Developed as a private-venture by a team led by Ed Heinemann, the compact Douglas (later McDonnell-Douglas) A-4 Skyhawk carrier-borne attack aircraft was intended to provide the US Navy with a jet powered successor to the rugged piston-engine AD-1 Skyraider. The resultant machine would exceed all expectations and would eventually become one of the most successful US naval aircraft of the Post-War period. Ordered during the Korean War, the Skyhawk made its maiden flight on the 22nd June 1954 with the first pre-production aircraft being completed on the 14th of August. Initial deliveries to US Navy squadron VA-72 began on the 26th of October 1956 and three months later, in January 1957, VMA-224 became the first USMC squadron to receive the type.
A relatively small single-seater with a Delta Wing and conventional tail unit the Skyhawk not only weighed less than half of the official specification but was also considerably faster. Early models (A-4A, A-4B and A-4C) employed the Wright J65 turbojet (a license built copy of the British Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire) but later variants (starting with the A-4E) were powered by the Pratt and Whitney J-52. The Skyhawk has four underwing hardpoints and a central belly pylon allowing up to 9,155-lb of external ordnance to be carried. Some versions, particularly the A-4F, would have a large dorsal; fairing containing avionics. The Skyhawk would be widely employed by the Americans during the Vietnam War (1964-73).
Skyhawks in Vietnam
The Skyhawk first saw action during the Vietnam War with their first mission being Operation Flaming Dart I (8 February 1965) and its successor Faming Dart II two days later. For much of the early part of the war Skyhawks would shoulder much of the US Navy’s carrier strike forces burden. In April 1967 one A-4C was lost whilst in a dog fight with a North Vietnamese MiG-17 with the pilot, Lt. C.D. Stackhouse being taken prisoner. Six days later, on the 1 May 1967, Lt-Cdr Theodore ‘T.R.’ Swartz of the same squadron would level the game by shooting down another MiG-17 using three 5-in Zuni rockets which he had held back after expending the rest in an attack on an AAA site. For this he was awarded the Silver Star.
Although the burden on the Skyhawk declined with the introduction of the A-6 and A-7 the sturdy Skyhawk continued to find employment in such tasks as close air support and flak suppression (Alpha strikes) and with the A-4F model (which had radar detection equipment) against SAM control centres (Iron Hand missions). It was in this latter task that Lt–Cdr. Michael Estocin would win the coveted Medal of Honour.
Skyhawks in Yom Kippur and Falkland Wars
Israel received its first Skyhawks late in 1967 when the US lifted its arms embargo. These A-4H aircraft saw combat during the 1973 Yom Kippur war but suffered heavy losses to Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian Surface to Air missiles.
Argentina was one of the earliest purchasers of the Skyhawk, receiving quantities of A4B and A-4C aircraft during the 1970s but following the establishment of a Military junta the US would impose an embargo of further sales to that country. During the 1982 Falklands War with Great Britain, Argentinean Skyhawks operating at long range from the mainland would sink four Royal Navy warships with 1,000-lb bombs, but lacking ECM equipment suffered the loss of 22 Skyhawk aircraft (19 Air Force and three Navy operated).
A number of other countries have also acquired the A-4 Skyhawk for their armed forces. These include New Zealand (A-4K) Australia (A-4G) and Malaysia (A-4PTM). The Singapore Air Force would also purchase the A-4SU Super-Skyhawk with larger J-65 –W-20 turbojets and a new weapon aiming system, and both Argentina and Israel would later purchase upgraded versions (A-4AR and TA-4AR for Argentina and the A-4N by Israel).
The final version built was the A-4M Skyhawk II (known as the A-4N with Israeli equipment) which had a larger cockpit canopy and a prominent hump on the upper fuselage containing improved electronics. Total Skyhawk production would ultimately total 2,960 machines (including two-seat TA-4 trainers) of which more than 250 were still known to be operational as late as 2001.
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