Douglas A-4K/TA-4K Skyhawk for New Zealand

Last revised November 16, 2001


The A-4K (plus its two-seat stablemate, the TA-4K) was a Skyhawk version built for New Zealand. In the early 1960s, the government of New Zealand went shopping for a replacement for its ageing Canberras. New Zealand had initially shown interest in the McDonnell Phantom, but the cost proved to be excessive and they turned to the Skyhawk, even though New Zealand has no aircraft carriers. On July 3, 1968, New Zealand ordered 10 single seat and four two-seat Skyhawks. They were to be designated A-4K and TA-4K, and were to be based on the A-4F and TA-4F respectively.

The A-4K/TA-4K was delivered with an arrester hook and a housing for a braking chute underneath the tailpipe. The A-4K was also delivered with the dorsal hump, but it was actually empty because of the lack of funding for any more avionics. However, it did made a useful baggage locker. In addition, the undernose fairing for the ALQ-100 ECM gear (which also was not fitted) was removed in service. The A-4K had a squared-off fintip containing an AN/APX-72 IFF system.

The first A-4K made its maiden flight on November 10, 1969, with Walter Smith at the controls.  The RNZAF Skyhawks were assigned US Navy BuNos for administrative purposes. They were also assigned RNZAF serials. All 14 New Zealand Skyhawks were delivered in 1970.   They were issued to to No. 75 Squadron, based at Ohakea. Their missions in case of war would have been close air support, anti-shipping, air defense, and reconnaissance

The Royal Australian Navy took the HMAS Melbourne out of service in 1982. Two years later, all ten of their surviving A-4G and TA-4G aircraft were transferred to New Zealand. Before delivery, they were upgraded to A-4K standards and given new RNZAF serial numbers. They were then assigned to Nos 2 and 75 Squadron.

After Australia had transferred its surviving Skyhawks to New Zealand, the two countries entered into an agreement in which No. 2 Squadron RNZAF would be based at Nowara, Australia. This was done in 1991, which greatly benefited both countries since it provided air defense for Australia as well as providing good training opportunities for New Zealand pilots.

In 1984, New Zealand began to consider its future defense options. They considered the possibility of purchasing new or used fighter and strike aircraft, but this was unattractive because of the high cost. Instead, New Zealand decided that they would upgrade the 22 Skyhawks that they already had. The J52-P-8A engine was retained, but the electronics were substantially upgraded. The retrofit program was given the name Project Kahu (Hawk). The AN/APG-53A radar was replaced by the AN/APG-66NZ, and the Litton LN-93 INAS, the Ferranti 4510 wide angle heads up display, the Vinten airborne video recording system the General Instruments ALR-66 radar warning receiver, and a Tracor ALR-39 chaff/flare dispenser were all installed. Because of advances in miniaturization, it was possible to incorporate these additional electronics items entirely within the fuselage without requiring the use of the dorsal hump. The Kahu-modified Skyhawk could be recognized by a bladelike ILS aerial on the leading edge of the vertical fin. The Kahu modified Skyhawk could carry the AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missile, the GBU-16 laser-guided bomb and the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground guided missile. The wing was rebuilt, the wiring was completely replaced, and the cockpit was completely rebuilt.

In December of 1998, recognizing that their Skyhawks were soon going to reach the end of their useful lives, the government of New Zealand announced that it was going to purchase a batch 28 Block 15 F-16A/B aircraft to replace the A-4K/TA-4Ks with Ns. 2 and 75 Squadron, beginning in March of 2000. This batch of F-16s had originally been purchased by Pakistan but had been embargoed by the US government because of concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program. They were kept in storage at AMARC awaiting the resolution of their fate. However, the whole deal became bogged down over financing questions and over domestic political issues. The Labour government of New Zealand felt that the cost of the F-16s was too high and that funds would be better spent on other areas of defense. However, the New Zealand Ministry of Defense felt that the current fleet of A-4s will not remain viable much longer, and that New Zealand urgently needs a modern combat aircraft. The debate came to an end on March 20, 2000, when the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that the plan to acquire the 28 ex-Pakistani F-16s had been dropped. The New Zealand A-4 Skyhawks will have to soldier on for the indefinite future.

Serials of Royal New Zealand Air Force Douglas A-4K/TA-4K Skyhawks


157904/157913	Douglas A-4K Skyhawk
				For Royal New Zealand AF.
				Assigned serial numbers NZ6201/NZ6210.
157914/157917	Douglas TA-4K Skyhawk
				For Royal New Zealand AF
				Assigned serial numbers NZ6251/NZ6254.
154903/154910	Douglas A-4G Skyhawk
				To Australia as N13-154903/154910 (RAN codes 882/889) November 1967.
					N13-154903 (RAN code 882) to RNZAF July 1984 as NZ6211.  
					N13-154904 (RAN code 883) to RNZAF July 1984 as NZ6212.  Now A-4K
					N13-154905 (RAN code 884) to RNZAF July 1984 as NZ6213.  Now A-4K
					N13-154908 (RAN code 887) to RNZAF July 1984 as NZ6214.  Now A-4K.
154911/154912	Douglas TA-4G Skyhawk
				To Australia as N13-154911/54912 (RAN code 880/881) November 1967.  
					Both to RNZAF as NZ6255 and NZ6256.  Now TA-4K
154970/155069	Douglas A-4F Skyhawk
				155052 (A-4G) to Australia as N13-155052 (RAN code 871) 
					Aug 1971.  To RNZAF Jul 1984 as NZ6215.  Now A-4K
				155061 (A-4G) to Australia as N13-155061 (RAN code 874) 
					Aug 1971.  To RNZAF Jul 1984 as NZ6216.  Now A-4K
				155063 (A-4G) to Australia as N13-155063 (RAN code 876) 
					Aug 1971.  To RNZAF Jul 1984 as NZ6217.  Now A-4K
				155069 (c/n 13885, RAN code 877) to Australia as N13-155069 in Aug 1971.
					To RNZAF as NZ6218 Jul 1984. 


Sources:


  1. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920, Vol 1, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1988

  2. American Combat Planes, 3rd Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  3. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  4. Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Variant Briefing: Part 1, Harry S. Gann, Wings of Fame, Vol 4, 1996.