terror. And of course, the A-7 could have turned into a higher-performance, even more advanced machine via the A-7F Strikefighter, but this never came to pass. It turned out to be yet another instance of 'what could have been.' You can read all about it in this prior feature of mine

Regardless, one has to hand it to Elliott and Marconi, as well as the entire A-7 team, for getting the HUD so right on its first try. They truly changed air combat forever in the process. 

Hat tip to Rochester Avionic Archives for being such a cool repository for much of this visual historic info!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com