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A-4E Skyhawk

Designed to fill a carrier-based light attack role and as a nuclear delivery aircraft, McDonnell-Douglas's A-4 (A4D) Skyhawk became a mainstay in Navy and Marine Corps squadrons. The A-4 operated in naval attack squadrons from 1956 until 1987, but continued flying as a training aircraft long afterwards. Performing both close air support and deep strike missions, the Skyhawk gained fame during the Vietnam War. Hanging in the east Quarterdeck near the IMAX ticket counter, this A-4 Skyhawk is in the livery of the aircraft flown by Lieutenant Commander (later Senator) John McCain, shot down over Hanoi in October 1967.

Nicknamed "Heinemann's Hot Rod," the A-4 responded to Navy and Marine Corps needs for a low-cost, light-weight, low-maintenance, carrier-based attack aircraft. Its versatile design enabled it to fulfill the light attack and close air support missions, but also made it capable of delivering tactical nuclear weapons. Designer Ed Heinemann literally designed the aircraft overnight. His unique approach produced an aircraft weighing less than half of the Navy's original specification, and incorporating design features that not only reduced weight, but because of the aircraft's simplicity, proved easy to maintain.

Its small size made it ideal for carrier operations. Until the introduction of the Vought A-7 to Navy service in the late 1960s, the A-4 represented the standard deck multiple (1.0) for carrier deck loading, against which the footprints of other carrier aircraft were measured. During its service life, nearly 3,000 Skyhawks were produced in nine different models. The initial power plant for the A-4A through C models was the 7,800 lb. thrust Wright J-65. The A-4E, introduced to fleet service in 1962, incorporated the new Pratt & Whitney J-52P-6 engine, improving thrust to 8,500 lb. The improved fuel consumption of the J-52 increased range by 27 percent while facilitating the addition of two more wing stations. Later, the A-4F and the trainer version, the TA-4F, were equipped with the J-52P-8A , upping thrust to 9,300 lb. A second trainer version, the stripped-down TA-4J, was powered by the J-52P-6A engine.

In 1970, McDonnell Douglas introduced the last of the series, the A-4M, destined only for the Marine Corps. The upgraded design incorporated many long-desired improvements: an enlarged canopy, a drag chute for short field operation, and increased ammunition capacity. The greatest improvement, however, was installation of the P&W J-52P-408 engine, boosting thrust to 11,600 lb. This made the agile A-4M equal in performance to the Soviet MiG-21 fighter and added the role of adversary aircraft for training Navy and Marine Corps fighter pilots.

The aircraft displayed is an A-4E in the livery of VA-163, part of Carrier Air Wing Sixteen, serving aboard USS Oriskany. VH-303 represents the aircraft flown by Lieutenant Commander John McCain, shot down over Hanoi in October 1967. The future Senator from Arizona and presidential candidate remained a POW for more than five years.


Manufacturer:Douglas Aircraft Company
Type:Light attack aircraft
Powerplant: One 8,500 lb. static thrust Pratt & Whitney J52-P-6A engine

Length: 40 ft., 1 in.
Height: 15 ft., 2 in.
Wingspan: 27 ft., 6 in.


Empty: 9,853 lb.
Gross: 24,500 lb.


Max Speed: 673 mph at sea level
Ceiling: 33,800 ft.
Range: 2,525 miles


Two 20mm cannon and up to 8,200 lb. of ordnance

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