Douglas A-4M Skyhawk

Last revised November 6, 2001

The A-4M was a version of the Skyhawk specifically designed to fulfill a Marine Corps requirement for an attack aircraft which could fly close air support from short air strips close to the front lines. It was selected over the Ling-Temco-Vought A-7.

The A-4M was powered by a new version of the J52 engine, the J52-P-408, rated at 11,200 lb.s.t, which was 20 percent more powerful that the earlier J52-P-8A. The higher thrust of this engine markedly improved the short-field performance. The new engine was only one percent heaver and had no increase in specific fuel consumption. In addition, smokeless burner cans were installed to reduce the amount of visible engine exhaust. In addition, a self-contained engine starter was provided, and the electrical power generating capacity was increased by 60 percent.

The A-4M also featured a larger cockpit canopy to improve pilot visibility, especially toward the rear. A windshield similar to that used on the trainer version was installed, and the canopy was 3 inches wider.

A ribbon-type drag chute was installed underneath the engine tailpipe, similar to that on the A-4K and A-4K. This helped to slow the aircraft after touchdown, making it possible for the aircraft to operate from short airstrips.

The A-4M was fitted with a revised refuelling probe which canted out to starboard to precent interference with a wider-angle target acquisition system..

A new squared-off tip to the vertical tail was introduced, the reason for the change being the installation af an IFF antenna.

Authority to proceed with the A-4M was granted in May of 1969. Two A-4Fs (BuNos 155045 and 155049) were reworked into A-4M configuration at the factory to serve as prototypes. The first aircraft was flown on April 10, 1970 by test pilot Walt Smith.

Douglas gave the name Skyhawk II to the A-4M, but I don't think that this was official. Fleet deliveries began on February 26 1971. The first Marine Corps unit to receive the A-4M was VMA-324 at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. By 1976, all five active USMC light attack squadrons were using the A-4M.

During the ten-year production run of the A-4M, significant improvements were made. Among these was a new heads-up cockpit display. In addition an improved weapons display delivery system was installed which was integrated with an Elliott heads-up display which included both air to air and air to ground modes. A Hughes Angle/Rate Bombing System (ARBS) was installed which featured both television and laser tracking modes. The seeker for this system was installed in the extreme nose. The sensor package included a television camera and a laser spot tracing system to provide for acquisition and tracking of laser-designated targets. On either side of the nose sensors was an antenna for the ALR-45 radar warning system. Another antenna for the ALR-45 radar homing and warning system was fitted to the top of the vertical fin. Below the nose was an antenna for an ALQ-126 deception jammer transmitter and receiver system.  For a while, the Navy had considered redesignating the modified A-4M as A-4Y, but this was not adopted.

A total of 160 A-4Ms were built (including the two revised A-4Fs). The final A-4M was delivered on February 27, 1979, bringing Skyhawk production to an end. At the time, this was the longest production run for any American tactical aircraft--27 years.

The A-4Ms served with active-duty Marine Corps squadrons until February 27, 1990, when VMA-211 transferred its last A-4M to MAG-42, a reserve unit at NAS Alameda, California. This ended the operational career of the Skyhawk as an attack aircraft with Marine Corps and Navy regular squadrons. The A-4M continued to serve with Reserve units until 1994, when VMA-131 finally relinquished the last of its Skyhawks. This marked the end of service of attack Skyhawks with the US Navy and the US Marine Corps. After that date, the only Skyhawks in Navy or Marine Corps service were two-seat trainers.

Specification of Douglas A4D-5/A-4E Skyhawk:

Engine: One Pratt & Whitney J52-P-408 turbojet, rated at 11,187 lb.s.t. Performance: Maximum speed 687 mph at 5000 feet (clean), 666 mph at sea level. Cruising speed 483 mph. Stalling speed 139 mph. Combat ceiling 40,050 feet (clean). An altitude of 20,000 feet could be attained in 4 minutes. Combat radius 230 miles with a Mk 28 weapon, 680 miles with two 300-gallon drop tanks. Ferry range 2130 miles. Dimensions: Wingspan 27 feet 6 inches. Length 41 feet 4 inches, height 15 feet, Wing Area 260 square feet. Weights: 10,418 pounds empty, 18,500 pounds gross, 22,500 pounds maximum. Armament: Two 20-mm cannon with 100 rpg. Maximum weapons load 8200 pounds on four underwing pylons and one centerline pylon.

Serials of Douglas A-4M Skyhawks

158148/158196		Douglas A-4M Skyhawk
158412/158435		Douglas A-4M Skyhawk
159470/159493		Douglas A-4M Skyhawk
159778/159794		Douglas A-4M Skyhawk 
160022/160045		Douglas A-4M Skyhawk 
160241/160264		Douglas A-4M Skyhawk 


  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.