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A-4 Skyhawks (Blue Angels Atrium)

The delta-wing A-4 Skyhawk brought high performance with weight-saving innovations, resulting in the premier light attack aircraft of the Cold War era. A-4s flew for Navy and Marine squadrons for 51 years from prototype to retirement, and logged more Vietnam combat missions than any other naval attack aircraft. They also served for over a decade with the Blue Angels, their famous diamond formation depicted here in the Museum's Blue Angels Atrium.

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 and also featuring a number of weight saving initiatives. 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 mph for class C aircraft over a 500 kilometer course, and on another flight two Skyhawks, each fitted with two 150-gallon 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. During the raids, the Skyhawk flown by Lieutenant Junior Grade Everett Alvarez was shot down, and he became the first Naval Aviator taken prisoner during the Vietnam War. All told, 195 carrier-based Skyhawks fell to enemy fire during the conflict.

In the skies over Vietnam, Skyhawks logged more combat missions than any other naval aircraft. Among those who flew the Skyhawk were Lieutenant Commander Michael Estocin, who during a flight on 20 April 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 and 1979, the Navy retiring its last Skyhawk in 2003, 51 years after the sea service issued a contract for the first prototype of the aircraft. During the years 1974—1986, the Blue Angels flew the A-4, three of the aircraft suspended in the Blue Angel Atrium having flown with the flight demonstration squadron during their service. All four of the aircraft flew combat missions during the Vietnam War.


Specifications

Manufacturer:Douglas Aircraft Company
Type:Light attack aircraft
Crew:Pilot
Powerplant: One 8,500 lb. static thrust Pratt & Whitney J52-P-6A engine
Dimensions: Length: 40 ft., 1 in.
Height: 15 ft., 2 in.
Wingspan: 27 ft., 6 in.
Weight: Empty: 9,853 lb.
Gross: 24,500 lb.
Performance: Max Speed: 673 mph at sea level
Ceiling: 33,800 ft.
Range: 2,525 miles
Armament:Two 20mm cannon and up to 8,200 lb. of ordnance

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