In 1959, the A-4C went into production, with improvements in cockpit layout, safety features, radar equipment, and all-weather flying capability. Six hundred and thirty-eight A-4Cs were built, making it the most numerous A-4 model produced. In Vietnam, A-4s were used both in close support of ground troops and in attacking other ground targets in North Vietnam.
This A-4C (BuNo 148314) is displayed in its markings it had as a member of VA-76 (Navy attack squadron) on the USS Bon Homme Richard off the coast of Vietnam from March to June 1967.
The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a very versatile light attack-bomber that has been a U.S. Navy first-line aircraft for many years. Despite its relatively small size, it is able to carry a large and varied assortment of aerial weapons. Throughout the conflict in Vietnam, it was noted for its unusual accuracy in attacking selected ground targets. In the early 1950s some of the aircraft design group at the Douglas Aircraft Company became concerned by the trend toward increasing complexity and weight in combat aircraft. The group, led by Ed Heinemann, whose design philosophy was to "Simplicate and Add Lightness," proposed a new attack plane with a gross weight of about half the official specification weight of 30,000 lb. The Navy accepted the design, and an initial contract was let in June 1952. The designation A4D was later changed to A-4 when the Defense Department revised its aircraft designation system in 1962.
Unlike most other carrier-based aircraft, the A-4, with its relatively small wingspan, does not have folding wings. The elimination of this feature allowed a much simpler, lighter wing, which in turn allowed a much lighter aircraft. The A-4, or "Heinemann's Hotrod" as it was sometimes called, was first flown on June 22, 1954. The 7,200 lb.-thrust Curtiss-Wright J65-W-2 engines powered the first Skyhawks, but production models, A4D-ls (A-4As), used 7,700 lb.-thrust J65-W-4 engines. The first Skyhawks were delivered to Navy Attack Squadron VA-72 in October 1956. During the test program, Navy Lt. Gordon Grey set a new world speed record over a 500-kilometer closed course at 695 mph. The Skyhawk was the first attack plane to hold this record.
The next model of the Skyhawk was the A4D-2 (A-4B), which included provisions for inflight refueling (both as a receiver and as a tanker), a powered rudder, and some structural strengthening. The A4D-2N (A-4C), first flown in 1959, incorporated radar in the nose and an improved ejection seat. The next model, the A4D-5, was powered by the 8,500 lb.-thrust Pratt and Whitney J52-P-2 engine. This engine's lower fuel consumption improved the Skyhawk's range by about 25 percent. A two-seat version of the A-4E was produced for use as a Navy advanced trainer. The A-4F used a 9,300 lb.-thrust J52-P-8A engine and was equipped with a zero-zero ejection seat (safe ejection possible at zero altitude and zero airspeed) and new electronic gear mounted under a fuselage hump behind the cockpit.
One outstanding feature of the Skyhawk is the ability to carry a variety of external stores. The early A-4s carried bombs, missiles, fuel tanks, rockets, and gun pods, on three stations, a total of some 5,000 lb. Subsequent models could carry 8,200 lb. on five stations. The standard armament for the A-4 was two 20-mm machine guns. The A-4 was widely used by the Navy and Marines, and played a major combat role in Southeast Asia. The A-4 is also used by several foreign nations, including Argentina, Australia, and Israel.
The National Air and Space Museum's A-4C (BuNo 148314) was received from the Navy in July 1975. Just before its transfer, it was repainted in the markings it carried while assigned to VA-76 (Navy Attack Squadron) on the USS Bon Homme Richard when it was operating off the coast of Vietnam from March to June 1967.