Thursday, December 17, 2015

Israel bids farewell to an old warhawk

The Israeli Air Force has retired its last A-4 Skyhawk aircraft, having acquired over 250 of them since 1967.  The light attack aircraft was the mainstay of the IAF's strike forces, as it was for the US Navy and Marine Corps in Vietnam.  In recent years its single-seat strike versions had been retired, but the two-seat training versions soldiered on until last weekend.  YNet News reports:

48 years have passed since the first American-built McDonnell Douglas A4 Skyhawk landed in Israel, with the anniversary being marked by an official parting ceremony at Hatzerim air base on Sunday. The ceremony featured a flyover, and the veteran jet's last official flight with the IAF.

The Air Force parted with the "Ayit," Hebrew for eagle – the name given to the Skyhawk, with three active duty Major Generals: Air Force Commander Amir Eshel, Head of the Manpower Division Hagai Toplonski, and Head of the Planning Directorate Amikam Norkin, piloting three of the jets flying overhead – alongside other active duty pilots.

"Ayit pilots marked great historical events in the history of aerial combat," Air Force Commander Amir Eshel said, "Many of the force's achievements are the outcome of the combination between the small plane and the greatness of its pilots.

. . .

According to the Air Force, "The Skyhawk era in Israel was opened on December 29, 1967 when the first four Skyhawks were unloaded from a ship which arrived at the Haifa Port and absorbed into the "Valley" and the "Flying Tiger" Squadrons, established especially for the arrival of the new aircraft."

The Skyhawk jets led the American Aircraft era in the IAF and it was one of the IAF's veteran and most reliable aircraft and leaves behind it a legacy of successful operations, as it took part in every Israeli campaign ever since it entered service and even served as the IAF's primary strike jet in the "War of Attrition".

"During the "Yom Kippur" War, the Skyhawk Squadron aircrews took off to about 1000 operational sorties in the southern front. About half of the aircraft were hit during combat and six aircrew members ejected from their aircraft in enemy territory, and seven were killed," according to the Air Force.

There's more at the link.

Ed Heinemann's design was iconic in many ways;  he brought it in at less than half the all-up weight specified by the US Navy, and it was so small it didn't need folding wings to deploy aboard an aircraft carrier.  It was beloved of its pilots, and acquired a stellar reputation in its field.  The A-4 became one of the most successful light strike aircraft in the history of aviation. This documentary program summarizes its history and accomplishments.

There's an active A-4 Skyhawk Association, with its own YouTube channel, and many books have been written about their experiences by former pilots of the aircraft.  (I particularly recommend 'Rampant Raider' by Stephen Gray, which is in my opinion one of the best military aviation memoirs to come out of the Vietnam War.)

There are just three countries still operating the Skyhawk, all in a support role:  Argentina, Brazil and Singapore.  It's unlikely that they'll continue to do so for very much longer, as the airframes must be getting to the end of their service lifespans.  Several civilian operators still fly upgraded and rebuilt Skyhawks in support of US military aviation training programs.



Anonymous said...

I've always wondered if cash strapped nations couldn't outfit small, agile, older fighters with helmet mounted sights and advanced IR missiles. If you've got dozens or hundreds of serviceable MiG-19-21s or A-4s, F-5s in your inventory armed with archers or aim-9xs they might give pause to an adversary with a fewer number of more advanced fighters.

Quartermaster said...

Somtime ago, Over at XBradTC's place, he posted an article about Brazil letting a contract to update their A-4s. I think they're planning to keep theirs around for awhile longer.

Old NFO said...

720 degrees per second roll rate... :-) An E-Ticket ride!!!

Murphy's Law said...

The Blue Angels used to put on a hell of a show with those, doing manuevers that the larger, heavier F-18 can't do.

Aaron said...

Awesome aircraft with incredible history. It's too bad they can't be imported here and put on the civilian market.

astrodominant said...

One of the best aircraft designs in history. Amazing plane.

kamas716 said...

My dad was an airframe mechanic for the A-4 with VA-45 when he served aboard the Intrepid on its farewell voyage around the Med in '72. From the stories he's told, the pilots were...not well adjusted individuals. Lack of respect for NATO leadership would be an understatement.