Although the heavier Vought A-7 had been chosen by the Navy to replace the Skyhawks, the Marines still preferred the smaller type, and procured the A-4M, first flown as a reworked A-4F on April 10, 1970. That model introduced a new engine model, improved canopy, refueling probe, drag chute, and doubled the ammunition load to 200 rpg. Delivery of 134 to five Marine squadrons began in February 1971, and their weapons could include three Bullpups, the usual bomb load, or their choice of nuclear stores.
Israel also bought 117 designated A-4N, on May 2, 1972, interspersed among A-4M production. Similar to the Marine type, but for 30-mm DEFA guns, their first flight was made June 8. During 1973’s Yom Kippur war, 28 refurbished A-4Es and 13 A-4Ms were rushed to the IAF to replace more than 50 Skyhawks lost, mostly to SAM missiles. Altogether the IAF acquired 355 A-4s of different models.
In October 1970, the EA-4F designation was promulgated for two-place TA-4Fs equipped to simulate electronic aggressors. Another TA-4F conversion by the Navy was the OA-4M tactical control model of 1978. While the A-4Fs were retired from fleet squadrons in 1975, the A-4L remained with reserve units, and the renowned Blue Angels team used F-4Fs from 1974 to 1987.
Douglas also made foreign sales by refurbishing retired Navy Skyhawks. The first customer was the Fuerza Aerea Argentina (FAA), which bought 25 A-4Bs whose delivery with J65-W-16A engines began in June 1966. These aircraft, plus 25 more in 1969, and 25 A-4Cs in 1976, were redesignated A-4P on May 2, 1972, by the U.S. Navy for book keeping, although the FAA continued using the original names. Sixteen more A-4Bs with W-20 engines became A-4Qs when shipped on the Argentine Navy’s light carrier, the 25 de Mayo, in April 1972.
Reworked Skyhawks sent abroad were 40 A-4S and three TA-4S aircraft with J65-W-20 engines and 30-mm Aden guns for Singapore, refurbished from old A-4Bs in 1974. Kuwait ordered 30 A-4KU and 6 TA-4KU new aircraft on November 7, 1974, and the first flew on July 20, 1976.
The last Skyhawks from the factory were 24 additional A-4Ms, and the last acceptance on February 27, 1979, completed a total of 2,960 Skyhawks, including 555 two-seaters. That nearly 23-year run is one of the great successes of Navy aircraft design. The last Marine Skyhawk squadron, VMA-211, retired its last A-4M in February 1990.
The Skyhawk’s last Fight
After older Argentine Skyhawks retired, and the political situation changed, replenishment by 36 upgraded ex-Marine A-4Ms began in October 1997. But the last Skyhawks to fight were 20 A-4KUs that escaped from Kuwait and flew against the Iraqi invaders in January 1991.