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The Navy's Blue Angel
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The nimble and speedy A-4 that wowed audiences with the Blue Angels for 13 seasons bucked the trend of "bigger is better." In 1952, Douglas designer Ed Heinemann, who had been the company's Chief Engineer since 1937, proposed that the Navy's newest attack plane be smaller, lighter, and faster than its contemporaries. Starting in 1956, the little but powerful A-4 flew with Navy and Marine units, including flying combat missions during the Vietnam War. Heinemann's A-4 design surpassed all of the Navy's requirements for a light attack aircraft at about half the requested size and weight. A little package with a powerful punch created many advantages over larger Navy planes. The A-4s were easy to manage on an aircraft carrier deck and their stubby modified delta wings didn't need to be folded for storage. Without the wing-folding mechanisms, the Skyhawk was even lighter and simpler to maintain -- aspects that allowed it to stay in operational service for over 35 years. The Skyhawk had one of the longest production runs of any American combat aircraft, with 2,960 built over 26 years.
The Museum's A-4 was built in 1966 and flew with the Navy in Southeast Asia. Active in Navy squadrons throughout the 1970s, the plane was transferred to the Blue Angels in 1980. This aircraft was often flown in the number 4 or "slot" position. When the Blues Angels fly in diamond formation, the slot flies directly behind the leader, surrounded on three sides by other aircraft.
March 7th, 2011
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