The story of the US Navy A-4 pilot that landed with 4 gallons of fuel left without declaring an emergency after falling asleep during a cross-country flight and being awakened by ATC

Former US Naval Aviator explains why the A-4 Skyhawk was the most fun aircraft he ever flew

By Dario Leone
Oct 5 2022
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‘With the A-4 you don’t actually fly it as you wear it. It quickly and responsively becomes an extended part of you, and will do most anything you desire it to do,’ John Chesire, former US Naval Aviator.

Douglas built 2,960 A-4 Skyhawk attack 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.

Given its unique capabilities, what was it like to fly the A-4 Skyhawk?

‘Oh my, what a wonderfully fun aircraft to fly! It was always a thrill to fly regardless which of the many different and various A-4 models one was flying in,’ John Chesire, former US Naval Aviator, explains on Quora.

‘The Skyhawk was the most fun aircraft I ever flew. Simple yet extremely quick and agile, her roll rate was an incredible 720 degrees/second. She demanded attention. Never could I trim any A-4 up for hands off flying for very long. She always wanted to “play.” Nimble and maneuverable, no wonder so many pilots loved the A-4. She acquired such endearing nicknames as Heinemann’s Hot Rod, Scooter, Bantam Bomber, Tinker Toy, and others. I always liked the scooter moniker because flying it reminded me of my two young children having fun pedaling their little three-wheel scooters in the street and screaming with joy. Flying the A-4 was like giving a kid a new and great toy.

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

‘The first A-4 I flew was an old A-4C. It had an older engine that was sluggish compared to the fighters I had been flying. It also did not have ground spoilers, which made for some tricky and scary crosswind landings. However it was single-seat, something that every pilot likes by not having someone in the back looking over your shoulder. I flew it on some RDT&E* projects, but I was allowed to also fly it anytime I wanted to…and I often did. For a while, it was my little personal sports car of the air. Of course later models with their improved engines were like little rocket ships or like Star Wars’ TIE fighters. I never got to fly those, that’s OK. I did not miss much.

‘Some years later I would fly another A-4, the TA-4J two-seat trainer as a flight instructor. I had been flying F-14 Tomcats at the time, but the TA-4J being so much fun to fly was not a letdown. Moreover it was a challenging but honest aircraft for student naval aviators to hone their skills.’

Chesire concludes;

‘One more thing… with the A-4 you don’t actually fly it as you wear it. It quickly and responsively becomes an extended part of you, and will do most anything you desire it to do.’

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

A-4 model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Dario Leone

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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