A-4 at a Glance
The Blue Angels flew the A-4 Skyhawk during the period 1974-1986.
Called the “Tinker Toy” because of its diminutive size, the A-4 bore the brunt of Naval Aviation’s strike effort during the Vietnam War.
Vietnam prisoners of war CDR Everett Alvarez, VADM James Stockdale and CAPT (later Senator) John McCain were shot down flying A-4s.
A study in simplicity, the A-4 Skyhawk resulted from Douglas Aircraft Company designer Ed Heinemann’s concern about the increasing weight and cost of combat aircraft appearing during the 1950s. The A-4 ran counter to this trend, incorporating a small delta wing that eliminated the need for a heavy wing-folding mechanism for improved storage aboard aircraft carriers. Additionally, engineers reduced the number of cockpit components and redesigned the pilot ejection system in order to reduce weight. Other measures included elimination of a heavy duty battery in favor of a fuselage stored wind driven generator, the removal of a back-up hydraulic system through use of gravity-dropped landing gear, and installation of a simplified air conditioning system that was one third the weight of those then available. In final form, the “Tinker Toy,” as pilots knew the A-4, bettered the Navy’s maximum weight restriction by more than half.
The reduced weight allowed for excellent performance. In 1959, an A-4 set a world speed record of over 695 M.P.H. for class C aircraft over a 500 kilometer course, and on another flight two Skyhawks, each fitted with two 150-gallon under wing drop tanks, flew 2,082 miles non-stop without in-flight refueling in a demonstration of the aircraft’s long-range capability. 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, the Skyhawk flown by Lieutenant (junior grade) Everett Alvarez shot down during the raids. Ejecting from his aircraft, he became the first naval aviator taken prisoner during the Vietnam War. All told, 195 carrier-based Skyhawks fell to enemy fire during the Vietnam War, among the pilots forced to eject from them and taken prisoner Medal of Honor recipient Commander (later Vice Admiral) James B. Stockdale and Lieutenant Commander (later Senator) John S. McCain, III.
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. Among those who flew the aircraft was Lieutenant Commander Michael Estocin, who during a flight on April 20, 1967, neutralized three surface-to-air missile sites in a strike over Haiphong, North Vietnam and subsequently made a fiery carrier landing in his badly damaged A-4. Shot down five days later, he received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
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. All told, over 20 versions of the Skyhawk were delivered to the U.S military and air forces of foreign nations, including Israel and Argentina, which took the aircraft into combat during the Arab/Israeli Wars and the Falkland Islands War respectively.
The Navy retired its last Skyhawk in 2003, fifty-one years after the sea service issued a contract for the first prototype of the aircraft.
The museum displays six examples of the Skyhawk. An A-4E (Bureau Number 149656) suspended in the Quarterdeck honors Attack Squadrons (VA) 163 and 164. Four examples of the A-4 (Bureau Numbers 150076, 154217, 154983, and 155033) form the diamond formation suspended in the Blue Angel Atrium. Displayed on the flight line behind the museum, A-4A (Bureau Number 137813) is the first non-prototype Skyhawk delivered to the Navy.
Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Company
Dimensions: Length: 40 ft., 1 ½ in.; Height: 15 ft., 2 in.; Wingspan: 27 ft., 6 in.
Weights: Empty: 9,853 lb.; Gross: 24,500 lb.
Power Plant: One 8,500 lb. static thrust Pratt & Whitney J52-P-6A engine
Performance: Maximum Speed: 673 M.P.H. at sea level; Service Ceiling: 33,800 ft.; Range: 2,525 miles
Armament: Two 20mm cannon and up to 8,200 lb. of ordnance