The Navy's classic A4 Skyhawk still flies to this day

Critics have long given the B-52 plaudits for its longevity as a combat aircraft. Can’t blame them — 65 years is one hell of a run. But there is another plane that has done almost as well, and it’s still providing some countries with defense.

That plane is the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Perhaps its most famous pilot is now-Senator John S. McCain III, who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War after his Skyhawk was shot down. But the plane had been in service for over a decade before McCain was downed.

A-4C Skyhawks fly over the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CVS 33) during the Vietnam War. (US Navy photo)

The A-4 was designed and built by the Douglas Aircraft Company, makers of the SBD Dauntless, the plane best known for fatally damaging three Japanese aircraft carriers in five minutes during the Battle of Midway.

The A-4 came to be known as “Heinemann’s Hot Rod” after its designer, Ed Heinemann. It was easy to see why. The Skyhawk had a top speed of 645 miles per hour and an impressive range of up to 2,001 miles. It could haul nearly 10,000 pounds of bombs and could carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile. An additional two 20mm cannons gave it the ability to handle air or ground targets.

Three Republic of Singapore Air Force A-4SU Skyhawk aircraft taxi on the flight line at Korat AB, Thailand, during Exercise COPE TIGER ’02. (USAF photo)

The Skyhawk saw lengthy service with the Navy and Marines, and the Marines liked their baseline models so much that they designed the A-4M instead of buying the A-7 Corsair.

The Skyhawk was a truly international affair. Singapore developed the A-4SU, which equipped the jet with two 30mm Aden cannon and added a F404 engine. Argentina, on the other hand, put F-16 avionics on some second-hand A-4Ms, creating the A-4AR Fightinghawk.

Argentina put F-16 avionics in an A-4, and this was the result: The A-4AR Fightinghawk. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Today, Argentina’s Skyhawks are still on the front line. Most others have retired, but some fly for Draken International and other private companies. Learn more about Heinemann’s Hot Rod in the video below:

(Dung Tran | YouTube)