Almost from the very beginning, Douglas had suggested to the Navy that a two-seat version of the Skyhawk would be useful, both as a trainer as well as for some types of combat missions where a second pair of eyes might be useful. These requests had always been turned down by the Navy out of budgetary considerations. However, in 1964 the Navy changed its mind and convinced the Department of Defense to allocate money for the building of two prototypes of a two-seat Skyhawk. One of the more convincing arguments for the utility of a two-seat Skyhawk trainer was that those single-seat Skyhawks then being used for stateside training could be released for combat duty in Vietnam
The existing A-4E contract was amended, calling for the last two A-4Es (BuNos 152102 and 152103) to be taken off the production line and modified into two-seaters under the designation TA-4E.
The TA-4E retained the engine, armament, and most of the airframe of the A-4E. A 28-inch fuselage plug was added that incorporated a second cockpit with a raised seat. Both cockpits were enclosed underneath a single large canopy that opened upward via a hinge at the rear. A set of dual controls were provided, and the two crew members sat on Escapac 1C-3 zero-zero rocket ejector seats. Wing lift spoilers were installed above the flaps in the upper wing trailing edge, which were designed to improve crosswind landing performance. Nosewheel steering was provided to allow for better control during crosswind taxiing and during ramp or carrier deck maneuvering. The TA-4E was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J52-P-8A engine, rated at 9300 lb.st.
TA-4E BuNo 152102 flew for the first time on June 30, 1965. Since the TA-4E incorporated many improvements over the A-4E, the designation was changed shortly thereafter to TA-4F to indicate that it was basically a new aircraft.
The TA-4F entered service in May 1966 with VA-125 at NAS Lemoore in California, which was an A-4 Combat Readiness Air Group. The TA-4F retained all of the combat capability of the single-seat Skyhawks. A total of 241 TA-4Fs were built, including the two aircraft originally ordered as TA-4Es. They were issued to a number of Navy and Marine Corps units, and most if not all of the Marine and Navy Skyhawk attack squadrons had at least one or two TA-4Fs assigned.
One of the more useful roles of the TA-4F was as forward air controller for the Marine Corps. They helped to direct Marine pilots and aircraft in identifying and pinpointing targets in Vietnam. 23 of these aircraft were later modified to the OA-4M configuration.
Four aircraft were modified as EA-4F electronic warfare trainers. They were modified to carry external stores that could electronically simulate the signals of Soviet missiles and aircraft. The four planes were issued to VA-33.
Many TA-4Fs were later converted to TA-4J configuration when they went through overhaul.
152102/152103 Douglas TA-4E Skyhawk 152846/152878 Douglas TA-4F Skyhawk 153459/153531 Douglas TA-4F Skyhawk 153660/153690 Douglas TA-4F Skyhawk 154287/154343 Douglas TA-4F Skyhawk 154614/154657 Douglas TA-4F Skyhawk