Skyhawks Still Flying

 

Dateline: September 2017 Update (RED changes from last year and March 2017)

63 Years and still going strong….Hun reporting

 

We’re into our 6th year of tracking our Skyhawk flyers and time for the second 2017 update. Here goes….

 

Background:  Out of some 2960 A-4 aircraft produced by Douglas Aircraft, just how many are still flying around the country and the world? As the principle record keeper and contact maintainer for the Skyhawk community, it seemed pretty logical that the Association be the one to keep the count of ‘still flying’. So here we are, some 65 years after the initial government contract was awarded (June 1952), 63 years after Bob Rahn made the first flight (June 1954), and, as you’ll find below, there are about 46 Skyhawks still performing with speed and agility all over the world! It’s been a fine flying machine indeed! We’ll keep the report’s organization the same—militaries still flying, then contract services, private collections, and a final section on legacy operators—those no longer employing our A-4.

 

Military Service: Despite its age, the Skyhawk is a highly capable airframe, as you all well know. It’s very good at missions not requiring supersonic speeds and advanced radars and avionics, although some users have refitted their Skyhawks with formidable upgrades. Its main advantage from both government and contract flyer points of view is its cost (and capability). Two militaries around the world still fly the A-4 and a total of about 10 single seaters and 3 two seaters are currently flying in their service.

 

 
Argentina:  Argentina’s Air Force and Navy at one time operated close to 100 A-4B’s -- but retired those older airframes in 1999 after getting up to speed on their 1994 purchase of 32 A-4M’s and 4 OA-4M’s from the US government. Their redesignated A-4AR’s and OA-4AR’s are still operating in their 5th Air Brigade, although at much reduced numbers due mainly to budget, parts and maintenance difficulties. This past year, budget difficulties and some remaining embargo issues have them struggling even more. Without complete reporting from them, I’ll leave their numbers unchanged, but expect those to reflect very best case numbers. Credit them currently with 6 single seat and 1 dual seat flyers with another 12 close enough to be flyers to call ‘operational reserve’. 6 A-4AR/1 OA-4AR
 
 
Brazil:  The Brazilian Navy became a Skyhawk operator when it acquired 20/3 A-4KU and TA-4KU aircraft from the Kuwaiti government in 1998. Redesignated AF-1’s and AF-1A’s (2-seaters), these aircraft operated off the Brazilian Navy’s modernized French aircraft carrier San Paulo. About 10 years ago, a select dozen were picked to receive a major upgrade program to be conducted by Embraer from 2009 to 2015. The upgrade program has been slow but the new aircraft are now appearing on the flight line as AF-1B’s and AF-1C’s (2 seaters) with about 3 modernized aircraft currently available for operations. 1 modernized aircraft and pilot were lost last summer during security practice for the Olympics. Best guess? Three updated AF’s and possibly 3 more original AF’s available for proficiency flying. And it looks now like the San Paulo will be decommissioned rather than fixed. They expect 3 more upgraded aircraft to arrive in CY 2017. 2 AF-1B/1 AF-1C’s and 2 AF-1/1 AF-1A’s
 
Contract Services: I don’t remember having contract air services around while we served, but these days are different. With op tempo as high as it is, the airlines hiring, and current airframes being really expensive, it has become cost effective for the government and industry to contract out many air support requirements. Voila! Over the past dozens of years, many outfits have appeared with airplanes and crews ready to tow targets, act as cruise and anti-ship missiles, run air refueling evaluations, even provide close air support, to government and industry users. And, lately, the missions being contracted out even include “Red Air”! Throw us into THAT briar patch any day! There are four contract services which utilize the Skyhawk to provide air support and some 22 single seat and 5 TA-4’s are currently flying/available in their  service. As is the case with many of the privately owned Skyhawks, there is a mix of P-6, P-8, and P-408 engines, the N’s have Israeli tailpipe extensions and some fleets are flying with cold seats… But most of these aircraft “aren’t your Daddy’s airplane”…ESPECIALLY avionics…check out some of the cockpits for starters…

 

Draken International: Draken International, headed by Mr. Jared Isaacson, got into the A-4 business in 2012 when it put the finishing touches on the purchase of 8 well preserved New Zealand A-4K’s, 6 single seaters and two TA-4K’s. (See the Association’s “A-4 Ever” Fall 2014 issue) These are P-8 engined, glass cockpit and very upgraded Skyhawks. Then in the end of 2014, they bought 6 A-4N’s destined for the boneyard from BAE Industries who had just lost a support contract in Germany. Draken now has a very substantial air force in Lakeland, Florida that includes these A-4’s, and a mix of 15 assorted Aermacchi MB339’s, L39’s and a T33, all flying. A further 26 MIG21’s are on site, crated awaiting need, and 28 L159’s purchased and/or awaiting delivery! By the time you read this, about half of those L159’s will be on site. Sadly, one of the TA-4K’s (but not the pilot!) was lost in an engine failure mishap while doing contract work at a Nellis Red Flag  exercise this past summer (2017).       6 A-4K’s and 6 A-4N’s/1 TA-4K

 

 

 

Discovery Air (Canada): Discovery Air operates a wide ranging fleet of aircraft for contract services and supports the Canadian Armed Forces through its Discovery Air Defense Services (DADS) unit. The Skyhawk section of DADS is also known as Top Aces, USA. In December 2013, they completed the acquisition of ATSI of Mesa, AZ, which included 7 previously Israeli A-4N’s and 3 TA-4J’s. DADS also maintains a fleet of Donier Alpha Jets, Westwind 1124’s and is “quite well advanced” in talks for the acquisition of F-16 aircraft. They successfully outbid BAE for the German Air Force contract at Wittmund, Germany. Look for them to be in the hunt for US contracts as well. All of the N’s are in Germany, the T’s remain in Mesa, AZ.  7 A-4N’s/3 TA-4J

 

 

 

Teton Aviation Services: This air contract service has available about 10 privately owned aircraft ranging from MIG’s to a Citation and owner Dr. Rich Sugden brought TA-4J 154306 into flying status back in early November 2014.  1 TA-4J

 

 

 

Sky Resources (previously A4L LLC): This outfit acquired 9 of the Malaysian ‘parts aircraft’ in Arizona and has brought several of them into service under contract as orders come in. They have leased aircraft to both ATAC and Draken (below) in the past and have 3 flyers in Denison, TX. One or two more could be flying fairly soon after being contracted, with those spread through restoration facilities in Perryville, MO, Sherman, TX, and Bill Maszala’s storage facility, ATW Aviation, Inc., in Marana, AZ.  John “Flash” Starch (USMC aviator) has been tasked with rejuvenating operations and has 3 solid flyers ready for tasking.  3 A-4L

 

 

 

 

 

Private Collections: It’s good to be well established financially. You too can own a Skyhawk! Currently 5+ flyers are in private hands, 3 TA-4J, an A-4C (another one close!) and an A-4B. One of the flying TA-4J’s is for sale! Mike “Maj” McDougall has that A-4C very close to flying and another one on order!

 

Collings Foundation: Dedicated to preserving “the heritage of the sky”, this perhaps most well-known vintage aircraft foundation operates some 18 flying historical aircraft and maintains for display several more. Its TA-4J, N524CF, (below left), is often seen around the most popular air shows around the country. With FAA certification to fly back seaters returning, you too can fly again…for about $7500.    1 TA-4J

 

 

Warbird Heritage Foundation: Has a similar mission as the Collings Foundation (above right). It operates close to a dozen heritage warbirds in air shows and appearances around the country. It’s A-4B, N49WH, is actually owned by Mr. Paul Wood and first flew in late 2009. It also shows up in research as a Navy Legacy Flight warbird demonstration aircraft.  1 A-4B

 

 

 

 

 

Pacific Aero Ventures, LLC: Privately owned by Don Keating, this beautifully restored TA-4J (by Mike McDougal of Fighting Classics Restoration) is a fairly recent (2010) addition to the flying Skyhawks. Don has parts for possibly 2 more A-4’s for Mike to work on once he sells this N518TA beauty, currently flying regularly in the Seattle area. If I only had $2-3 million …     1 TA-4J