Military-Grade Awesome

Top Gun – Heinemann’s Hotrod the Douglas A4 Skyhawk

One gets physical with the pilots while the other checks out the rubber hoses.


Welcome back to the Top Gun posts. One of the unlikely stars of Top Gun was Jesters ride. The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk deserves far more than one post. Although it has already graced this site in several forms. What Top Gun showed us is its grace as a very unlikely fighter. A role it was never meant to do until a redesign very late in life.




The Douglas A-4 is very well known to aircraft nuts but less well known to people that we like to call normal. It would have its first flight right after Korea but would see modifications and use in foreign forces until modern day.  This is a distinction carried with the C-130 and B-52. Both designed and put in service at almost exactly at the same time.  So what made the A-4 special?



When Ed Heinemann designed the aircraft he had a couple goals in mind. One was that he didn’t want folding wings. This is a rather tall order. Especially in a very early Cold War aircraft. If you think about the aircraft of the era this is a darned near impossible order. So what’s the main advantage of this. Well it gives you a hugely strong wing. You get an aircraft that can carry almost its own weight in ordnance.   Skyhawks would carry a huge load during Vietnam for the US Navy.  After the war that maneuverability would be on display when the Blue Angels would choose them for display aircraft. An odd choice since they were not fighter aircraft. They did this for several reasons. The F4 Phantom was very costly to use with fuel and maintenance. The A4 did not have these issues.  A side benefit was that the A4 allowed them to do things at the show that the F4 couldn’t even dream of.


Hawk vs Bear FIGHT!


Which leads to Top Gun. The program looks for aircraft that are equivalent to Russian aircraft and the A4 fit the bill.  I will feature another aircraft that would be featured prominently in every movie of the era next that would serve the squadron there as well in my next post but the A4 did well. Maybe a bit too well. If you think about much we love multifunction aircraft and long range interceptors there is a problem when you come up against little Petey the Planes like the Skyhawk. The odds of an F-14 vs A-4 are slim. Let’s be honest a sidewinder would have taken care of the issue miles out but if it came down to a dogfight things would get interesting.   Kind of like how we have this image of an A-4 intercepting a AEW Bear above.


You can't afford an F/A-18? No problem. Lockheed has you covered.


Which is why in 2010 Lockheed Martin, proud new owners of Douglas, decided to come up a nice cheap alternative to the F/A-18 for countries without any real cash flow. This is the A-4AR. Really it should be called the F/A-4AR on a technicality. That’s right fifty years after Ed designed a light attack aircraft someone took the design to its logical conclusion and went full light fighter bomber with it. It gave it the electronics from a Hornet in the body of a Skyhawk.  It kind of tugs at my heartstrings to think that this thing even exists. I have to go see if it sold anywhere.


The A-4’s career has shown what you can do with something simple and with constant adoption to modern day needs. We are going to see her finally retired soon but its time for this workhorse to go to stud. May her offspring give us low cost single function offspring that last just as long. Who am kidding. This is the modern military.