USMC A-4 pilot recalls when a USAF F-15 pilot refused to fly a “not all aspect Sidewinder” mock air engagement against his Skyhawk

USMC A-4 pilot recalls when a USAF F-15 pilot refused to fly a “not all aspect Sidewinder” mock air engagement against his Skyhawk

By Dario Leone
Feb 24 2024
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The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

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.

USMC A-4 attack aircraft Vs USAF F-15 fighters

Stephen Smith, former US Marine Corps A-4 Skyhawk pilot, recalls on Quora;

‘True story. We (a Marine Corps Reserve squadron) were doing an exercise with a USAF F-15 squadron back in the 80’s. We were flying the A-4 Skyhawk, a very simple, quite maneuverable single seat aircraft. It was designed for ground attack, but due to it’s maneuverability, it could hold it’s own in a tight turning dogfight. You may remember it as the aircraft flown by the instructors in the original Top Gun movie. We had no radar, thus, no radar guided missiles. Instead of the two afterburning engines in an F-15, we had one, non-afterburning engine. Basically we were well outgunned.

36th TFW F-15C Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-15C Eagle 36th TFW, 22d TFS, BT/79-051 / 1981

‘But we still did quite well against the Eagles. Our air to air weaponry consisted of a 20mm cannon and all aspect sidewinder missiles. The sidewinder used to only work when fired from behind the target aircraft, looking at his hot exhaust, but now, had been improved to be able to kill from any angle, if all the parameters were met.

‘At the end of each mission, we suggested the final engagement scenario to be one where we did not have all aspect Sidewinders available. So we had all launched with the older missiles. This was usually accepted by all to be good training for all of us, and made getting kills much more difficult.’

All aspect Sidewinders

Smith continues

‘On this day, I suggested that as our final engagement scenario. My USAF counterpart asked why? I said that it would simulate a situation where the war was getting stretched out and all the all aspect sidewinders had been used, and the supply had not been replenished. His reply stunned me. He looked me in the eyes , the eyes which would soon be looking for me from the cockpit of one of the world’s most modern and deadly air superiority fighters.

‘A fighter with a radar which would give him my position from 50 miles away, while scorching into the fight powered by two huge afterburning engines, and carrying an array of radar and heat seeking missiles, and a gun designed for air-to-air combat, against my 1960s vintage single, non-afterburning engine, non-radar equipped attack aircraft. And he said, “IF WE DON’T HAVE ALL ASPECT WINDERS, WE’RE NOT GOING.” I really was shocked! After getting my brain back on line I said, “I don’t think that’s an option in the Marine Corps.”’

Smith concludes;

‘I will never forget that comment.’

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

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force


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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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