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A-4 (A4D) Skyhawk
A U.S. Navy A-4E Skyhawk of VA-164, from the USS Oriskany, en route to attack a target in North Vietnam during November 1967.
Role Attack aircraft, light 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 (historical)
United States Marine Corps (historical)
Israeli Air Force
Republic of Singapore Air Force
Number built 2,960
Unit cost
US$860,000 each for the first 500 units
Variants Lockheed Martin A-4AR Fightinghawk
McDonnell Douglas A-4G Skyhawk
ST Aerospace A-4SU Super Skyhawk

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a carrier-capable attack aircraft developed 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 by McDonnell Douglas. It was originally designated the A4D under the U.S. Navy's pre-1962 designation system.

The Skyhawk is a light-weight aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 24,500 pounds (11,100 kg) and has a top speed of more than 600 miles per hour (970 km/h). The aircraft's five hardpoints support a variety of missiles, bombs and other munitions and was capable of delivering nuclear weapons using a low altitude bombing system and a "loft" delivery technique. The A-4 was originally powered by the Wright J65 turbojet engine; from the A-4E onwards, the Pratt & Whitney J52 was used.

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 from the Brazilian Navy's aircraft carrier, São Paulo.

Design and development

The XA4D-1 prototype in 1954

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 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 (A-4B) refueling a F8U-1P (RF-8A)

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 Boeing 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 of Marine squadron (VMA-223) had the flags of all nations that operated the A-4 painted on its 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 U.S. 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 LTV 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 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II when the Navy downsized its aircraft for the Blue Angels demonstration team, until McDonnell Douglas 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 steams below.

Skyhawks were the U.S. Navy's primary light bomber used over North Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War while the USAF was flying the supersonic Republic F-105 Thunderchief; they were later supplanted by the A-7 Corsair II in the U.S. 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] 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 U.S. Navy A-4B Skyhawk squadrons were assigned to provide daytime fighter protection for anti-submarine warfare aircraft operating from some Essex-class U.S. 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 Grumman 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.[15][16] 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;[17] 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 Lộc. An Lộc 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 U.S. 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.[18] 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.[19] <

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 Forrestal fire.)

During the war, 362 A-4/TA-4F Skyhawks were lost to all causes. The U.S. Navy lost 271 A-4s, the U.S. 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.[20]

Training and adversary role

The A-4 Skyhawk, in the two-seat TA-4J configuration, was introduced to a training role replacing the TF-9J Cougar. 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-4Js 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, California; VA-127 (later VFA-127) at NAS Lemoore, California; VF-43 at NAS Oceana, Virginia; and VA-45 (later VF-45) at NAS Cecil Field, Florida until its later move to NAS Key West, Florida.

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 Barbers Point, Hawaii; VC-7 at NAS Miramar, California; VC-5 at NAS Cubi Point, Republic of 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, Virginia and VC-13 (later VFC-13) at NAS Miramar, California until its later move to NAS Fallon, Nevada.

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 modified A-4E/Fs. Modified aircraft, called "Mongoose", lost the dorsal hump, the 20 mm cannon with their ammo systems, and the external stores, although sometimes the centerline station was kept. The slats were fixed.[21]

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 NAS Dallas, Texas for the Naval Air Reserve. Many of the aviators that flew the four jets were attached to NAS Dallas, including the Commanding Officer of the air station. The aircraft were instrumental in training and development of Air Combat Maneuvers(ACM) for Naval Air Reserve fighter squadrons VF-201 and VF-202 flying the F-4 Phantom II and later the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The unit also completed several missions involving target towing to NAS Key West, Florida; NAS Kingsville, Texas, and deployments to NAS Miramar, California and NAS Fallon, Nevada for adversary support. The detachment was under the operational command of the Commander Fleet Logistics Support Wing (CFLSW), also based at NAS Dallas.


An IAF A-4N on static display. Note the extended tailpipe.

Israel was the largest export customer for Skyhawks. The Skyhawk was the first U.S. warplane to be offered to the Israeli Air Force, marking the point where the U.S. 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. In IAF Service, the A-4 Skyhawk was named as the Ayit (Hebrew: עיט‎, for Eagle).[22]

They cost only a quarter of what a Phantom II cost and carried more bombs. Since 1966, Israel purchased 217 A-4s, plus another 46 that were transferred from U.S. units in Operation Nickel Grass to compensate for large losses during the Yom Kippur War.[23]

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".[24]

A special version of the A-4 was developed for the IAF, the A-4H. This was an A-4E which featured improved avionics and the improved thrust J52-P-8A engine. Armament consisted of twin DEFA 30 mm cannon in place of the Colt Mk.12 20 mm cannons. Later modifications included the avionics hump and an extended tailpipe, implemented in Israel by IAI. The extended tailpipe gave greater protection against heat seeking surface to air missiles. A total of 90 A-4Hs were delivered, and were Heyl Ha'avir's(Israels Air Force) primary attack plane in the War of Attrition.[citation needed]

IAF A-4Hs awaiting disposal in 2009 following their retirement

In early 1973, the improved A-4N Skyhawk for Israel entered service, based on the A-4M models used by the U.S. Marine Corps. 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.[23] 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.[25][26][27] 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.[27]

In October 2008, it was decided due to maintenance issues that the A-4 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.[28] Some of Israel's A-4s were later exported to Indonesia. The Skyhawks have been replaced by F-16s in combat roles but are still used for pilot training. All the remaining A-4s aircraft will by fully phased out beginning by 2014 as the IAF accepts delivery of Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master jets.[29][30] Skyhawks were used to drop leaflets to Gaza in 2012.[31]

In July 2013, Israel began a program called Teuza (boldness) for the purpose of turning some military bases into sales lots for obsolete IDF equipment. Older models that are not suited for Israel's modern high-tech forces will be sold off, or sold for scrap if there are no buyers. A-4 Skyhawk jets are among those being offered.[32]


Twenty A-4G skyhawks were operated by the Royal Australian Navy for operation from HMAS Melbourne. These aircraft were acquired in two batches of ten Skyhawks in 1967 and 1971, and were primarily used to provide air defence for the fleet. Ten of the A-4Gs were destroyed in accidents, and all of the survivors were sold to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1984.

New Zealand

A RNZAF A-4K in 1982

In 1970, 14 A-4K aircraft were delivered to the Royal New Zealand Air Force. These were later joined by 10 A-4G Skyhawks from the Royal Australian Navy in 1984; all were converted to A-4K Kahu standard.

The RNZAF withdrew the Skyhawks from service in 2001 and placed in storage awaiting sale. Draken International signed an agreement with the New Zealand government in 2012 to purchase eight A-4Ks and associated equipment. The remaining aircraft were given to museums in New Zealand and Australia.[citation needed]


Argentina was the first foreign user of the Skyhawk and it had 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, Córdoba. The C model had five weapon pylons and could use AIM-9B Sidewinders air-to-air missiles.[citation needed]

Argentine Navy A-4Q 0655/3-A-202 in 2007

The Argentine Naval Aviation also bought the Skyhawk known as A-4Q in the form of 16 A-4Bs plus two for spare parts, modified with five weapon pylons and to carry AIM-9B Sidewinders. They were received in 1971 to replace Grumman F9F Panther and Grumman 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[33] 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).[34] Ejection seats did not work and there were many other mechanical faults.[35] 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

During the 1982 Falklands War (Malvinas War), Argentina deployed 48 Skyhawk warplanes (26 A-4P, 12 A-4C and 10 A-4Q aircraft).[36] Armed with unguided bombs and lacking any electronic or missile self-defense, Argentine Air Force Skyhawks sank the Type 42 destroyer Coventry and the Type 21 frigate Antelope as well as inflicting heavy damage on several others: RFA Sir Galahad (which was subsequently scuttled as a war grave), the Type 42 Glasgow, the Leander-class frigate Argonaut, the Type 22 frigate Broadsword, and 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 Ardent.[37]

In all, 22 Skyhawks (10 A-4Ps, nine A-4Cs, and three A-4Qs) were lost to all causes in the six-week-long war.[38] 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.[36]

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.[39]


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 Dassault Mirage F1s) operated as the Free Kuwait Air Force, flying 1,361 sorties during the liberation of Kuwait.[40] Twenty-three A-4s survived the conflict and the Iraqi invasion,[41] with only one A-4KU (KAF-828, BuNo. 160207) shot down by Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery on 17 January 1991.[42][43] The pilot, Mohammed Mubarak, ejected and was taken prisoner.[44] The remaining Kuwaiti Skyhawks were later sold to Brazil, where they currently serve aboard the aircraft carrier NAe São Paulo.[45]


Due to the declining relationship between Indonesia and Soviet Union, there were a lack of spare parts for military hardware supplied by the Communist Bloc. Soon, most of them were scrapped. The Indonesian Air Force acquired A-4 Skyhawks to replace its Il-28 Beagles and Tu-16 Badgers in a covert operation with Israel, since both countries did not maintain diplomatic relationships. These A-4s from were chosen because the IDF planned to retire its A-4 squadrons. The A-4 served the Indonesian Air Force from 1982 until 2003.[citation needed]


Brazilian Navy A-4 aboard aircraft carrier São Paulo (A12)

In 1997 Brazil negotiated a $70 million contract for purchase of 20 A-4KU and three TA-4KU Skyhawks from Kuwait. The Kuwaiti Skyhawks, modified A-4Ms and TA-4Js delivered in 1977, were among the last of those models built by Douglas. The Kuwaiti Skyhawks were selected by Brazil because of low flight time, excellent physical condition, and a favorable price tag. The Brazilian Navy Re-designated AF-1 and AF-1A Falcões (Hawks), the ex-Kuwaiti Skyhawks arrived in Arraial do Cabo on 5 September 1998.[46][47]

On 18 January 2001, an AF-1 trapped aboard the Brazilian aircraft carrier Minas Gerais (A11) and later was successfully catapulted, making Brazil's fixed-wing carrier force operational again after nearly two decades.[48] To replace the aging Minas Gerais, Brazil purchased the surplus French aircraft carrier Foch on 15 November 2001. Renamed São Paulo (A12), the "new" carrier received extensive refitting before becoming operational in 2003. Minas Gerais was decommissioned and retired that year.[49]

In 14 April 2009, Embraer signed a contract to modernize 12 Brazilian Navy jets nine AF-1s (single-seat) and three AF-1As (two-seat). This upgrading will fully restore the operating capacity of the Navy 1st Intercept and Attack Plane Squadron, for their joint mission with the naval and navy air force groups in the National's defense. The program includes restoring the aircraft and their current systems, as well as implementing new avionics, radar, power production and autonomous oxygen generating systems.[50]


VA-81 A4D-2 on the USS Forrestal in 1962.
U.S. Navy A-4B (A4D-2)

A-4C landing on the USS Kitty Hawk in 1966.

Republic of Singapore Air Force A-4SU Super Skyhawk


TA-4F Skyhawk of VA-164 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hancock in the early 1970s

A-4G of VF-805 takes a wire aboard HMAS Melbourne in 1980

Brazilian Navy AF-1 (A-4KU)

Naval Reserve A-4L of VA-203

A-4M of VMA-322

OA-4M of MAG-32 in 1990

Argentine Air Force A-4AR Fightinghawk

Argentine Navy A-4Q as a gate guardian at Mar del Plata

Original production variants

Prototype (pre 1962 designation)
(YA-4A, later A-4A): Flight test prototypes and pre-production aircraft. (pre 1962 designation)
see A-4A (pre 1962 designation)
see A-4B (pre 1962 designation)
see A-4C (pre 1962 designation)
Proposed advanced avionics version, none built, (pre 1962 designation).
Long-range version with new wings; cancelled.
Proposed version, none built. (pre 1962 designation)
Initial production version, 166 built
Strengthened aircraft and added air-to-air refueling capabilities, improved navigation and flight control systems, provision for AGM-12 Bullpup missile, 542 built.
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-4D: Designation not used to avoid confusion with the pre-1962 designation A4D.
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.
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.
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.[51][52]
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 U.S. 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.
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 A-4K standard.
A-4M Skyhawk II
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.
117 modified A-4Ms for the Israeli Air Force.
Conversion trainer - standard A-4F with extra seat for an instructor, 241 built.
two trainer versions of the A-4G built new, and two more modified from TA-4Fs.
25 trainer versions of the A-4H. Upgraded with more modern avionics, projected out of service date;2010.
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.
Four trainer versions of the above. A fifth was later assembled in NZ from spare parts.

Up-graded, modified and export variants

two A-4Es modified as prototypes of a trainer version.
four TA-4Fs converted for ECM training.
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.[53]
23 TA-4Fs modified for Forward Air Control duties for the USMC.
Remanufactured A-4Bs sold to Argentine Air Force known as A-4B by the Argentines.
Remanufactured A-4Bs sold to Argentine Navy.
Provisional designation for A-4Ms modified with the ARBS. Designation never adopted by the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps.[54]
A-4AR Fightinghawk
36 A-4Ms refurbished for Argentina.
OA-4AR Fightinghawk
Refurbished two-seat training version for Argentina.[55]
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.
three trainer versions of the above. Brazil purchased some of these second-hand and redesignated them AF-1A.
40 A-4Cs and A-4Ls refurbished for Royal Malaysian Air Force, incorporating many A-4M features (PTM stands for Peculiar to Malaysia).[56]
Unique trainer version for Royal Malaysian Air Force. Converted from A-4C/L airframes with 28" fuselage plug and second cockpit, similar to TA-4F/J (PTM stands for Peculiar to Malaysia).[56]
50 A-4Bs remanufactured for Republic of Singapore Air Force.
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.
50 A-4Cs remanufactured for Republic of Singapore Air Force.
eight trainer versions of the above. These were designated as TA-4S-1 to set it apart from the earlier batch of seven airframes.
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.
Brazilian Navy designation applied to 33 A-4KU and TA-4KU aircraft acquired from the Kuwaiti Air Force.


  • Israeli Air Force - retired from frontline duty in 2008, currently being used as advanced trainer, to be withdrawn by 2015 pending the full delivery of its replacement.
  • Republic of Singapore Air Force - retired from frontline duty in 2006, currently being used for Advance Jet Training (AJT) based at BA 120 Cazaux airbase in France.[59] To be withdrawn by 2013 pending the full delivery of its replacement.
 United States
  • Draken International - owns and operates 8 former New Zealand A-4K Skyhawks and 3 A-4L Skyhawks as an adversary squadron.

Former operators

Aircraft on display


A-4B (A-4P)
  • 142688: National Aeronautics Museum, Moron, Argentina.[60]
  • 142748: Brigada Aerea, Villa Reynolds, Argentina.[61]
  • 142749: Regional Interforce Museum, San Luis, Argentina.[62]
  • 142752: Aerospace Technical Museum, Córdoba, Argentina.[63]
  • 142757: Brigada Aerea, Mendoza, Argentina.[64]
  • 142773: Rio Cuarto Material Area, Las Higueras Airport, Argentina.[65]
  • 142803: Córdoba, Argentina.[66]
  • 142855: National Aeronautics Museum, Buenos Aires, Argentina.[67]
  • 144915: Naval Headquarters, Buenos Aires, Argentina.[68]
  • 144988: Flying Club, Batan, Argentina.[69]
A-4B (A-4Q)
  • 144882: Espora Naval Aviation Museum, Buenos Aires, Argentina.[70][71]
  • 154173: Aerospace Technical Museum, Córdoba, Argentina.[75]
  • 158477: Museo Santa Romana, San Luis, Argentina.[76]




  • 149964: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[78]
  • 150092: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[79]
  • 151179: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[80]
  • 152050: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[81]
  • 152099: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[82]
  • 155010: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[83]
  • 155254: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[84]
  • 155271: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[85]
  • 155287: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[86]
  • 155289: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[87]
  • 159816: Israeli Air Force Museum, Hatzerim Airbase, Beersheba, Israel.[88]


  • 151074: U.S. Naval Air Facility, Atsugi, Japan.[89]
  • 151095: Penie Medical Center, Tokushima, Japan.[90]
  • 154638: Iwakuni Marine Corps Station, Iwakuni, Japan.[91]



The Netherlands

  • 155052: Aviodrome National Luchtvaart-Themapark, Netherlands.[94]

New Zealand

  • 149516: RNZAF Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand.[95]

United States

  • 142112: Warbird Heritage Foundation, Lake Forest, Illinois.[96]
  • 147761: A-4 LCC, Anaheim, California.[97]
  • 147768: A-4 LCC, Anaheim, California.[98]
  • 148581: A-4 LCC, Anaheim, California.[99]
  • 152853: Advanced Training Systems International Inc., Mesa, Arizona.[100]
  • 153524: Collings Foundation, Stow, Massachusetts.[101]
  • 153672: Advanced Training Systems International Inc., Mesa, Arizona.[102]
  • 158128: Welcome L.A., Monroe, Washington.[103]
  • 158486: Pacific Aero Ventures LCC, Bellevue, Washington.[104]
  • 158730: Advanced Training Systems International Inc., Mesa, Arizona.[105]
  • 159078: BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services Inc., Mojave, California.[106]
  • 159530: BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services Inc., Mojave, California.[107]
  • 159533: Advanced Training Systems International Inc., Mesa, Arizona.[108]
  • 159536: Advanced Training Systems International Inc., Mesa, Arizona.[109]
  • 159542: BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services Inc., Mojave, California.[110]
  • 159544: Advanced Training Systems International Inc., Mesa, Arizona.[111]
  • 159545: BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services Inc., Mojave, California.[112]
  • 159805: BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services Inc., Mojave, California.[113]
  • 159815: BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services Inc., Mojave, California.[114]
  • 159823: Advanced Training Systems International Inc., Mesa, Arizona.[115]
On display
  • 145067: Plant 42 Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California.[158]
  • 145072: Air Victory Museum, Medford, New Jersey.[159]
  • 145082: Veterans Century of Sentries Park, Kenner, Louisiana.[160]
  • 145113: Dick Kleberg Park, Kingsville, Texas.[161]
  • 145122: Savannah State University, Savannah, Georgia.[162]
  • 145133: Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, California.[163]
  • 145135: Northland Community & Technical College, Thief River Falls, Minnesota.[164]
  • 147671: Southwest Florida Defense Antiquities Museum, Fort Myers, Florida.[165]
  • 147702: Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum, Pueblo, Colorado.[166]
  • 147708: Aviation Museum of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.[167]
  • 147715: Veterans Memorial Air Park, Meacham International Airport, Fort Worth, Texas.[168]
  • 147727: Porterville Municipal Airport, Porterville, California.[169]
  • 147733: Arkansas Air Museum, Fayetteville, Arkansas.[170]
  • 147750: Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana.[171]
  • 147767: Inde Mortorsports Ranch, Willcox, Arizona.[172]
  • 147772: Beaufort MCAS, South Carolina.[173]
  • 147787: Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, Alabama.[174]
  • 147788: NAS Jacksonville Air Park, Jacksonville, Florida.[175]
  • 147790: Quonset Air Museum, North Kingstown, Rhode Island.[176]
  • 147825: Santa Maria Museum of Flight, Santa Maria, California.[177]
  • 148314: National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C..[178]
  • 148316: Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California.[179]
  • 148463: Naval Station Great Lakes, Great Lakes, Illinois.[180]
  • 148485: Wall of Honor Veterans Memorial, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.[181]
  • 148490: I-10 rest stop, Santa Rosa County, Florida.[182]
  • 148491: Oregon Air & Space Museum, Eugene, Oregon.[183]
  • 148492: Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation and Aviation Museum, MCAS Miramar, California.[184]
  • 148500: Illinois Aviation Museum, Bolingbrook, Illinois.[185]
  • 148503: Aerospace Museum of California, Sacramento, California.[186]
  • 148516: NAS North Island, Coronado, California.[187]
  • 148517: San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, California.[188]
  • 148538: Hickory Aviation Museum, North Carolina.[189]
  • 148543: Virginia Aviation Museum, Richmond, Virginia.[190]
  • 148569: Louisiana Military Museum, Ruston, Louisiana.[191]
  • 148571: Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona.[192]
  • 148572: Cumberland High School, Crossville, Tennessee.[193]
  • 148610: Encinal High School, Alameda, California.[194]
  • 149508: Covington Municipal Airport, Covington, Tennessee.[195]
  • 149532: Castle Air Museum, Atwater, California.[196]
  • 149618: Freedom Park Naval Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.[197]
  • 149623: Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, Charleston, South Carolina.[198]
  • 149635: Mid-America Air Museum, Liberal, Kansas.[199]
  • 149636: Yanks Air Museum, Chino, California.[200]
  • 150581: Ontario Air and Space Museum, Ontario, Oregon.[201]
  • 150586: Yuma MCAS, Arizona.[202]
  • 150598: New Century Air Center, Olathe, Kansas.[203]
  • 152102: Naval Museum of Armament & Technology, Covington Municipal Airport, Tennessee.[219]
  • 154639: Aviation High School, Long Island City, New York.[232]
  • 158148: Quonset Air Museum, North Kingstown, Rhode Island.[257]
  • 158182: Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum, Horsham, Pennsylvania.[258]
  • 158195: Oakland Aviation Museum, Oakland, California.[259]
  • 158430: Sequatchie County Veterans Memorial Park, Dunlap, Tennessee.[260]
  • 159789: Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Ft. Worth, Texas.[261]
  • 160024: City of Havelock Visitor Center, Havelock, North Carolina.[262]
  • 160031: 12 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana, California.[263]
  • 160036: Prairie Aviation Museum, Bloomington, Illinois.[264]
  • 160255: Grenada High School, Grenada, Mississippi.[265]
  • 160264: Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation and Aviation Museum, MCAS Miramar, California.[266]

Specifications (A-4F Skyhawk)

Data from[267]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 (2 in OA-4F, TA-4F, TA-4J)
  • Length: 40 ft 3 in (12.22 m)
  • Wingspan: 26 ft 6 in (8.38 m)
  • Height: 15 ft (4.57 m)
  • Wing area: 259 ft² (24.15 m²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 0008-1.1-25 root, NACA 0005-0.825-50 tip
  • Empty weight: 10,450 lb (4,750 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 18,300 lb (8,318 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 24,500 lb (11,136 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney J52-P8A turbojet, 9,300 lbf (41 kN)


  • Maximum speed: 585 kn (673 mph, 1,077 km/h)
  • Range: 1,700 nmi (2,000 mi, 3,220 km)
  • Combat radius: 625 nmi, 1,158 km ()
  • Service ceiling: 42,250 ft (12,880 m)
  • Rate of climb: 8,440 ft/min (43 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 70.7 lb/ft² (344.4 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.51
  • g-limit: +8/-3 g



  • Bendix AN/APN-141 Low altitude radar altimeter (refitted to C and E, standard in the F)[268]
  • Stewart-Warner AN/APQ-145 Mapping & Ranging radar (mounted on A-4F, also found on A-4E/N/S/SU)[269]

Notable appearances in media

See also



  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." Air Victory Museum. Retrieved: 1 October 2012.
  5. "Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II." Museum of Flight. Retrieved: 1 October 2012.
  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. "VA 42, p. 15." Retrieved: 13 September 2009.
  15. "VA-93 Blue Blazers: Events 15 October 1963." Retrieved: 1 October 2012.
  16. "USS Bennington (CV-20)." Navysite. Retrieved: 1 October 2012.
  17. Dorr and Bishop 1996, pp. 34, 36.
  18. "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.
  19. Naval Review 1968, p. 13.
  20. Hobson 2001, pp. 269–270.
  22. "Squadrons: Units: The Flying Tiger." Israeli Air Force. Retrieved: 19 January 2012.
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Israel Defense Forces (IDF)." Retrieved: 30 September 2012.
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  26. "Lebanon Losses." Retrieved: 31 August 2010.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Tetro, Nicholas B. "Press reports of the capture of Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman." Retrieved: 31 August 2010.
  28. "Israel’s Skyhawk Scandal Leads to End of an Era." Retrieved: 30 March 2010.
  29. Egozi, Arie. "Israel selects Alenia Aermacchi M-346 for trainer deal." Retrieved: 17 February 2012.
  30. Katz, Yaakov. "Italy wins IAF with combat trainer jet bid." JPost. Retrieved: 16 February 2012.
  31. "Israeli Air Force using combat trainers to drop leaflets over Gaza" Retrieved: 3 February 2013.
  32. Israel's Military Equipment Disposals -, 16 July 2013
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  52. Elward 2000, p. 163.
  53. Elward 2000, pp. 71–72.
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  86. "A-4 Skyhawk/155287". Retrieved: 29 April 2013.
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