Warplanes: The Skyhawk Slowly Fades Away


January 22, 2016: By the end of 2015 Israel finally retired its last A-4 aircraft after 48 years’ service light bombers and advanced trainers. Back in 2009 Israel decided to replace its A-4s, which were then used mainly as training aircraft. Israel had been shopping for a new trainer and planned to scrap the remaining A-4s when a replacement was found. That took longer than expected and as a result the A-4s continued as trainer aircraft and (in wartime) light bombers for a while longer as they were slowly replaced by older F-16s.

So now, after nearly half a century of use, Israel is finally without any of its U.S. made A-4 Skyhawk light bombers. Israel bought over 200 in the 1960s and 70s, and lost 53 to ground fire and missiles during the 1973 war. Over the next three decades most were sold or retired. The remaining 22 were used for pilot training. But some of these crashed, as the A-4 wasn't a great trainer aircraft, given their age and high maintenance cost.

When Israel bought the second-hand U.S. A-4s it did so because the aircraft cost a quarter of what an F-4 fighter-bomber did and could carry as many weapons. Thus the heavy losses in the 1973 war because Israel did not equip their cheap A-4s with electronic systems to deal with the new Russian anti-aircraft systems. This was mainly because Israel underestimated the capabilities of new Russian surface-to-air missile and numerous anti-aircraft gun systems the Arabs had acquired.

The 11 ton A-4 could carry about four tons of bombs, along with two 20mm autocannon. Smart bombs make it unnecessary to have a lot of fighter-bombers, much less lower cost light bombers like the A-4. Thus the use of A-4s as pilot training aircraft, a job they were not really designed for, but performed adequately. Ultimately, Israel used A-4s for nearly half a century, which is a pretty good deal for a cheap, second-hand aircraft.

Most of the nearly 3,000 A-4s built between 1954 and 1979 served on American aircraft carriers or from Marine Corps land bases. The U.S. Navy retired its last A-4 in 2003. Most of the several hundred exported were also retired by then. Only the Brazilian Navy still uses the A-4 and has upgraded them several time. Brazil plans to keep using the A-4 until 2025, at which point A-4s will have served 69 years.


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