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Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

Light Attack Multirole Carrierborne Fighter Aircraft

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk naval jet fighter saw decades of service worldwide with nearly 3,000 aircraft produced.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 7/30/2019
National Flag Graphic


Year: 1956
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Manufacturer(s): McDonnell Douglas - USA
Production: 2,960
Capabilities: Fighter; Ground Attack; Navy/Maritime; Training;
Crew: 1
Length: 40.26 ft (12.27 m)
Width: 27.49 ft (8.38 m)
Height: 14.99 ft (4.57 m)
Weight (Empty): 10,465 lb (4,747 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 24,504 lb (11,115 kg)
Power: 1 x Pratt & Whitney J52-P-408 non-afterburning turbojet developing 11,200 lb of thrust.
Speed: 645 mph (1,038 kph; 560 kts)
Ceiling: 38,698 feet (11,795 m; 7.33 miles)
Range: 2,001 miles (3,220 km; 1,739 nm)
Rate-of-Climb: 10,300 ft/min (3,139 m/min)
Operators: Argentina; Australia; Brazil; Indonesia; Israel; Malaysia; New Zealand; Singapore; United States
The A-4 Skyhawk (nicknamed "Heinemann's Hot Rod" and the "Scooter") came about as a private venture when the Douglas corporation was seeking to replace the aging AD Skyraider (A-1 Skyraider) piston-engine aircraft. The successor to the A-1 was originally another piston-engine alternative known by the designation as the A-2D Skyshark, but powerplant issues shelved the project altogether. During this time, the A-4 Skyhawk was already in development as a small, lightweight jet-powered attack aircraft to which the US Navy took a fair amount of interest in.

Ed Heinemann was the chief designer of the A-4 Skyhawk while working at Douglas, which led to the development of nine Skyhawk prototypes designated as the XA4D-1 - the first of which flew on September in 1956. From there, the Pratt & Whitney J65-powered craft would go into full operational production as the A-4A Skyhawk.

The Pratt & Whitney powerplant was a British-designed and licensed Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet. The system was capable of producing over 8,000lbs or standard thrust (no afterburner was integrated to the engine) and the base powerplant could be found on the initial three A-4's - the A, B and C models.

The A-4E Skyhawk model stood as a vast improvement over previous models and served the US Navy featuring an overall heavier airframe but a Pratt & Whitney J52 powerplant. A successive model for the US Navy, the A-4F, proved to be the last model and featured further improvements on the A-4E, most notably the avionics-housing "hump" visible in the image above just behind the cockpit and running along the dorsal spine of the fuselage.

The United States Marine Corps took orders for the "Ultimate Skyhawk" in the A-4M Skyhawk II. This model featured an all-new enlarged canopy for improved pilot visibility. It also featured an increased MTOW capacity (nearly double of what the base A-4 could do) allowing for an additional array of weaponry to be fitted. The A-4M model was fitted with an even more powerful J52-P-408 powerplant that increase range and overall speed.

Export figures were decent, with Argentina becoming the initial customer. Others would soon follow including Israel, Malaysia, Kuwait, Brazil and Singapore. In the end, the A-4 Skyhawk proved its worth with decades of faithful service to the United States with the Navy and the Marine Corps both putting the aircraft through a rigorous pacing. The single powerplant was more than suitable for the role that the A-4 was designed to fulfill and the diminutive size when compared to other carrier aircraft was a good fit for carrier storage.


2 x 20mm Colt Mk 12 automatic internal cannons in wing roots (one gun per root).

Mission-specific weapons included any of the following:

AIM-9 "Sidewinder" short-range air-to-air missiles.
AGM-12 "Bullpup" air-to-surface missiles.
AGM-65 "Maverick" air-to-surface missiles.
AGM-45 "Shrike" anti-radiation missiles.
AGM-62 "Walleye" glide drop bombs.
LAU-10 rocket pods.
B43, B57 and B61 nuclear bombs.
Rockeye Mk 7 (cluster), Rockeye II Mark 20 (cluster) and Mark 80 conventional drop bombs.
3 x 370 Gallon jettisonable fuel tanks.

Maximum ordnance loads of up to 9,155lb (4,155 kg) across five external hardpoints (1 x Fuselage centerline; 4 x Underwing); Three internal positions plumbed for fuel stores.

Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Graphical image of an air-to-air missile weapon
Graphical image of a short-range air-to-air missile
Graphical image of an aircraft air-to-surface missile
Graphical image of an aircraft anti-radar/anti-radiation missile
Graphical image of an aircraft rocket pod
Graphical image of an air launched nuclear weapon
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Graphical image of an aircraft external fuel tank

Variants / Models

• XA4D-1 - Prototype Designation of which nine produced.
• A4D-1 - Initial Production Models pre-1962 reorganization.
• A-4A - Initial production model post-1962 designation; 166 examples completed.
• A-4B - Reinforced airframe; air-to-air capability added; improved avionics; AGM-12 Bullpup missile support; 542 examples completed.
• A-4C - Adverse weather variant with AN/APG-53A radar; powered by Wright J65-W-20 engine of 8,200lb thrust; 638 examples produced.
• A-4E - Refined variant; heavier airframe; powered by Pratt & Whitney J52 engine.
• A-4F - Final USN variant with fuselage "hump" housing additional avionics equipment.
• A-4M "Skyhawk II" - USMC variant with enlarged canopy for increased visibility; increased MTOW; more powerful J52-P-408 engine.
• TA-4F - Two-seat USN trainer Variant
• A-4P - Argentine Air Force export model
• A-4Q - Argentine Air Force export model
• A-4AR "Fightinghawks" - Argentine Air Force export model based on A-4M; updated avionics, HUD system and ARG-1 radar system.
• A-4H - Israeli export model based on A-4E variant.
• A-4N - Israeli export model based on A-4M variant.
• A-4S - Singapore export model
• A-4K - New Zealand export model with upgraded HUD, avionics, twin-CRT displays and HOTAS.
• T/A-4KU - Kuwaiti export model (resold to Brazil).
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