Aug 27

Short Service Life; Long Display Life

Thursday, August 27, 2015 6:00 AM


A4D-2 Skyhawk

A4D-2 Skyhawk BuNo. 139968 on display at the Naval Academy, viewed from the Observatory.

One chilly December night in 1976, nearly the entire Naval Academy Cass of 1980 gathered in front of the Halsey Field House, dressed in their white works and sweats. It was the week of the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia, and spirits were running high after the 38-10 trouncing the team had given the Army’s squad. They were a class with a purpose. The object of their mission: the A4D-1 Skyhawk on display by Worden Field.

The Skyhawk was a high-visibility target, having been placed by the parade grounds specifically for its visibility. One midshipman produced a saw, and soon the stanchions anchoring the plane in place were done away with. With nothing but their brawn, the class pushed the now-mobile aircraft through the streets of the Yard, carried it up two steep sets of stairs, and placed it square in the center of Rickover Terrace by the Nimitz Library. Another year’s prank well-done—though, reputedly, their class recreation fund would take a hit to move the Skyhawk back to its home.

Many classes that have passed through the Academy have had their fun with the aircraft, but few know of its history.

The Skyhawk was developed by Douglas Aircraft Corporation’s top designer, Ed Heinemann, who had already achieved fame with his designs for the SBD Dauntless, A-26 Invader, and others. It was a small, lightweight, and very nimble aircraft—so much so that it earned the nickname of “Heinemann’s Hot Rod” among some pilots.

The Skyhawk was a versatile and reliable aircraft. The type first entered into service in 1956, and came to be one of the workhorses of both the Navy and the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and long thereafter. The last airframe was retired from Navy service in 2003, ending a service life of nearly 50 years.

Skyhawk 1958.

Four A4 Skyhawk aircraft, including the aircraft featured in this post, of VA-34 fly past the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) at sea on 17 February 1958. (U.S. Navy)

The Skyhawk at the Naval Academy, Bureau Number (BuNo) 139968, rolled off Douglas’ assembly lines in El Segundo and Long Beach, California, about 1956. From February 1957 to 1958 it was assigned to Attack Squadron (VA) 34 on board the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) as “AC-305.” In 1959, it was assigned to Fighter Squadron (VF) 21, the “Freelancers,” which was redesignated from Squadron VF-64 that July.

But the group was instead equipped with the F3H-3 Demon, and so this Skyhawk was stricken on 12 June 1959. From there, it came to the Academy.

For a number of years, aircraft was painted in the livery of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214, the “Black Sheep” Squadron, which flew 14,000 hours in combat, 13,000 sorties, dropped more than 10,000 tons of ordnance, and received a Navy Unit Commendation for its service in Vietnam.

In 2004, the aircraft was moved in front of Fire Station No. 1, down from Academy Gate 8, in an effort to discourage future (and increasingly costly) efforts by midshipmen to move the plane.

Holloway 1958

Commander Holloway seated in the cockpit of his Douglas A4D-2 Skyhawk attack aircraft, while serving as commanding officer of Attack Squadron 83, on board the USS Essex (CVA-9), 25 June 1958. (U.S. Navy)

The A4D-2 currently wears the livery of Skyhawk no. 142176—that flown by Commander (and future Chief of Naval Operations) James L. Holloway III when he was commanding office of VA-83, the “Rampagers,” on board the USS Essex in 1958. Admiral Holloway also has the distinction of being one of the founding members of the Skyhawk Association, a group dedicated to preserving information and memories of the aircraft type.

Holloway cockpit

Cockpit of the Skyhawk, showing the plane as named for then-CDR James L. Holloway, III, USN.

Logo of Squadron VA-83, as painted on the Skyhawk.

Logo of Squadron VA-83, as painted on the Skyhawk.


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