Artifact Spotlight: Douglas A-4B Skyhawk

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Few aircraft bear the designer’s trademark as the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The brainchild of legendary Douglas aircraft designer Edward H. Heinemann, the Skyhawk was the ultimate embodiment of his approach to “simplicate and add lightness” in a design of combat aircraft.

The Skyhawk was conceived as a small, light-weight, carrier-based attack bomber able to deliver nuclear weapons. Typical of Heinemann, he developed a design perfect for the mission. Unlike most carrier-based aircraft, the A-4 did not have folding wings. This allowed a much simpler, lighter wing enabling the A-4 to carry enormous weapons loads. Dubbed “Heinemann’s Hot Rod,” it first flew on June 22, 1954. Deliver to Navy and Marine Corps squadrons began in September 1956.

The A-4B was the second production version of the Skyhawk. The B model featured a midair refueling probe on the starboard side of the fuselage and could carry a 300-gallon “buddy” refueling tank to refuel; other aircraft in flight. Originally designated A-4D-2, the aircraft was first delivered to the Navy in September 1957, re-designated A-4B in 1962. A total of 542 A-4Bs were built.

During the Vietnam War, the A-4 was the primary attack bomber used by the U.S. Navy, also suffering the heaviest lost rate of any Naval aircraft. It was flown by the air forces of many nations, including in combat in Israel and Argentina. The A-4 also flew with the U.S. Navy’s Top Gun fighter school and the famous Blue Angels. When production ended in 1979, Douglas had built 2,960 Skyhawk of all variants.

Manufacturer:  Douglas Aircraft Company, El Segundo, California
Type:  Single-seat carrier-based light attack
Engine:  One Wright J65-W-16 turbojet; rated at 7,700 lbs. static thrust
Wingspan:  27 feet 6 inches (8.3 m)
Length:  39 feet 4 inches (11.9 m)
Height:  15 feet 2 inches (4.6 m)
Gross Weight:  17,535 pounds (7,953.7 kg)
Maximum Speed:  649 mph (1,044.4 km/h)
Range:  1,000 miles (1,609.3 km)
Ceiling:  41,800 feet (12,740.6 m)
Crew:  1

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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