Our McDonnell DouglasA-4 Skyhawk Scrapbook
The Douglas/McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a lightweight, single engine, single pilot combat jet which performed its first flight on June 22, 1954. Intended as an aircraft carrier-based attack jet, it was built ruggedly to handle that punishing environment. Today, sixty-six years later, the design continues to soldier on in both the Argentinian Air Force and the Brazilian Navy as frontline assets. Others are found in civilian hands as aggressor aircraft or as warbirds. Some 2,960 airframes were built in various models, the last was produced in 1979.
Operators of the Skyhawk in relatively large numbers included the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, and the countries of Argentina, Malaysia, Singapore, Israel, Kuwait, and Brazil. Australia and New Zealand operated a handful of Skyhawks too, the former country selling the remainder of their naval fleet to New Zealand to supplement that country’s original fourteen jets.
Subsonic at top speed, the nimble fighter carried a heavy payload for its size. It was a tough customer as far as battle damage, and was inexpensive to operate when compared to its contemporaries such as the F-4 Phantom II, A-7 Corsair II and the AV-8A Harrier. The type was even cleared to employ atomic weapons via a loft-bombing profile.
It was somewhat successful in its secondary role as an air to air fighter, with several air to air victories credited to their pilots, but was equally a victim during fights, especially with MiG-17s. The U.S. Navy and Marine corps lost more than 300 airframes during the Vietnam War, mainly to anti-aircraft gunnery and missiles, but a few to the aforementioned aerial combats too.
The U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, used A-4F Skyhawks for a number of years, and their routine was aided by the size and nimbleness of the Skyhawk.
Several twin-seat training versions of the Skyhawk were built; as well as a dedicated Forward Air Control variant. Engine thrust capabilities increased in later upgraded models, as did avionics abilities.
The two largest users of the aircraft flew them into the 21st Century… the U.S. Navy retired their last operational A-4s in 2003, and Israel much later, in 2015. As the A-4 was withdrawn from frontline military service, more pristine airframes were sold to be operated as civilian-owned aggressor aircraft against current military aviators. Some of these operators include Tracor Flight Systems, Top Aces, Advanced Training Systems International (ATSI), and Draken International.
Here’s a look at many of these different models and operators, as well as an additional photo scrapbook at the end.