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Douglas A-4 Skyhawk - United States, 1956

Detailing the development and operational history of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Light Attack Multirole Carrier-Borne Fighter Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 10/23/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Douglas A-4 Skyhawk  
Picture of Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk naval jet fighter saw decades of service worldwide with nearly 3,000 aircraft produced.

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.

Picture of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk
Picture of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

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.

Douglas A-4M Skyhawk II (Super Skyhawk) Specifications

Service Year: 1956
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Type: Light Attack Multirole Carrier-Borne Fighter Aircraft
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): McDonnell Douglas - USA
Total Production: 2,960

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 40.26 feet (12.27 meters)
Overall Width: 27.49 feet (8.38 meters)
Overall Height: 14.99 feet (4.57 meters)

Weight (Empty): 10,465 lb (4,747 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 24,504 lb (11,115 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 1 x Pratt & Whitney J52-P-408 non-afterburning turbojet developing 11,200 lb of thrust (standard).

Maximum Speed: 560 knots (645 mph; 1,038 kph)
Maximum Range: 1,739 nautical miles (2,001 miles; 3,220 km)
Service Ceiling: 38,698 feet (11,795 meters; 7.33 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 10,300 feet-per-minute (3,139 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

2 x 20mm Cannons (in wing roots)

Mission-specific weapons may include any of the following:

AIM-9 Sidewinder
Bullpup Air-to-Surface Missile
AGM-65 Maverick Air-to-Surface Missile

Max ordinance for the A-4 Skyhawk is reported to be 9,155lbs (4,155 kg).

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States of America.

Model Variants

XA4D-1 - Prototype Designation of which nine produced.
A4D-1 - First Production Models
A-4E - Improved throughout; Heavier airframe powered by a Pratt & Whitney J52 powerplant.
A-4F - Final Navy Version Skyhawk featuring noticeable "hump" on airframe spine housing additional avionics equipment.
A-4M Skyhawk II - United States Marine Corps Version featuring enlarged canopy for increased visibility, increased take-off weight and more powerful J52-P-408 powerplant.
TA-4F - Two-seat Navy trainer Variant
A-4P - Argentinian Export Model
A-4Q - Argentinian Export Model
A-4AR "Fightinghawks" - Argentinian Export Model based on A-4M variant with 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 Zeland Export Model with upgraded HUD, avionics, twin-CRT displays and HOTAS.
T/A-4KU - Kuwaiti Export Model (sold to Brazil and stationed on Sao Paulo aircraft carrier).

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