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"How the A-4 Skyhawk Ruled the Skies" Topic

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661 hits since 22 Aug 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Aug 2017 4:37 p.m. PST

"Modern jet fighters continue to grow ever more complicated and more fantastically expensive. But some of the most influential aircraft in history succeeded instead because they could do their job pretty well at a very reasonable cost. Such was the case of the agile A-4 Skyhawk, a small but heavy-lifting attack jet that would carve out a major place for itself in American history—and also that of Israel and Argentina.

In 1952, Douglas aviation engineer Ed Heinemann sought to create a replacement for the Navy's AD1 Skyraider attack planes. He proposed to replace one of the largest single-engine fighter-bombers ever built with one of the smallest, lightest attack jets ever. At every turn, Heinemann engineered the Skyhawk to reduce weight and complexity, resulting in a combat jet that measured only twelve meters long and weighed only five tons empty. Even the delta wings on the "Tinkertoy Jet" were so small—little over eight meters from one wingtip to wingtip—that they did not need to fold for stowage inside a carrier. This featured, combined with short-takeoff-and-landing performance, made the Skyhawk particularly useful when it entered service in 1956, as the Navy still operated numerous smaller conventionally powered carriers with limited deck space.

Powered by a single J65 turbojet engine with two side-mounted air intakes, the Skyhawk proved agile but not especially fast, with a maximum speed of around 670 miles per hour—just below the speed of sound. The early-model Skyhawks lacked a radar for detecting and engaging enemy fighters, but at short range could employ heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles and two twenty-millimeter cannons for self-defense. But that was just as well: the Skyhawk's job was to pound enemy ground targets, and its three hardpoints could lug a hefty maximum bombload of eight to ten thousand pounds, which could include nuclear weapons.

The Skyhawk was cheap, reliable and effective, so the Navy and Marines ordered hundreds of them, with production eventually totaling at 2,500 in a wide variety of models. In the early 1960s, every U.S. Navy carrier had at least two attack squadrons of Skyhawks; the first nuclear supercarrier had four. The Skyhawk was swiftly improved in the A-4B variant with improved avionics and the capability for air-to-air refueling—not just with tanker aircraft, but even from one Skyhawk to another. Though the technique eventually fell out of favor as dedicated tankers became available, the tankers were retired at the turn of the century, and so fighter-to-fighter refueling was recently brought back in the Navy's Super Hornet fighters. The radar-equipped A-4C followed, giving the aircraft bad-weather and night-flying capability…"
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Mardaddy Inactive Member22 Aug 2017 8:11 p.m. PST

One of my top three favorite jets. I love the little hot rods.

"The A-4 exemplified virtues of simplicity and cost-efficiency that have seemingly been forgotten in modern warplane design. It was light and easy to handle, and could deliver a nasty punch at its targets, without being weighed down with capabilities unnecessary for its primary mission."

And that is why I love them.

Darkest Star Games Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Aug 2017 8:06 a.m. PST

Oh yes, the little old Scooter is one of my favs of all time! Also, my favorite Blue Angels aircraft to watch fly.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP23 Aug 2017 10:39 a.m. PST



Andrew Walters23 Aug 2017 12:36 p.m. PST

This exemplifies an interesting way that wargames differ from actual operations. In games the A-4 isn't much. When I have a choice it's nearly always better to choose another aircraft. In real life ease-of-use rules, and it's so easy to use A-4s that they end up everywhere.

I love to see them, though. Someday games will be better and the A-4 will get the respect on the board it did in the sky.

Toaster23 Aug 2017 1:56 p.m. PST

A friend reports standing next to a somewhat opinionated fellow at a RNZAF airshow and every move performed by the Skyhawks of Kiwi Red was met with "the Blue angles do it better" until the point where Kiwi Red did their signature move, a barrel roll by two aircraft plugged together with the buddy refueling system. Mr opinion tuned white picked his jaw up off the ground and never said another word.
Go the A4K.


StarCruiser25 Aug 2017 7:45 a.m. PST

And this also points to one of the issues with the modern US military… Over-obsession with "cool" gadgets, and bells and whistles.

Many of the more complex systems we use are very delicate and prone to failure (no need to hack them, they fail on their own just fine). Stealth aircraft, in particular, have so many operational issues that it's rather embarrassing to see their low availability ratings.

The various RAM panels seem have issues just staying attached to the aircraft!

SouthernPhantom26 Aug 2017 12:09 p.m. PST

There is a lot to be said for a simple, low-cost attack aircraft.

freecloud30 Aug 2017 2:32 a.m. PST

Love the Skyhawk, as mentioned above any real world Cold War air force you created would load up on them (maybe even today), but in game terms it carries a relatively light payload so you reach for the F4.

Ditto Jaguar

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