The Hotrod Squad
There's hardly a combat mission that the A-4 Skyhawk hasn't flown.
- By Graham Chandler
- Air & Space magazine, July 2004
(Page 4 of 5)
(I’ve also experienced a high-G roll in an A-4, though unintentionally. At the Patuxent River school one afternoon, during a maneuvering stability lesson in a two-place TA-4J trainer, I was doing a hard pullup when one of the leading edge slats deployed—yes, just one—snapping the craft from 5.5 Gs into a totally unexpected 360-degree roll, which banged our heads hard on the canopy. Once the Gs were unloaded, the aircraft recovered nicely.)
After Vietnam, the A-4s flew in the Yom Kippur War, the Falklands War, and the first Gulf war. By the time it retired, the A-4 had equipped 51 frontline Navy and Marine squadrons and eight overseas military services. Its career included more major wars than any other U.S.-made combat aircraft.
Besides red-air service, ATSI provides combat training to foreign military pilots who have just earned their wings. Unlike red air, combat training is conducted at ATSI’s own headquarters: the decommissioned Williams Road air base, outside Phoenix.
At the time of my visit, the students training at the school are from the United Arab Emirates. They are using the school’s A-4s and A-4 simulators to transition to Block 60 F-16s, 80 of which will be delivered to their country by 2008.
As Randy Clark and I stroll out of the ready room, we pass UAE students sitting on the edge of their soft leather chairs, listening to the morning flight briefings.
In the simulator room, I slide into the A-4’s snug cockpit. “Fits like a sports car,” Clark says, then goes on to explain the Skyhawk’s unique combat advantages: “She’s a high-subsonic airplane, and almost all engagements take place below 0.9 Mach.”
I ask what advantage this gives.
Clark begins to explain, using his hands to help. In the next simulator, a student glances over. “If you go by my A-4 at 1.2 and I’m doing 0.9, I can turn around faster than you can,” Clark says. “At 1.2 your turning radius is gonna be the state of Wyoming. My turning radius is very small. And if you held 1.2 you’d really get killed in a hurry. Because the missile that I launch at you by the time I get turned around is a Mach 3 missile, so you’re not gonna outrun it.”