Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk
A-4 (A4D) Skyhawk
A U.S. Navy A-4E of VA-164 from USS Oriskany (CVA-34) over North Vietnam in November 1967
Role Ground-attack aircraft, fighter, aggressor aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
McDonnell Douglas
Designer Ed Heinemann
First flight 22 June 1954
Introduction October 1956
Retired 2003, USN
1998, USMC
Status Active with non-U.S. users
Primary users United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Number built 2,960
Unit cost US$860,000 each for the first 500 units
Variants Lockheed Martin A-4AR Fightinghawk
ST Aerospace A-4SU Super Skyhawk

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a carrier-capable ground-attack aircraft designed for the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. The delta winged, single-engined Skyhawk was designed and produced by Douglas Aircraft Company, and later McDonnell Douglas. It was originally designated the A4D under the U.S. Navy's pre-1962 designation system.

The A-4 is a compact, light-weight design with a maximum takeoff weight of 24,500 pounds (11,100 kg). With a top speed of more than 600 miles per hour (970 km/h), its performance is compromised by its small size. The aircraft's six hardpoints support a variety of missiles, bombs and other munitions. Power is provided by one 9,300-pound-force (41 kN) Pratt & Whitney J52.

Skyhawks played key roles in the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Falklands War. Fifty years after the aircraft's first flight, some of the nearly 3,000 produced remain in service with several air arms around the world, including with the Brazilian Navy's aircraft carrier, São Paulo. The A-4 and TA-4 Skyhawk today is seeing new life being utilized by civilian companies.[citation needed]


Design and development

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 Douglas AD Skyraider (later redesignated A-1 Skyraider).[1] 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.[2] 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".[3]

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 rounds per gun, 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.[4][5][6]

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.

The Navy issued a contract for the type on 12 June 1952,[7] and the first prototype first flew from Edwards Air Force Base, California on 22 June 1954.[8] Deliveries to Navy and Marine Corps squadrons (to VA-72 and VMA-224 respectively) commenced in late 1956.[9]

The Skyhawk remained in production until 1979, with 2,960 aircraft built, including 555 two-seat trainers.[10] The last production A-4, an A-4M issued to a Marine squadron (VMA-331) had the flags of all nations who had operated the A-4 series aircraft painted on the fuselage sides.

Operational history

United States

The Skyhawk proved to be a relatively common United States Navy 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 Navy 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 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 1990s, the Navy began removing the aircraft from its front line attack squadrons in 1967, with the last ones (Super Foxes of VA-55/212/164) being retired in 1976.

A US Navy TA-4J Skyhawk of TW-3 on the deck of USS Lexington, 1989

The 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.[11]

VMA-131, Marine Aircraft Group 49 (the Diamondbacks) retired its last four OA-4Ms on 22 June 1994. Lieutenant Colonel George "Eagle" Lake III (CO), Major John "Baja" Rufo (XO), Captain Dave "Yoda" Hurston, and Major Mike "Struts" Volland flew a final official USMC A-4 sortie during the A-4 Standdown Ceremony. Trainer versions of the Skyhawk remained in Navy service, however, finding a new lease on life with the advent of "adversary training", where the nimble A-4 was used as a stand-in for the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 in dissimilar air combat training (DACT). It served in that role at "Top Gun" until 1999.

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 F/A-18 Hornets were available in the 1980s. The last U.S. 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).

Vietnam War era

VA-146 A-4Cs over the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964. USS Kearsarge (CV-33) steams below.

Skyhawks were the Navy's primary light bomber used over North Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War while the USAF was flying the supersonic F-105 Thunderchief; they were later supplanted by the A-7 Corsair II in the Navy light bomber role. Skyhawks carried out some of the first air strikes by the US during the conflict, and a Marine Skyhawk is believed to have dropped the last American bombs on the country. Notable naval aviators who flew the Skyhawk included Lieutenant Commanders Everett Alvarez Jr. and John McCain, and Commander James Stockdale. On 1 May 1967, an A-4C Skyhawk piloted by Lieutenant Commander Theodore R. Swartz of VA-76 aboard the carrier USS Bon Homme Richard, shot down a North Vietnamese Air Force MiG-17 with an unguided Zuni rocket as the Skyhawk's only air-to-air victory of the Vietnam war.[12][13]

From 1956 on, Navy Skyhawks were the first aircraft to be deployed outside of the U.S. armed with the AIM-9 Sidewinder.[14][15] On strike missions, which was the Skyhawk's normal role, the air-to-air armament was for self defensive purposes.

In the early-to-mid 1960s, standard US Navy A-4B Skyhawk squadrons were assigned to provide daytime fighter protection for ASW aircraft operating from some Essex class US anti-submarine warfare carriers, these aircraft retained their ground- and sea-attack capabilities. The A-4B model did not have an air-to-air radar, and it required visual identification of targets and guidance from either ships in the fleet or an airborne E-1 Tracer AEW aircraft. Lightweight and safer to land on smaller decks, Skyhawks would later also play a similar role flying from Australian, Argentinean, and Brazilian upgraded World War II surplus light ASW carriers, which were also unable to operate most large modern fighters.[16][17][18] Primary air-to-air armament consisted of the internal 20 mm (.79 in) Colt cannons and ability to carry an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on both underwing hardpoints, later additions of two more underwing hardpoints on some aircraft made for a total capacity of four AAMs.

The first combat loss of an A-4 occurred on 5 August 1964, when Lieutenant junior grade Alvarez, of VA-144 aboard the USS Constellation, was shot down while attacking enemy torpedo boats in North Vietnam. Alvarez safely ejected after being hit by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire, and became the first US Naval POW of the war;[19] he was released as a POW on 12 February 1973. The last A-4 loss in the Vietnam War occurred on 26 September 1972, when USMC pilot Captain James P. Walsh, USMC of VMA-211, flying from his land base at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, was hit by ground fire near An Loc. An Loc was one of the few remaining hotly contested areas during this time period, and Captain Walsh was providing close air support (CAS) for ground troops in contact (land battle/fire fight) when his A-4 was hit, catching fire, forcing him to eject. Rescue units were sent, but the SAR helicopter was damaged by enemy ground fire, and forced to withdraw. Captain Walsh, after safely ejecting, had landed within NVA (North Vietnamese Army) positions, and had become a POW as soon as his feet had touched the ground. Captain Walsh was the last US Marine to be taken prisoner during the war, and was released as a POW on 12 February 1973.

Although the first A-4Es were flown in Vietnam in early 1965, the A-4Cs continued to be used until late 1970. The Seabees of MCB-10 went ashore on 7 May 1965. On 1 June 1965, the Chu Lai Short Airfield for Tactical Support (SATS) was officially opened with the arrival of eight A-4 Skyhawks from Cubi Point, Philippine Islands.[20] The group landed with the aid of arresting cables, refueled and took off with the aid of JATO, with fuel and bombs to support Marine combat units. The Skyhawks were from Marine Attack Squadron VMA-225 and VMA-311.[21] <

Armed A-4Fs on the USS Hancock in 1972

On 29 July 1967, the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was conducting combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. A Zuni rocket misfired, knocking off an external tank on an A-4. Fuel from the leaking tank caught fire, creating a massive conflagration that burned for hours, killing 134 sailors, and injuring 161. (See 1967 USS Forrestal fire.)

During the war, 362 A-4/TA-4F Skyhawks were lost to all causes. The US Navy lost 271 A-4s, the US Marine Corps lost 81 A-4s and 10 TA-4Fs. A total of 32 A-4s were lost to surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and one A-4 was lost in aerial combat to a MiG-17 on 25 April 1967.[22][page needed]

Training and Adversary role

The A-4 Skyhawk was introduced to a training role in the two-seat TA-4J configuration replacing the TF-9J Cougar as the advanced jet trainer The TA-4J served as the advanced jet trainer in white and orange markings for decades until being replaced by the T-45 Goshawk. Additional TA-4J Skyhawks were assigned to Instrument Training RAGs at all the Navy master jet bases under RCVW-12 and RCVW-4. The Instrument RAGs initially provided jet transition training for Naval Aviators during the time period when Naval Aviation still had a great number of propeller-driven aircraft and also provided annual instrument training and check rides for Naval Aviators. The assigned TA-4J models were installed with collapsible hoods so the aviator under training had to demonstrate instrument flying skills without any outside reference. These units were VF-126 at NAS Miramar, VA-127 (later VFA-127) at NAS Lemoore, VF-43 at NAS Oceana and VA-45 (later VF-45) at NAS Cecil Field until its later move to NAS Key West.

VFC-13 adversary A-4Fs at NAS Fallon in 1993.

Additional single-seat A-4 Skyhawks were also assigned to composite squadrons (VC) worldwide to provide training and other services to deployed units. These included VC-1 at NAS Barber's Point, VC-7 at NAS Miramar, VC-5 at NAS Cubi Point, the Philippines, VC-8 at NS Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, VC-10 at NAVBASE Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Naval Reserve squadrons VC-12 (later VFC-12) at NAS Oceana and VC-13 (later VFC-13) at NAS Miramar.

With renewed emphasis on Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) training brought on with the establishment of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) in 1969, the availability of A-4 Skyhawks in both the Instrument RAGs and Composite Squadrons at the master jet bases presented a ready resource of the nimble Skyhawks that had become the TOPGUN preferred surrogate for the MiG-17. At the time, the F-4 Phantom was just beginning to be exploited to its full potential as a fighter and had not performed as well as expected against the smaller North Vietnamese MiG-17 and MiG-21 opponents. TOPGUN introduced the notion of dissimilar air combat training (DACT) using the A-4E in the stripped Mongoose configuration with fixed slats.

The small size of the Skyhawk and superb low speed handling in the hands of a well trained aviator made it ideal to teach fleet aviators the finer points of DACT. The squadrons eventually began to display vivid threat type paint schemes signifying their transition into the primary role of Adversary training. To better perform the Adversary role, single-seat A-4E and F models were introduced into the role, but the ultimate adversary Skyhawk was the Super Fox, which was equipped with the uprated J52-P-408 engine. This variant had entered service in 1974 with VA-55/VA-164/VA-212 on the final USS Hancock cruise and had been the variant that the Blue Angels had selected in 1973.

The surplus of former USMC Skyhawks resulted in A-4M versions being used by both VF-126 and TOPGUN. Even though the A-4 was augmented by the F-5E, F-21 (Kfir), F-16, and F/A-18 in the Adversary role, the A-4 remained a viable threat surrogate until it was retired by VF-43 in 1993 and shortly thereafter by VFC-12. The last A-4 fleet operators were VC-8, which retired its Skyhawks in 2003.

The A-4M was also operated by the Operations Maintenance Detachment(OMD) in an Adversary role based at Naval Air Station Dallas for the Naval Air Reserve. Many of the aviators that flew the 4 jets were attached to NAS Dallas, including the Commanding Officer. The aircraft were instrumental in training and development of Air Combat Maneuvers(ACM) for VF-201 and VF-202. The unit also completed several missions involving target towing to NAS Key West, NAS Kingsville, TX, and deployments to NAS Miramar, CA and NAS Fallon, NV for adversary support. The detachment was under the operational command of the Commander Fleet Logistics Support Wing(CFLSW) based at NAS Dallas.


Israel was the largest export customer for Skyhawks. The Skyhawk was the first US warplane to be offered to the Israeli Air Force, marking the point where the US took over from France as Israel's chief military supplier. Deliveries began after the Six-Day War, and A-4s soon formed the backbone of the IAF's ground-attack force. The A-4 earned the Hebrew name “Ayit”, meaning “Eagle”.[citation needed]

They cost only a quarter of what a Phantom II cost and carried more bombs.[23] Since 1966, Israel purchased 217 planes, plus another 46 that were transferred from US units to compensate for large losses during the Yom Kippur War.[citation needed]

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Israeli Air Force Skyhawks were the primary ground attack aircraft in the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. Skyhawks carried out bombing missions in the Yom Kippur War, and a considerable proportion of the tactical sorties. They also suffered heavy losses, partially because of their relatively low penetration speed. The Skyhawks bore the brunt of losses to sophisticated SA-6 Gainful missile batteries and Anti-aircraft guns.[citation needed]

In May 1970, an Israeli Skyhawk piloted by Col. Ezra Dotan shot down two MiG-17s over south Lebanon (one with unguided rockets, the other with 30mm cannon fire) even though the Skyhawk's heads up display has no "air to air mode".[citation needed]

A special version of the plane was developed for the IAF, the A-4H. This was an A-4E with which featured improved avionics and the improved thrust J-52-P-8A engine. Armament consisted of twin DEFA 30 mm cannon in place of the US 20mm guns. Later modifications included the avionics hump and an extended tailpipe, implemented in Israel by IAI. The extended tailpipe gave greater protection against surface to air missiles. A total of 90 A-4Hs were delivered, and were Heyl Ha'avir's primary attack plane in the War of Attrition.[citation needed]

An Israeli A-4N

In early 1973, the improved A-4N Skyhawk for Israel entered service, it was based on the A-4M used by the US Marine Corps. A-4N had a higher capacity engine, a cockpit with improved visibility, 30 mm. cannon and better maneuvering ability. The IAF purchased dozens of A-4N Skyhawks. The different model Skyhawks carried out bombing missions in the Yom Kippur War, and a considerable proportion of the tactical sorties. They also attacked in Operation Peace for the Galilee, and one of them shot down a Syrian MiG-17.

The IAF also operated two-seat models, for operations as well as advanced training and retraining. The first training models arrived in 1967, with the first batch of Skyhawks. During the Yom Kippur war, the Skyhawk order of battle was reinforced with TA-4F and TA-4J models.[citation needed] The IAF selected in 2003 RADA Electronic Industries Ltd. to upgrade its A-4 trainer fleet with weapon delivery, navigation and training systems. Integration of a multifunction and Head-up Display produced an advanced Lead in fighter trainer for the IAF's future fighter pilots.[citation needed]

During the 1982 Lebanon War an Israeli A-4 piloted by Aharon Ahiaz was shot down over Lebanon by a SA-7 on 6 June 1982.[24][25][26] Israel claimed this was one of its only two fixed wing aircraft shot down over the Beqaa Valley during the air battle of 6 June 1982 to 11 June 1982 where 150 aircraft took part.[26]

In October 2008, it was decided due to maintenance issues that the A-4 that the Skyhawk fleet would be withdrawn and replaced by more modern aircraft, able to perform equally well the training role and, if required, Close Support and Interdiction missions on the battlefield.[27] Some of Israel's A-4 were later exported to Indonesia. The Skyhawks have been replaced by F-16s but are still used for pilot training.


Argentina was not only the first foreign user of the Skyhawk but also one of the largest with nearly 130 A-4s delivered since 1965. The Argentine Air Force received 25 A-4Bs in 1966 and another 25 in 1970, all refurbished in the United States by Lockheed Service Co. prior to their delivery as A-4P, although they were still locally known as A-4B. They had three weapon pylons and served in the 5th Air Brigade (Spanish: V Brigada Aérea). In 1976, 25 A-4Cs were ordered to replace the F-86 Sabres still in service in the 4th Air Brigade (Spanish: IV Brigada Aérea). They were received as is and refurbished to flight status by the Air Force technicians at Río Cuarto, Cordoba. The C model had five weapon pylons and could use AAM AIM-9B Sidewinders.[citation needed]

The Argentine Naval Aviation also bought the Skyhawk known as A-4Q in the form of 16 A-4B plus two for spare parts, modified with five weapon pylons and to carry AIM-9B Sidewinders. They were received in 1971 to replace F9F Panther and F9F Cougar in use from the aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo by the 3rd Fighter/Attack Squadron (Spanish: 3ra Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Caza y Ataque).

The United States placed an embargo of spare parts in 1977 due to the Dirty War[28] backing the Humphrey-Kennedy amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1976, the Carter administration placed an embargo on the sale of arms and spare parts to Argentina and on the training of its military personnel (which was lifted in the 1990s under Carlos Menem's presidency when Argentina became a Major non-NATO ally).[29] Ejection seats did not work and there were many other mechanical faults.[30] In spite of this, A-4s still served well in the 1982 Falklands War where they achieved some success against the Royal Navy.

Falklands War

An Argentine A-4C being refueled shortly before its loss on 9 May 1982.

During the 1982 Falklands War, Argentina deployed 48 Skyhawk warplanes (26 A-4B, 12 A-4C and 10 A-4Q aircraft).[31] Armed with unguided bombs and lacking any electronic or missile self-defense, Argentine Air Force Skyhawks sank the Type 42 Destroyer HMS Coventry and the Type 21 Frigate HMS Antelope as well as inflicting heavy damage on several others: the RFA Sir Galahad (1966) (which was subsequently scuttled as a war grave), the Type 42 HMS Glasgow, the Leander Class Frigate HMS Argonaut, the Type 22 Frigate HMS Broadsword, and the RFA Sir Tristram. Argentine Navy A-4Qs, flying from Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego naval air station, also played a role in the bombing attacks against British ships, destroying the Type 21 HMS Ardent.[32]

In all, 22 Skyhawks (10 A-4Ps, nine A-4Cs, and three A-4Qs) were lost to all causes in the six weeks-long war[33] (according to other sources, 23 Skyhawks were lost: 10 A-4Bs, 9 A-4Cs and four A-4Qs).[34] These losses included eight to British Sea Harriers, seven to ship-launched surface-to-air missiles, four to ground-launched surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft fire (including one to "friendly-fire"), and three to crashes.[31]

After the war, Argentine Air Force A-4Ps and A-4Cs survivors were upgraded under the Halcon program with 30 mm (1.2 in) DEFA cannons, air-to-air missiles, and other minor details, and merged into the 5th Air Brigade. All of these were withdrawn from service in 1999, and they were replaced with 36 of the much improved OA/A-4AR Fightinghawk. Several TA-4J and A-4E airframes were also delivered under the A-4AR program mainly for spare parts use.

In 1983, the United States vetoed the delivery by Israel of 24 A-4Hs for the Argentine Navy as the A-4Q replacement. The A-4Qs were finally retired in 1988.[35]


Kuwaiti A-4KUs on the flight line in 1991

More recently, Kuwaiti Air Force Skyhawks fought in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the available Skyhawks flew attack missions against the advancing Iraqi forces from deserted roads after their bases were overrun. A total of 24 of the 29 A-4KUs that remained in service with Kuwait (from 36 delivered in the 1970s) escaped to Saudi Arabia. The escaped Skyhawks (along with escaped Mirage F1s) operated as the Free Kuwait Air Force, flying 1,361 sorties during the liberation of Kuwait.[36] Twenty-three A-4s survived the conflict and the Iraqi invasion,[37] with only one A-4KU (BuNo. 160207) shot down by Iraqi forces on 17 January 1991[38]. The pilot, Mohammed Mubarak, ejected and was taken prisoner[39]. The remaining Kuwaiti Skyhawks were later sold to Brazil, where they currently serve aboard the aircraft carrier NAe São Paulo.[40]


In September 1983 Indonesia started an offensive named Operation Persatuan in the Papua and West Papua provinces of Indonesia. Its Air Force used A-4 Skyhawks in November to support ground operations. In combat sorties typical Skyhawk load was six Mk 82 bombs and fourteen FFAR rockets along with two drop tanks.[citation needed]


Brazilian Navy AF-1 (A-4KU)
VA-81 A4D-2 on the USS Forrestal in 1962.
A-4C landing on the USS Kitty Hawk in 1966.
TA-4F Skyhawk of VA-164 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hancock in the early 1970s
A4-G of VF-805 takes a wire aboard HMAS Melbourne in 1980
Naval Reserve A-4L of VA-203
A-4M of VMA-322
OA-4M of MAG-32 in 1990
Brazilian Navy A-4BR
Gate guardian A-4Q at Mar del Plata
  • XA4D-1: Prototype
  • YA4D-1 (YA-4A, later A-4A): Flight test prototypes and pre-production aircraft.
  • A4D-1 (A-4A): Initial production version, 166 built
  • A4D-2 (A-4B): Strengthened aircraft and added air-to-air refueling capabilities, improved navigation and flight control systems, provision for AGM-12 Bullpup missile, 542 built.
  • A-4P: Remanufactured A-4Bs sold to Argentine Air Force known as A-4B by the Argentines.
  • A-4Q: Remanufactured A-4Bs sold to Argentine Navy.
  • A-4S: 50 A-4Bs remanufactured for Republic of Singapore Air Force.
  • TA-4S: seven trainer versions of the above. Different from most TA-4 trainers with a common cockpit for the student and instructor pilot, these were essentially rebuilt with a 28 in (710 mm) fuselage plug inserted into the front fuselage and a separate bulged cockpit (giving better all round visibility) for the instructor seated behind the student pilot.
  • TA-4S-1: eight trainer versions of the above. These were designated as TA-4S-1 to set it apart from the earlier batch of seven airframes.
  • A4D-3: Proposed advanced avionics version, none built.
  • A4D-2N (A-4C): Night/adverse weather version of A4D-2, with AN/APG-53A radar, autopilot, LABS low-altitude bombing system. Wright J65-W-20 engine with 8,200 lbf (36 kN) of takeoff thrust, 638 built.
  • A-4L: 100 A-4Cs remanufactured for Marine Corps Reserves and Navy Reserve squadrons. Fitted with A-4F avionics (including the fuselage "hump") but retaining J-65 engine and three-pylon wing.[41]
  • A-4S-1: 50 A-4Cs remanufactured for Republic of Singapore Air Force.
  • ST Aerospace A-4SU Super Skyhawk: extensively modified and updated version of the A-4S, exclusively for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), fitted with a General Electric F404 non-afterburning turbofan engine, and modernized electronics.
  • TA-4SU Super Skyhawk: extensively modified and updated version of the TA-4S & TA-4S-1 to TA-4SU standard.
  • A-4PTM: 40 A-4Cs and A-4Ls refurbished for Royal Malaysian Air Force, incorporating many A-4M features (PTM stands for Peculiar to Malaysia).[42]
  • TA-4PTM: Small number of trainer versions of above (PTM stands for Peculiar to Malaysia).[42]
  • A4D-4: Long-range version with new wings cancelled; A-4D designation skipped to prevent confusion with A4D
  • A4D-5 (A-4E): Major upgrade, including new Pratt & Whitney J52-P-6A engine with 8,400 lbf (37 kN)) of thrust, strengthened airframe with two more weapon pylons (for a total of five), improved avionics, with TACAN, Doppler navigation radar, radar altimeter, toss-bombing computer, and AJB-3A low-altitude bombing system. Many later upgraded with J52-P-8 engine with 9,300 lbf (41 kN) thrust; 499 built.
  • TA-4E: two A-4Es modified as prototypes of a trainer version.
  • A4D-6: Proposed version, none built.
  • A-4F: Refinement of A-4E with extra avionics housed in a hump on the fuselage spine (this feature later retrofitted to A-4Es and some A-4Cs) and more powerful J52-P-8A engine with 9,300 lbf (41 kN) of thrust, later upgraded in service to J52-P-408 with 11,200 lbf (50 kN), 147 built. Some served with Blue Angels acrobatic team from 1973 to 1986.
  • TA-4F: Conversion trainer - standard A-4F with extra seat for an instructor, 241 built.
  • OA-4M: 23 TA-4Fs modified for Forward Air Control duties for the USMC.
  • EA-4F: four TA-4Fs converted for ECM training.
  • TA-4J: Dedicated trainer version based on A-4F, but lacking weapons systems, and with down-rated engine, 277 built new, and most TA-4Fs were later converted to this configuration.
  • A-4G: eight aircraft built new for the Royal Australian Navy with minor variations from the A-4F; in particular, they were not fitted with the avionics "hump". Subsequently, eight more A-4Fs were modified to this standard for the RAN. Significantly the A-4G were modified to carry four underwing Sidewinder AIM-9B missiles increasing their Fleet Defense capability.[43][44]
  • TA-4G: two trainer versions of the A-4G built new, and two more modified from TA-4Fs.
  • A-4H: 90 aircraft for the Israeli Air Force based on the A-4F. Used 30 mm (1.18 in) DEFA cannon with 150 rpg in place of US 20 mm (.79 in) guns. Later, some A-4Es later locally modified to this standard. Subsequently modified with extended jetpipes as protection against heat-seeking missiles.
  • TA-4H: 25 trainer versions of the above. These remain in service, and are being refurbished with new avionics and systems for service till at least 2010.
  • A-4K: 10 aircraft for Royal New Zealand Air Force. In the 1990s, these were upgraded under Project KAHU with new radar and avionics, provision for AGM-65 Maverick, AIM-9 Sidewinder, and GBU-16 Paveway II laser-guided bomb. The RNZAF also rebuilt an A-4C and 10 A-4Gs to A4K standard.
  • TA-4K: four trainer versions of the above. A fifth was later assembled in NZ from spare parts.
A-4M Skyhawk II
  • A-4M: Dedicated Marine version with improved avionics and more powerful J52-P-408a engine with 11,200 lbf (50 kN) thrust, enlarged cockpit, IFF system. Later fitted with Hughes AN/ASB-19 Angle Rate Bombing System (ARBS) with TV and laser spot tracker, 158 built.
  • A-4N: 117 modified A-4Ms for the Israeli Air Force.
  • A-4KU: 30 modified A-4Ms for the Kuwaiti Air Force. Brazil purchased 20 of these second-hand and redesignated them AF-1. Now used by the Brazilian Navy on carrier duty.
    • TA-4KU: three trainer versions of the above. Brazil purchased some of these second-hand and redesignated them AF-1A.
  • A-4AR Fightinghawk: 36 A-4Ms refurbished for Argentina.
  • OA-4AR: Refurbished two-seat training version for Argentina.[citation needed]
  • A-4Y: Provisional designation for A-4Ms modified with the ARBS. Designation never adopted by the US Navy or Marine Corps.[45]



Former operators

Aircraft on display

  • USMC OA-4M - MCAS Iwakuni
New Zealand
United States
  • Douglas A-4C Skyhawk (A-4D-2N)U. S. Navy, 8/26/75,12624, BuAer 148314

Combat missions during Vietnam War aboard USS Enterprise, 10/65-6/66: Iron Hand missions to suppress SAM radars; USS Bonhome Richard, Mar-Jun 1967; USS Independence Mediterranean cruise 5/68, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

Specifications (A-4F Skyhawk)

Data from[58]

General characteristics




Notable appearances in media

See also

Related development
  • Lockheed Martin A-4AR Fightinghawk
  • ST Aerospace A-4SU Super Skyhawk
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


  1. ^ Kilduff 1983, pp. 14–15.
  2. ^ Wilson 1993, p. 135.
  3. ^ O'Rourke, G.G. "Of Hosenoses, Stoofs, and Lefthanded Spads." United States Naval Institute Proceedings, July 1968.
  4. ^ "Skyhawk."[dead link]Air Victory Museum. Retrieved: 31 October 2007.
  5. ^ Museum of Flight[dead link] Retrieved: 31 October 2007.
  6. ^ "Collections - Aircraft - Skyhawk (A4D/A-4/TA-4)." National Museum of Naval Aviation. Retrieved: 31 October 2007.
  7. ^ Gann Wings of Fame No. 4, p. 99.
  8. ^ Elward 2000, p. 25.
  9. ^ Gann Wings of Fame No. 4, p. 103.
  10. ^ Gann Wings of Fame No. 4, p. 100.
  11. ^ "AV-8B Harrier." Military Analysis Network, Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved: 11 June 2011.
  12. ^ Grossnick and Armstrong 1997
  13. ^ McCarthy 2009, p. 62.
  14. ^ "Events: July 14, 1956."[dead link] Retrieved: 13 September 2009.
  15. ^ "VA 42, p. 15." Retrieved: 13 September 2009.
  16. ^ "VA-93 Blue Blazers: Events 15 October 1963."[dead link] Retrieved: 30 March 2010.
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  18. ^ "Events Nov 1968."[dead link] Retrieved: 13 September 2009.
  19. ^ Dorr and Bishop 1996, pp. 34, 36.
  20. ^ "USN / USMC A-4 Skyhawk Aviators Killed In Action, Missing In Action, Operational Losses, Prisoners Of War, Wounded In Action, Combat Recoveries and Operations Recoveries - 1954 to 1991.", 5 July 2010. Retrieved: 23 November 2010.
  21. ^ Naval Review 1968, p. 13.
  22. ^ Hobson Chris. Vietnam Air Losses, USAF/USN/USMC, Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2001. ISBN 1-85780-115-6.
  23. ^ "A-4 Skyhawk in IAF service."[dead link] Retrieved: 13 September 2009. archived 23 October 2009.
  24. ^ "Israel vs. the PLO: The Invasion of Lebanon 1982, Part 2." Retrieved: 31 August 2010.
  25. ^ "Lebanon Losses." Retrieved: 31 August 2010.
  26. ^ a b Tetro, Nicholas B. "Press reports of the capture of Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman." Retrieved: 31 August 2010.
  27. ^ "Israel’s Skyhawk Scandal Leads to End of an Era." Retrieved: 30 March 2010.
  28. ^ "Argentina Industry." Retrieved: 30 March 2010.
  29. ^ "Overview of U.S. Policy towards South America and the President's Upcoming Trip to the Region." Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  30. ^ Freed, Kenneth. "Argentina pilots emerge as heroes in Falklands strife." Los Angeles Times, 27 May 1982. Retrieved: 14 March 2010.
  31. ^ a b Chant 2001, p.76.
  32. ^ Smith, Gordon. "Argentine Aircraft and Successes against British Ships." Battle Atlas of the Falklands War 1982 - by Land, Sea and Air. Retrieved: 12 August 2008.
  33. ^ Elward 2000, p. 158.
  34. ^ Chant 2001, pp.90-91.
  35. ^ "Caza Bombarderos de la Aviación Naval: Douglas A4-Q Skyhawk"(Spanish). Historia y Arqueologia Marítima. Retrieved: 12 April 2010.
  36. ^ Elward 2000, p. 164.
  37. ^ Gann Wings of Fame No. 5, p. 142.
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ Baugher, Joe. "Douglas A-4KU/TA-4KU Skyhawk for Kuwait". A-4 Skyhawk, 6 November 2001. Retrieved: 12 August 2008.
  41. ^ Elward 2000, pp. 71–72.
  42. ^ a b "RMAF A-4PTM Skyhawks."[dead link]
  43. ^ McDonnell Douglas A4G Skyhawk, Royal Australian Navy.
  44. ^ Elward 2000, p. 163.
  45. ^ Gann Wings of Fame No. 4 1996, p. 114.
  46. ^ a b "Directory: World Air Forces", Flight International, 11–17 November 2008.
  47. ^ Toh, Sandra. "Beyond Limits: Jet Training in France." Pioneer (MINDEF), August/September 2002. ISSN 00484199. Retrieved: 14 November 2010.
  48. ^ "A-4 IV Brigada Aerea Mendoza." Retrieved: 23 November 2010.
  49. ^ "A-4C Oliva - Cordoba." Retrieved: 23 November 2010.
  50. ^ "A-4P V Brigada Aérea de Villa Reynolds." 23 November 2010.
  51. ^ "MNA A-4B." 23 November 2010.
  52. ^ "MNA A-4C." 23 November 2010.
  53. ^ "A-4 Museo Naval - Tigre." 23 November 2010.
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  56. ^ "Blue Angels A-4E Skyhawk exhibit." National Museum of Naval Aviation.
  57. ^
  58. ^ "A-4 Specifications."
  59. ^ AN/APN - Equipment Listing
  60. ^ AN/APQ - Equipment Listing
  • Chant, Christopher. Air War in the Falklands 1982. Oxford, UK, Osprey Combat Airfcraft 28, 2001. ISBN 978-1-84176-293-7.
  • Dorr, Robert F. and Chris Bishop. Vietnam Air War Debrief. London: Aerospace Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-874023-78-6.
  • Drendel, Lou. A-4 Skyhawk in Action. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1973. ISBN 0-89747-010-9.
  • Elward, Brad. McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Ramsbury, Wiltshire, UK: Crowood Press, 2000. ISBN 1-86126-340-6.
  • Gann, Harry S. "Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Variant Briefing: Part 1". Wings of Fame, Volume 4. London: Aerospace Publishing, 1996, pp. 98–117. ISBN 1-874023-71-9.
  • Gann, Harry S. "Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Variant Briefing: Part 2: Export Versions". Wings of Fame, Volume 5. London: Aerospace Publishing, 1996, pp. 130–145. ISBN 1-874023-90-5.
  • Grossnick, Roy A. and William J. Armstrong. United States Naval Aviation, 1910–1995. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Historical Center, 1997. ISBN 0-16049-124-X.
  • Hobson, Chris. Vietnam Air Losses, USAF/USN/USMC, Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2001. ISBN 1-85780-1156.
  • Kilduff, Peter. Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. London: Osprey Publishing, 1983. ISBN 0-85045-529-4.
  • McCarthy, Donald J. Jr. MiG Killers: A Chronology of US Air Victories in Vietnam 1965-1973. 2009. ISBN 978-1-58007-136-9.
  • Parsons, Dave and Derek Nelson. Bandits!: Pictorial History of American Adversarial Aircraft. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1993. ISBN 0-87938-623-1.
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  • Wilson, Stewart. Phantom, Hornet and Skyhawk in Australian Service. Canberra, Australia: Aerospace Publications, 1993. ISBN 1-87567-103-X.

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