Designed as the jet-age successor to the AD-1 Skyraider, the Douglas Aircraft engineers took a hard look at the growing cost and complexity of modern fighters. Charged to develop an “expendable” nuclear weapons delivery system, Douglas produced a nimble single-seater that made its reputation as the primary attack and ground support aircraft of the Vietnam Conflict for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Some 30 USN and USMC squadrons were equipped with A-4 variants by 1968, with over 2,000 produced in five major versions. Design work took place from 1950 to 1952, with the first contract issued on June 21, 1952, for a prototype.
First flying on June 22, 1954, the A-4 entered service with VA-72 on Sept. 26, 1956. The wingspan of only 27′ 6″ meant the A-4 did not require wing folding for carrier service. Its tricycle landing gear facilitated various ordinance combinations in Vietnam. Starting with the major revision of airframe and powerplant in July 1961, the Skyhawk shed its earlier nuclear function. The additional hard points gave the A-4E a total external load of 8,200 lbs. and a clear emphasis on the attack and ground support roles.
The A-4E was joined in country by the A-4F. Procured specifically for Vietnam, the A-4F’s new avionics installed behind the cockpit gave the Skyhawk its distinctive hump. Operating both from carriers at Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin and from airfields in South Vietnam, the Skyhawk earned the nickname “the Scooter” for its responsiveness in battle. That maneuverability was best seen in the A-4’s other highly-visible role — serving for 12 years (1974-1986) with the Blue Angels. Replacing another famous Vietnam era ship, the F-4 Phantom II, no other aircraft has served longer with the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron than the A-4. It was replaced in 1987 by the F/A-18 by the Blue Angels.
The A-4 faded from active duty in the 1970s, but found a new role in USN aggressor squadrons. The Marine Corps held onto its A-4Ms until the late 1980s. Many A-4s continued their careers with the naval reserves.
On loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation, the Arkansas Air Museum’s Skyhawk is an A-4C which saw tours of duty in the Vietnam Conflict. Among the duty stations for this Skyhawk were the USS Saratoga (CV-60), USS America (CV-66), USS Independence (CV-62) and USS Intrepid (CV-58). It saw its last duty with the reserve squadron based at Memphis, Tenn., and came to the Arkansas Air Museum in those markings. The Skyhawk was restored for static display by museum volunteers. The Skyhawk is displayed as it was seen service with VA-64 on the USS America.
The A-4C is on loan to the Arkansas Air Museum from the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla. It arrived in Fayetteville as surplus from the U.S. Naval Reserves, N.A.S. Memphis. It was refurbished to static display as it served on the USS America with VA-64 by the hard work of local volunteers.