Douglas A-4M Skyhawk restored to its former glory by Fleet Readiness Center East at MCAS Cherry Point

Douglas A-4M Skyhawk restored to its former glory

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) artisans at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, recently had the rare opportunity to restore a piece of aviation history for display onboard MCAS Cherry Point.

As an aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, FRCE’s Aircraft Clean and Paint shops prime and paint each aircraft that passes through the facility. However, artisans had the chance to “travel back in time” as they restored a retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk – a platform that has not been serviced by the depot in more than 20 years – to its former glory.

Having been in an aircraft storage facility for many years, the retired A-4M Skyhawk was in need of repair upon arrival at Fleet Readiness Center East.

Working on the A-4 was a first for many FRCE artisans, including aircraft painter Kirby Mills, as it has been 21 years since the Navy retired its last A-4 Skyhawk in 2003.

“I’ve done a few restorations for display aircraft, but this is the first A-4 I’ve seen come through here,” said Mills in a NAVAIR news release. “I had never worked on an A-4 before. It was very neat and it’s nice to see it put to use.”

Fleet Readiness Center East Aircraft Paint Shop artisans prepare the historic Douglas A-4M Skyhawk for a fresh coat of paint by sanding the surface to remove any old paint.

A-4M Skyhawk restored for historical display

Though this was the depot’s first time restoring an A-4 Skyhawk for historical display, it was not the first time FRCE has performed maintenance on an A-4. Prior the A-4 platform’s retirement, FRCE serviced A-4s from 1989-1996.

Stephen T. Gurley, who currently serves as the Fleet Support Team’s Critical Item Management Team branch head at FRCE, said seeing an A-4 back at the depot made him feel as though he traveled back in time.

Fleet Readiness Center East Aircraft Paint Shop artisans apply the first coats of paint to the retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk. The aircraft will serve as a historical display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

“The A-4 platform was the first aircraft platform I worked on at FRC East in 1991, and I spent a lot of time working on them,” said Gurley. “I traveled to different squadrons all throughout the ‘90s to repair A-4s, and now to hear about this, it’s exciting. It brings back memories.”

The first A-4

Aircraft Transfer Branch planner Jeffrey Mitchell said this project was unique because it has a one-of-a-kind paint scheme.

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) Aircraft Paint Shop artisans apply stencils to the retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk to ensure the placement and quality of the aircraft’s major markings and insignia. FRCE Artisans worked with local historians to design a historically accurate paint scheme.

“This is the fourth historical aircraft we have done for the air station, but the first A-4,” said Mitchell. “This project was chosen to honor Marine Attack Squadron 223 here on base, who flew the A-4 until ’87 when they received their first McDonald-Douglas AV-8.”

FRCE’s Aircraft Paint Shop provides paint schemes for the aircraft the depot services, but due to the A-4’s historic ties, Mitchell and his team sought additional help.

“We worked with historians at Marine Attack Squadron 223 for this aircraft’s paint scheme as the squadron is still stationed here,” said Mitchell. “We were able to get pictures and ideas from them, they were very helpful; we wanted to make this aircraft look like it did back in the day.”

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) recently restored a retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk. The aircraft will be a historical display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, to honor local Marine Attack Squadron 223, who are known for being the last operational A-4 squadron on the East Coast. For many FRCE artisans, this was their first time working on an A-4, which made for a unique experience.

Creative freedom with paint scheme

Mills said due to the nature of this restoration, they were able to put their own touches on the aircraft’s paint scheme.

“It was nice to have a bit of our own creative freedom with this paint scheme,” Mills added.

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) artisans transport the restored Douglas A-4M Skyhawk to temporary storage until it is moved to its final home as a historic display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. FRCE artisans worked with the air station’s historians to develop a unique paint scheme that honors a local Marine Corps squadron.

In addition to a unique paint scheme, Mitchell said restoring historical aircraft for display differs from the processes used to paint the operational aircraft the depot normally services.

“We still painted it with the same color schemes as what they used during that time, but the overall paint job does differ from a regular aircraft painting process,” said Mitchell. “When you see aircraft flying missions, they usually look weathered and dull. For restoration jobs, we put a good clear coat on the aircraft to help withstand the sun and weather. The clear coat really helps protect the paint from bubbling up and fading over time.”

The Skyhawk

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-4F Skyhawk VA-212 Rampant Riders, NP306 / 155019 / 1970

Douglas built 2,960 A-4 Skyhawk aircraft between 1954 and 1979. Built small to be cost effective and so that more of them could be accommodated on a carrier, the lightweight, high-speed bombers were affectionately nicknamed “Heinemann’s Hot Rod” (after Douglas designer Ed Heinemann), the Bantam Bomber, Mighty Mite and Scooter. Skyhawks provided the US Navy and Marines and friendly nations with maneuverable, yet powerful, attack bombers that had great altitude and range capabilities, plus an unusual flexibility in armament capacity.

Moreover, even though the legendary A-4 was designed as a simple light weight Navy carrier attack plane, the Skyhawk served in many different roles such as aerial refueling, nuclear strike and also as adversary aircraft.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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