Douglas A-4 Skyhawk: Attack and Close-Support Fighter Bomber

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Beginning with the A4D-5 later A-4E model, the external stores stations were increased from three hardpoints to five, upping external capacity to 8, pounds.


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None of these later upgrades would have been possible, however, without the sound foundation established by Heinemann and his team so many years before. Com parisons like this are routinely used in conceptual design, to gauge how heavy an airplane will need to be to perform its required mission. Drawing on the published literature, and comparing the A-4 to its peers across decades of jet aviation, it is readily apparent that the Skyhawk far exceeded the maximum takeoff weight that was considered the norm for a fighter -bomber of its size.

When viewed in this fashion, only a handful of strike aircraft, developed decades after the A-4 and with the benefit of composites and other structural technologies unavailable when it was designed, would actually exceed the standard the Skyhawk set. The A-4 formed the backbone of U.

Navy and Marine Corps close air support and strike capabilities throughout the Vietnam War.

Attack & Close-Support Fighter Bomber

Assigned to the most dangerous attack missions, the Skyhawk also racked up the most combat losses, though only one fell to an enemy MiG. All the other losses were attributed to groundfire or SAMs. The Skyhawk also flew into battle with the Israeli Air Force in the course of three wars.

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And in —nearly 40 years after the first prototype flew—the A-4 would again serve in combat during Operation Desert Storm, as part of the Kuwait air force. It has been more than 20 years since I graduated with my degree in aerospace engineering. Yet I still look back with admiration at what Heinemann and his El Segundo team accomplished.


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First, an airplane that is truly devoted to its task, whose design is not diluted by extraneous objectives, can achieve much and exceed all expectations. Second, I learned to be impressed more by results and less by titles.

I also learned that big solutions begin with little thought experiments, sketched out on small pieces of paper. When beginning a project, sketch out all your ideas and concepts. Dream a lot.

Let your mind freewheel. What flies today is an outgrowth of what flew yesterday. The knowledge of aeronautics has flowed from a wide range of sources, and designers benefit from the efforts of others. No single person could do it all.

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Douglas A-4 Skyhawk by Jim, Winchester

The A-4 was a remarkable achievement that served the U. Wonders that last a very long time. Engineer John Golan has worked in the U. Heinemann, Rosario Rausa and K. Heinemann believed in "simplifying and adding lightness" when it came to aircraft design. He had startled the Navy when he proposed a new attack plane that weighed only one-half the gross weight of the Navy specification.

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Using a delta-wing design with conventional tail surfaces, Heinemann was able to create a lightweight attack fighter that combined speed, range, and firepower into a tiny package. The prototype Douglas A-4 Skyhawk first flew on June 22, , and had a trouble-free test period, during which it set a new world's speed record for the kilometer, closed-circuit course of miles per hour.

This was at a time when the Navy's primary attack plane, the excellent Douglas Skyraider, topped out at mph.


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  6. The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk was a marvelous combat plane: tough and able to take punishment. More than 29 variants of the Skyhawk were used by the United States Navy and Marines, and it received further modifications while serving with foreign countries.

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    It was especially effective for Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Oddly enough, some of the A-4's most important service came in two noncombat arenas. First, it served as the official aircraft of the Blue Angels, the Navy aerial demonstration team, where its aerobatic ability was legendary. Then it operated in the Navy's Top Gun program as an "enemy" fighter because its small size, maneuverability, and speed made it a good stand-in for the Soviet MiG in mock combat.