Douglas A-4F Skyhawk

Last revised November 16, 2001


The A-4F was the last attack Skyhawk version to be built for the Navy. It was also the first Skyhawk version to be produced entirely after the introduction of the new unified designation scheme of September 1962. Hence, it never had an "A4D" designation.

The A-4F was initially ordered in 1965 to make up for the heavy losses that Navy and Marine Corps Skyhawk units had suffered in Vietnam. The A-4F was based on the earlier A-4E, but differed in incorporating the nosewheel steering, upper wing lift spoilers, the Escapac 1C-3 ejector and the 9300 lb.s.t. Pratt & Whitney J52-P-8A engine that had been introduced on the TA-4F.

The last A-4E (BuNo 152101) was modified as the first A-4F and flew for the first time on August 31, 1966. Production aircraft were initially delivered to VA-23 and VA-93, which deployed to Southeast Asia in late 1967. A total of 147 A-4Fs were built.

During service, the A-4F was retrofitted with a humpbacked avionics compartment located on top of the fuselage immediately behind the cockpit. This compartment was provided for the installation of new types of special electronics equipment dictated by the requirements of the Vietnam War. This rather odd location was selected because there was no moe room left inside the Skyhawk fuselage for the installation of any more electronic equipment. Kits were supplied for aircraft already in the field and those aircraft still under construction at the factory were modified at the plant. This humpbacked pod was also retrofitted to all operational A-4E aircraft and to some A-4C aircraft as well.

Some late A-4Fs were fitted with an ALR-45 at the top of the vertical fin. In addition, a small chin-type DECM antenna was installed underneath the nose.

Douglas supplied 100 kits to enable the Navy's repair facilities to replace the J52-P-8A engine with the more powerful J52-P-408, rated at 11,200 lb.st. The installation of this engine resulted in a marked improvement in performance.

A-4F with Blue Angels

A bad accident with the Phantoms of the US Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team that took place on July 26, 1973 had caused the cancellation of the rest of their season. In addition, over the next few months an energy crisis had appeared in the United States, caused by an oil embargo arising out of the Yom Kippur War. This resulted in gasoline shortages, long lines at gas stations, and rapidly-rising energy costs. The Navy decided that it would be unwise from a public relations standpoint to fly expensive, fuel-guzzling aircraft in airshows during this energy crisis, and they went shopping for a less expensive, more fuel-efficient aircraft for the Blue Angels.

The team really wanted the F-14 Tomcat, but it was ruled out on the basis of cost. The Vought A-7 Corsair II was also considered, but was ruled out for the reason that the fleet had none to spare. The Navy decided to adopt the reconfigured A-4F for the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. Eight A-4F airframes were selected for initial modification. The J52-P-8 engine was replaced by the J52-P-408, the guns and the armor plating were removed, the avionics package was deleted, and a drogue chute was added. Load feel bungee-cords were added to provide additional nose-down stick forces during demonstration flights. A smoke system was fitted, and a foldable ladder was added for crew entry in the left gun position. Some additional ballast was added to the nose for balance. Fearful that they might open asymetrically during close formation flying in tight turns, the wing leading-edge slats were bolted shut.

Over the next few years, additional A-4Fs were modified for the team. A total of 18 different Skyhawks served with the Blue Angels. A TA-4J two-seater was also assigned to the team, and three other two seaters were used temporarily while the prime aircraft was under maintenance.

On July 13, 1985, two Blue Angels Skyhawks collided in midair during an airshow at the Niagra Falls Airport. Even before this accident, the Navy had been considering a change to the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet. This accident accelerated the changeover, and during the winter training season the team completed the conversion to the F/A-18A in preparation for the 1986 season.

As they completed their tours, some of the Blue Angels Skyhawks were reassigned to adversary squadrons, and the trainer was reassigned to Training Command. Others were donated to museums. There are, however, several A-4s in museums painted to represent Blue Angels Skyhawks, even though they never served with the unit.

In addition, re-engined A-4Fs were issued to adversarial flight teams as well as to some US Marine Corps reserve units.

Serials of Douglas A-4F Skyhawk


154172/154217		Douglas A-4F Skyhawk
154970/155069		Douglas A-4F Skyhawk

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, GordonSwanborough 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.

  5. Blue Angels--50 Years of Precision Flight, Nicholas A. Beronico and Marga B. Fritze, MBI Publishing Co, 1996.