The McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, a US Navy ground attack aircraft best known for its long and legendary career

Since the 1950s, the US Navy has requested a jet attack aircraft to replace the propeller A-1 Skyraider. In 1956, the first A-4 Skyhawk entered service, with the advantages of compactness, extremely light weight, and very small wingspan, that eliminated the need for a heavy wing-folding mechanism for improved storage aboard aircraft carriers. The A-4 Skyhawk was well suited to aircraft carriers and is the first Navy aircraft to be equipped with the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.

The delta-winged, single turbojet engined Skyhawk was designed and produced by Douglas Aircraft Company, and later by McDonnell Douglas. The Skyhawk is a relatively lightweight aircraft, with a maximum takeoff weight of 24,500 pounds (11,100 kg), and has a top speed of 670 miles per hour (1,080 km/h). The aircraft’s five hardpoints support a variety of missiles, bombs, and other munitions. It is capable of carrying a bomb load equivalent to that of a World War II–era Boeing B-17 bomber, and can deliver nuclear weapons using a low-altitude bombing system and a “loft” delivery technique.

A-4 Skyhawk
A-4 Skyhawk

The A-4 was originally powered by the Wright J65 turbojet engine; from the A-4E onwards, the Pratt & Whitney J52 engine was used, with 8,500 lbf (38 kN) thrust. The A-4 can reach a top speed of 585 kn (673 mph, 1,083 km/h) at sea level, a range of 1,008 nmi (1,160 mi, 1,867 km), and a rate of climb of 5,750 ft/min (29.2. m/s).

The A-4 Skyhawk has proven its worth with decades of loyal service to the United States with the Navy and the Marine Corps. A-4s participated in the first strikes of the Vietnam War in response to attacks against American destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf in August 1964. In the skies over Vietnam, Skyhawks logged more combat missions than any other naval aircraft, including notable strikes against bridges and power plants in North Vietnam and close air support of troops engaged in ground combat in South Vietnam.

Skyhawks played key roles in the Yom Kippur War, and the Falklands War. During the 1982 Falklands War, Argentina deployed 48 Skyhawk. Armed with unguided bombs and lacking any electronic or missile self-defense, Argentine Air Force Skyhawks sank the Type 42 destroyer Coventry and inflicted a variety of damage on several others.

Nearly 3,000 A-4s were produced between 1956 to 1979, their service including assignment to front line squadrons, duty as aggressor aircraft and the role of advanced trainers, the latter aircraft designated TA-4s and including two-seat cockpits. During the years 1974-1986, the A-4 also equipped the Blue Angels Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron. The Navy retired its last Skyhawk in 2003.

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