The Western Museum of Flight's
Douglas A-4A Skyhawk, was assigned to the USMC. We received a
note from a former Marine Aviator telling us he flew this particular
aircraft, No. 142227, while stationed in Japan. It is also our
understanding that this Skyhawk may have been assigned to a training
unit at NAS Alameda.
When we acquired the A-4, it had NAVY / MARINES
painted on both sides of the aft section of the fuselage and
was in need of a paint job when it arrived at the museum.
In 1995, the aircraft was repainted in the proud
colors and markings of the U.S. Navy's famous Blue Angels demonstration
team. The new paint job was completed via the combined efforts
of the Western Museum of Flight restoration committee and by
a dedicated production crew for a Calendar series.
Note: This A4-A was not flown by the Blue Angels.
The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a carrier-capable ground-attack
aircraft designed for the United States Navy and U.S. Marine
Corps. The delta winged, single turbojet-engined Skyhawk was
designed and produced by Douglas Aircraft Company, and later
McDonnell Douglas. It was originally designated the A4D under
the US Navy's pre-1962 designation system.
Fifty years after the aircraft's first flight,
and having played key roles in the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur
War, and the Falklands War, some of the nearly 3,000 Skyhawks
produced remain in service with several air arms around the world,
including active duty on the aircraft carrier, São Paulo,
of the Brazilian Navy.
The Skyhawk was designed by Douglas Aircraft's
Ed Heinemann in response to a U.S. Navy call for a jet-powered
attack aircraft to replace the older AD Skyraider. Heinemann
opted for a design that would minimize its size, weight, and
complexity. The result was an aircraft that weighed only half
of the Navy's weight specification. It had a wing so compact
that it did not need to be folded for carrier stowage. The diminutive
Skyhawk soon received the nicknames "Scooter", "Kiddiecar",
"Bantam Bomber", "Tinker Toy Bomber", and,
on account of its nimble performance, "Heinemann's Hot-Rod".
The XA4D-1 prototype in 1954 The aircraft is of
conventional post-World War II design, with a low-mounted delta
wing, tricycle undercarriage, and a single turbojet engine in
the rear fuselage, with two air intakes on the fuselage sides.
The tail is of cruciform design, with the horizontal stabilizer
mounted above the fuselage. Armament consisted of two 20 mm (.79
in caliber) Colt Mk 12 cannons, one in each wing root, with 200
rpg, plus a large variety of bombs, rockets, and missiles carried
on a hardpoint under the fuselage centerline and hardpoints under
each wing (originally one per wing, later two).
The second production A4D-1 The choice of a delta
wing, for example, combined speed and maneuverability with a
large fuel capacity and small overall size, thus not requiring
folding wings, albeit at the expense of cruising efficiency.
The leading edge slats were designed to drop automatically at
the appropriate speed by gravity and air pressure, saving weight
and space by omitting actuation motors and switches. Similarly
the main undercarriage did not penetrate the main wing spar,
designed so that when retracted only the wheel itself was inside
the wing and the undercarriage struts were housed in a fairing
below the wing. The wing structure itself could be lighter with
the same overall strength and the absence of a wing folding mechanism
further reduced weight. This is the opposite of what can often
happen in aircraft design where a small weight increase in one
area leads to a compounding increase in weight in other areas
to compensate, leading to the need for more powerful, heavier
engines and so on in a vicious circle.
A4D-2 refueling a F8U-1P The A-4 pioneered the
concept of "buddy" air-to-air refueling. This allows
the aircraft to supply others of the same type, eliminating the
need of dedicated tanker aircrafta particular advantage
for small air arms or when operating in remote locations. This
allows for greatly improved operational flexibility and reassurance
against the loss or malfunction of tanker aircraft, though this
procedure reduces the effective combat force on board the carrier.
A designated supply A-4 would mount a center-mounted "buddy
store", a large external fuel tank with a hose reel in the
aft section and an extensible drogue refueling bucket. This aircraft
was fueled up without armament and launched first. Attack aircraft
would be armed to the maximum and given as much fuel as was allowable
by maximum takeoff weight limits, far less than a full tank.
Once airborne, they would then proceed to top off their fuel
tanks from the tanker using the A-4's fixed refueling probe on
the starboard side of the aircraft nose. They could then sortie
with both full armament and fuel loads. While rarely used in
U.S. service since the KA-3 Skywarrior tanker became available,
the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet includes this capability.
Thermal cockpit shield for nuclear weapons' delivery.The
A-4 was also designed to be able to make an emergency landing,
in the event of a hydraulic failure, on the two drop tanks nearly
always carried by these aircraft. Such landings resulted in only
minor damage to the nose of the aircraft which could be repaired
in less than an hour. Ed Heinemann is credited with having a
large "K.I.S.S." sign put up on the wall of the drawing
office when the aircraft was being designed. Whether or not this
is true, the A-4 certainly is a shining example of the application
of that principle to aircraft design.
The Navy issued a contract for the type on 12 June
1952, and the first prototype first flew from Edwards Air Force
Base, California on 22 June 1954. Deliveries to Navy and U.S.
Marine Corps squadrons (to VA-72 and VMA-224 respectively) commenced
in late 1956.
The Skyhawk remained in production until 1979,
with a total of 2,960 aircraft built, including 555 two-seat
trainers. The last production A-4, an A-4M issued to a Marine
squadron (VMA-223) had the flags of all nations who had operated
the A-4 series aircraft painted on the dorsal avionics 'hump'.
The Skyhawk proved to be a relatively common U.S.
naval aircraft export of the postwar era. Due to its small size,
it could be operated from the older, smaller World War II-era
aircraft carriers still used by many smaller navies during the
1960s. These older ships were often unable to accommodate newer
USN fighters such as the F-4 Phantom II and F-8 Crusader, which
were faster and more capable than the A-4, but significantly
larger and heavier than older naval fighters.
The US Navy operated the A-4 in both Regular Navy
and Naval Reserve light attack squadrons (VA). Although the A-4's
use as a training and adversary aircraft would continue well
into the 1980s, the Navy began removing the aircraft from its
front line attack squadrons in 1967, with the last one being
retired in 1975.
The U.S. Marine Corps would not take the U.S. Navy's
replacement warplane, the A-7 Corsair II, instead keeping Skyhawks
in service with both Regular Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve
attack squadrons (VMA), and ordering the new A-4M model. The
last USMC Skyhawk was delivered in 1979, and they were used until
the mid-1980s before they were replaced by the equally small,
but more versatile STOVL AV-8 Harrier II.
The A-4's nimble performance also made it suitable
to replace the F-4 Phantom II when the Navy downsized its aircraft
for the Blue Angels demonstration team, until the availability
of the F/A-18 Hornet in the 1980s. The last US Navy Skyhawks,
TA-4J models belonging to the composite squadron VC-8, remained
in military use for target-towing, and as adversary aircraft,
for combat training at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads. These aircraft
were officially retired on 3 May 2003.
Skyhawks were well-loved by their crews for being
tough and agile. These attributes, along with their low purchase
and operating cost as well as easy maintenance, have contributed
to the popularity of the A-4 with American and international
armed forces. Besides the United States, at least three other
nations have used A-4 Skyhawks in combat (Argentina, Israel,