The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a single seat subsonic carrier-capable attack aircraft developed for the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps in the early 1950s. The delta winged, single turbojet engined Skyhawk was designed and produced by Douglas Aircraft Company, and later by McDonnell Douglas. It was originally designated A4D under the U.S. Navy's pre-1962 designation system.
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 more than 670 miles per hour (1,080 km/h). The aircraft's five hardpoints support a variety of missiles, bombs and other munitions. It was capable of carrying a bomb load equivalent to that of a World War II-era Boeing B-17 bomber, and could deliver nuclear weapons using a low-altitude bombing system and a "loft" delivery technique. The A-4 was originally powered by the Wright J65 turbojet engine; from the A-4E onwards, the Pratt & Whitney J52 was used.
Skyhawks played key roles in the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Falklands War. Sixty years after the aircraft's first flight in 1954, some of the 2,960 produced (through February 1979) remain in service with several air arms around the world.
Design and development
The XA4D-1 prototype in 1954
The Skyhawk was designed by Douglas Aircraft's Ed Heinemann in response to a U.S. Navy call for a jet-powered attack aircraft to replace the older Douglas AD Skyraider (later redesignated A-1 Skyraider). Heinemann opted for a design that would minimize its size, weight, and complexity. The result was an aircraft that weighed only half of the Navy's weight specification. It had a wing so compact that it did not need to be folded for carrier stowage. The first 500 production examples cost an average of $860,000 each, less than the Navy's one million dollar maximum. The diminutive Skyhawk soon received the nicknames "Scooter", "Kiddiecar", "Bantam Bomber", "Tinker Toy Bomber", and, on account of its speed and nimble performance, "Heinemann's Hot-Rod". The XA4D-1 prototype set a world speed record of 695.163 mph on October 15, 1955.
An IAF A-4N on static display. Note the extended tailpipe.
Israel was the largest export customer for Skyhawks. The Skyhawk was the first U.S. warplane to be offered to the Israeli Air Force, marking the point where the U.S. took over from France as Israel's chief military supplier. Deliveries began after the Six-Day War, and A-4s soon formed the backbone of the IAF's ground-attack force. In IAF Service, the A-4 Skyhawk was named as the Ayit (Hebrew: עיט, for Eagle).
They cost only a quarter of what a Phantom II cost and carried more bombs. Starting in 1966, Israel purchased 217 A-4s, plus another 46 that were transferred from U.S. units in Operation Nickel Grass to compensate for large losses during the Yom Kippur War.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Israeli Air Force Skyhawks were the primary ground attack aircraft in the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. Skyhawks carried out bombing missions in the Yom Kippur War, and a considerable proportion of the tactical sorties. They also suffered heavy losses, partially because of their relatively low penetration speed. The Skyhawks bore the brunt of losses to sophisticated SA-6 Gainful missile batteries and anti-aircraft guns. ACIG.org claims that at least 9 A-4 Skyhawks were downed by MiG-21s and MiG-17s during Yom Kippur war. Formal Israeli sources claim only five Israeli Air Force aircraft, of any type, were shot down in air-to-air duels.
In May 1970, an Israeli Skyhawk piloted by Col. Ezra Dotan shot down two MiG-17s over south Lebanon (one with unguided rockets, the other with 30mm cannon fire) even though the Skyhawk's heads-up display has no "air-to-air mode". However, up to three Skyhawks were downed by Egyptian MiG-21 fighters, plus two were downed by Soviet-piloted MiG-21s during the War of Attrition.
A special version of the A-4 was developed for the IAF, the A-4H. This was an A-4E which featured improved avionics and the improved thrust J52-P-8A engine. Armament consisted of twin DEFA 30 mm cannon in place of the Colt Mk.12 20 mm cannons. Later modifications included the avionics hump and an extended tailpipe, implemented in Israel by IAI. The extended tailpipe gave greater protection against heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles. A total of 90 A-4Hs were delivered, and were Heyl Ha'avir's (Israels Air Force) primary attack plane in the War of Attrition.
IAF A-4Hs awaiting disposal in 2009 following their retirement
In early 1973, the improved A-4N Skyhawk for Israel entered service, based on the A-4M models used by the U.S. Marine Corps. The different model Skyhawks carried out bombing missions in the Yom Kippur War, and a considerable proportion of the tactical sorties. They also attacked in Operation Peace for the Galilee, and one of them shot down a Syrian MiG-17.
The IAF also operated two-seat models, for operations as well as advanced training and retraining. The first training models arrived in 1967, with the first batch of Skyhawks. During the Yom Kippur war, the Skyhawk order of battle was reinforced with TA-4F and TA-4J models. The IAF selected in 2003 RADA Electronic Industries Ltd. to upgrade its A-4 trainer fleet with weapon delivery, navigation and training systems. Integration of a multifunction and Head-up Display produced an advanced Lead in fighter trainer for the IAF's future fighter pilots.
According to acig.org, two Israeli A-4 Skyhawks were downed by Syrian MiG-23s over northern Lebanon On 26 April 1981. Official Israeli Air Force statistics do not list any downing of Israeli warplanes since the Yom Kippur War.
During the 1982 Lebanon War an Israeli A-4 piloted by Aharon Achiaz was shot down over Lebanon by a SA-7 on 6 June 1982. Israel claimed this was one of its only two fixed-wing aircraft shot down over the Beqaa Valleyduring the air battle of 6 June 1982 to 11 June 1982 where 150 aircraft took part.
In October 2008, it was decided due to maintenance issues that the A-4 Skyhawk fleet would be withdrawn and replaced by more modern aircraft, able to perform equally well in the training role and, if required, close support and interdiction missions on the battlefield.Some of Israel's A-4s were later exported to Indonesia. The Skyhawks have been replaced by F-16s in combat roles but are still used for pilot training. All the remaining A-4s aircraft were to be fully phased out beginning by 2014 as the IAF accepts delivery of Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master jets. Skyhawks were used to drop leaflets to Gaza in 2012.
In July 2013, Israel began a program called Teuza (boldness) for the purpose of turning some military bases into sales lots for obsolete IDF equipment. Older models that are not suited for Israel's modern high-tech forces will be sold off, or sold for scrap if there are no buyers. A-4 Skyhawk jets are among those being offered.
On 13 December 2015, all remaining Israeli A-4 Skyhawks were retired from service. The retirement ceremony took place at Hatzerim IDF base.