Former US Navy F/A-18 pilot explains why although during his era the Hornet was the best airplane on the carrier his fun meter was most pegged flying the A-4 Skyhawk

Former US Navy F/A-18 pilot explains why although during his era the Hornet was the best airplane on the carrier his fun meter was most pegged flying the A-4 Skyhawk

By Dario Leone
Mar 2 2023
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‘I will say this – and I know a lot of other Navy guys that would say the same thing – my fun meter was probably most pegged flying the A-4 Skyhawk,’ Jim Danhakl, former US Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot.

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?

Jim Danhakl, former US Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot, recalls on Quora;

‘During my era the F/A-18 was the king of the hill. It was by far the best airplane on the carrier. We used to eat Tomcats for lunch in a dogfight and the missions both air to air and air to ground were more diverse and challenging. I also loved being single seat and the pride that comes with “doing it all”.

VFA-34 F/A-18C Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F/A-18C Hornet VFA-34 Blue Blasters, NE400 / 165403 / 2017

‘But I will say this – and I know a lot of other Navy guys that would say the same thing – my fun meter was probably most pegged flying the A-4 Skyhawk.

‘Maybe it was first love maybe it’s the way you slid in the jet and wore it vice larger cockpits that felt more rub-a-dub-dub. But the A-4 was a performer – especially the big engine A-4F.

‘We fought against adversaries who flew those all the time and I’ve been embarrassed by those guys in guns only 1 v 1 dogfighting.’

Danhakl concludes;

‘I would not want to go to war in one – today that choice would be the F-35 – but for flat out fun factor – I would have to say the A-4F Skyhawk was my fav. I don’t think anyone who flew carrier fighter-based aviation in last 30 years would disagree too much!’

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

A-4 model
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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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