The Douglas A-4A Skyhawk

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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 aircraft—a 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, and Kuwait).

 A4-A is currently not on display.

 

 

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