Douglas A-4 Skyhawk
Almost 3,000 of these aircraft were built in 25 years between 1954 and 1979. This figure alone gives some idea of the enormous success (both at home and abroad) of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, one of the most effective carrier-based attack planes, operational from 1956 and used in all the major engagements of the 1960s and 1970s. The program was launched when the US Navy decided it wanted a modern replacement of the Douglas A-1 Skyraider. The requirements were most exacting, but Ed Heinemann, chief designer at Douglas, managed to satisfy them all, proposing a plane whose maximum weight at take-off was practically half of the Navy specification weight, giving it increased payload capacity. The first prototype flew on June 22, 1954 and the first production model of the A4D-1 (designated A-4A after 1962) on August 14. There were many subsequent variants and sub-series derived from this model. The prototype of the A-4F version appeared on August 31, 1966, and deliveries of the 146 planes ordered by the US Navy took place between June 1967 and June 1968.
Ideal successor to the marvellous Skyraider, the Douglas A-4, a daytime fighter-bomber, was the favourite plane of land-based Marine units and was also widely used by US Navy squadrons, particularly after 1968. Some idea of the Skyhawk's capabilities can be judged by the fact that a single Marine squadron, the VMA-311, carried out a record number of 47,663 sorties between June 1965 and May 1971. The US Navy was so convinced of the aircraft's adaptability to this type of warfare that in 1966, after the initial experiences on the battlefield, it gave the order for production to be resumed so as to take delivery of a further 146 examples of the A-4F. Of all the planes used by the US Navy and US Marine Corps to carry out strike missions in Vietnam, the Skyhawks alone were responsible for over 50 percent; and they suffered the highest battle casualties, losing 196 machines, mainly because they were most often exposed to anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighters.