As early as 1963, Israel had expressed interest in the A-4 Skyhawk for the Tsvah Haganah le Israel/Heyl Ha'Avir (Israel Defense Forces/Air Force). Various options were considered, including the acquisition of Navy surplus A-4s as well as the possibility of building of new aircraft specifically for Israel. At that time, the US government had always vetoed such sales, out of a need to appear to be remaining neutral between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
In 1966, the US government changed its mind and allowed Israel to purchase Skyhawks. Part of the reason for this change of heart was because of the late-model American, British, and Soviet aircraft that had been recently delivered to Israel's Arab neighbors and it was felt that a balance of power should be maintained. A contract was signed in August of 1966 for 48 aircraft to be built for Israel under the designation A-4H.
The A-4H was based on the A-4E, but was optimized to operate from land bases. It was powered by the 9300 lb.s.t J52-P-8A engine, and was equipped with a modified vertical tail with a squared-off fintip containing an AN/APX-46 IFF. A container for a braking chute was added below the jet exhaust tailpipe. The arrestor hook was retained, even though the aircraft was designed to operate from land bases. Nosewheel steering was provided. The aft humpback avionics pack was not provided.
The first A-4H took off on its maiden flight at Palmdale, California on October 27, 1967 with test pilot John Lane at the controls. The first A-4Hs arrived in Israel in December of 1967, just after the Six Day War. When the planes reached Israel, two 30-mm DEFA cannon were added to the wing roots in place of the 20-mm guns, and several other local modifications were performed. By April of 1968, they were already in action against targets in Jordan.
The A-4H order was subsequently increased to a total of 90 aircraft. Since the aircraft were produced under US Navy contracts, they were assigned Bureau Numbers.
The TA-4H was a two-seat trainer version of the A-4H for Israel. The TA-4H was based on the US Navy TA-4J. Ten were built and delivered in 1967 to 1975.
Losses of A-4Hs were quite heavy during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. To make up for the losses, 46 A-4Es were hastily transferred from US Navy and Marine Corps units and delivered to Israel from the American aircraft carrier Independence sailing near Malta.
During and after the Yom Kippur War, surviving A-4Hs were fitted with extended jetpipes that were intended to make the aircraft less vulnerable to shoulder-launched SAMs. The principle was that any infrared homing missile which would strike the aircraft would explode at the end of the tailpipe rather than inside the engine, giving the plane a better chance to survive and return safely to base.
The Skyhawk has been largely replaced by the F-16 in front-line service with the Israeli air force, but substantial numbers of Skyhawks still remain in service. Additional Skyhawks have been placed in storage for future emergencies, and others have been offered for sale. 14 surplus A-4Es and two TA-4Hs were sold to Indonesia in 1979.
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