1:72 Douglas A-4G ‘Skyhawk’, aircraft ‘J-303’ of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) 332 Squadron, Valkenburg Naval Air Base (Katwijk/Leiden, Netherlands), 1981 (What-if/Hasegawa kit)

1:72 Douglas A-4G ‘Skyhawk’, aircraft ‘J-303’ of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) 332 Squadron, Valkenburg Naval Air Base (Katwijk/Leiden, Netherlands), 1981 (What-if/Hasegawa kit)

Nothing you see here is real, even though the model, the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!

Some background:
HNLMS Karel Doorman (R81) was a Colossus-class aircraft carrier of the Royal Netherlands Navy. Formerly the British ship HMS Venerable, she was sold to the Netherlands in 1948 as a light attack carrier and operated Fairey Firefly strike fighters and Hawker Sea Fury fighters, which were in 1958 replaced by Hawker Sea Hawk jet aircraft. In 1960, she was involved in the decolonization conflict in Western New Guinea with Indonesia. After a major refit in 1964, following the settlement of issues threatening its former colonial territories and changes in the mission for the Royal Netherlands Navy within NATO, the role was changed to anti-submarine warfare carrier and primarily ASW aircraft and helicopters were carried. At that time, the last Dutch Sea Hawks were phased out and the Koninlijke Marine ’s FJ-4B fighter bombers were relegated to land bases and soon handed back to the USA and re-integrated into USMC units. As an alternative multi-role aircraft that could both deliver strikes against ground as well as sea targets and provide aerial defense for the carrier or escort its slow and vulnerable ASW aircraft, the American Douglas A-4 Skyhawk was procured.

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk was a single-seat subsonic carrier-capable light attack aircraft developed for the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps in the early 1950s. The delta-winged, single turbojet-powered Skyhawk was designed and produced by Douglas Aircraft Company, and later by McDonnell Douglas. It was originally designated A4D under the U.S. Navy’s pre-1962 designation system. The Skyhawk was a relatively light aircraft, with a maximum takeoff weight of 24,500 pounds (11,100 kg), had a top speed of 670 miles per hour (1,080 km/h) and very good handling, making it a serious threat in an aerial dogfight. The aircraft’s five hardpoints supported a variety of missiles, bombs, and other munitions.
The A4D (re-named into A-4 under the USA’s unified designation system) was capable of carrying a bomb load equivalent to that of a World War II–era Boeing B-17 bomber and could even deliver nuclear weapons using a low-altitude bombing system and a "loft" delivery technique. The A-4 was originally powered by the Wright J65 turbojet engine, but from the A-4E onwards, the more fuel efficient and powerful Pratt & Whitney J52 engine was used. The Skyhawk proved to be a relatively common United States Navy aircraft export of the postwar era. Due to its small size, it could be operated from the older, smaller World War II-era aircraft carriers still used by many smaller navies during the 1960s. These older ships were often unable to accommodate newer Navy fighters such as the F-4 Phantom II and F-8 Crusader, which were faster and more capable than the A-4, but significantly larger and heavier than older naval fighters.

At the same time as the Netherlands, Australia was looking for a new carrier-borne jet aircraft, too, and in negotiations with Douglas for newly built A-4s for the RAN’s carrier HMAS Melbourne, a Majestic-class light aircraft carrier. These aircraft had a very similar duty profile to those the Royal Netherlands Navy was looking for, and in order to save development costs and speed up the procurement process, the Royal Netherlands Navy simply adopted the Australian specifications which became the unique A-4G variant, the Skyhawk’s first dedicated export version.

The A-4G was directly developed with minor variations from the current, most modern Skyhawk variant, the USN’s A-4F. In particular, the A-4G was not fitted with the late Skyhawk variants’ characteristic avionics "hump", had a simple ranging radar for air-to-air combat and was modified to carry four underwing Sidewinder AIM-9B missiles (instead of just two), increasing their Fleet Defense capability. Additionally, the A-4Gs for the Royal Netherlands Navy received the avionics package to deploy radio-controlled AGM-12 Bullpup missiles, which the Kon. Marine had been using together with the FJ-4Bs for some years, and Skyhawks’ capability to provide buddy-to-buddy refueling services with a special pod made them a vital asset for carrier operations, too.

A total of twenty A-4G Skyhawks were purchased by the Royal Australian Navy in two batches for operation from HMAS Melbourne, and the Koninlijke Marine ordered twelve. These aircraft were part of the first A-4G production batch and arrived in 1967, together with four TA-4J trainers, for a total fleet of sixteen aircraft. The machines were delivered in the contemporary US Navy high-visibility scheme in Light Gull Grey and White, but they were soon re-painted in a less conspicuous scheme of Extra Dark Sea Grey on the upper surfaces and Sky underneath, conforming to NATO standards of the time. After initial conversion training from land bases the re-formed MLD 861 Squadron (a carrier-based unit that had operated Fairey during the Fifties) embarked upon HNLMS Karel Doorman in February 1968 with a standard contingent of six carrier-based aircraft. The rest was stationed at Valkenburg Naval Air Base for maintenance and training and frequently rotated to the carrier.

However, the Dutch Skyhawks’ career at sea was very short – it lasted in fact only a couple of months! A boiler room fire on 26 April 1968 removed HNLMS Karel Doorman from Dutch service. To repair the fire damage, new boilers were transplanted from the incomplete HMS Leviathan. But this did not save the ship, and in 1969 it was decided that the costs for repairing the damage in relation to the relatively short time Karel Doorman was still to serve in the fleet proved to be her undoing and she was sold to the Argentine Navy, renamed Veinticinco de Mayo, where she would later play a role in the 1982 Falkland Islands Conflict.
Additionally, the fatal fire accident coincided with the arrival of land-based long range maritime patrol aircraft for the Royal Netherlands Navy that were to take over the ASW role Karel Doorman had been tasked to perform ever since the start of the 1960s. These were one squadron of Breguet Atlantique sea-reconnaissance aircraft and one of P-2 Neptunes, while the international NATO anti-submarine commitment was taken over by a squadron of Westland Wasp helicopters operated from six Van Speijk-class anti-submarine frigates.

This left the Royal Netherlands Navy with a full operational squadron of almost brand-new aircraft that had overnight lost their raison d’être. To avoid sunk costs the government decided to keep the Skyhawks in active service, even though only land-based now and as part of the Netherlands air force’s home defense – a plan that had been envisioned for the A-4Gs for the mid-Seventies, anyway.
In 1974, the A-4G’s MLD 861 Squadron was disbanded (again) and the aircraft were formally transferred to the Royal Netherlands Air Force, where they received new tactical codes (H-30XX — H- 30YY) and formed the new RNLAF 332 Squadron, primary tasked with aerial support for the Netherlands Marine Corps. To avoid staff and equipment transfer costs to a different location, the Skyhawks stayed at their former home base, Valkenburg Naval Air Base, where they operated alongside the MLD’s new long-range maritime patrol aircraft.

At that time, the machines received a small update during regular overhauls, including the ability to deploy the new TV-guided AGM-65 Maverick missile (which replaced the unreliable and rather ineffective AGM-12) as well as more effective AIM-9J air-to-air missiles, and an AN/APQ-51 radar warning system, recognizable through small cone-shaped radomes under the nose, at the tail and under the wing roots. Being land-based now, some machines received a new NATO-style camouflage in Olive Drab and Dark Grey with Light Grey undersides, even though the Skyhawks’ full carrier capability was retained in case of a NATO deployment on another nation’s carrier.
In 1979, when the RNLAF received its first F-16A/B fighters, all Skyhawks eventually received a more subdued grey three-tone camouflage with toned-down markings which was effective both over the sea and in the sky, similar to the RNLAF’s NF-5A/B day fighters.

However, the arrival of the modern F-16, which was in any aspect superior to the A-4 except for a lack of carrier-capability, meant that the RNLAF Skyhawks’ career did not last much longer. In the early Eighties, all Dutch A-4Gs were replaced with license-built F-16A/B fighter bombers. They were placed in store and eventually sold to Israel in 1985, where they were revamped and re-sold with surplus A-4Es to Indonesia as attrition replacements after high losses during the anti-guerilla warfare in East Timor. They were delivered in 1986 and served in Indonesia until 2003, where the last Skyhawks were finally retired in 2007.

General characteristics:
Crew: 1
Length: 40 ft 1.5 in (12.230 m)
Wingspan: 27 ft 6 in (8.38 m)
Height: 15 ft 2 in (4.62 m)
Wing area: 260 sq ft (24 m²)
Airfoil: root: NACA 0008-1.1-25; tip: NACA 0005-.825-50
Empty weight: 9,853 lb (4,469 kg)
Gross weight: 16,216 lb (7,355 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 24,500 lb (11,113 kg)

1× Pratt & Whitney J52-P-6A turbojet engine, 8,500 lbf (38 kN) thrust

Maximum speed: 585 kn (673 mph, 1,083 km/h) at sea level
Range: 1,008 nmi (1,160 mi, 1,867 km)
Ferry range: 2,194 nmi (2,525 mi, 4,063 km)
g limits: +8/-3
Rate of climb: 5,750 ft/min (29.2 m/s)
Wing loading: 62.4 lb/sq ft (305 kg/m²)
Thrust/weight: 0.526

2× 20 mm (0.79 in) Colt Mk 12 cannon with 100 RPG
5× hardpoints with a total capacity of 8,500 lb (3,900 kg)

The kit and its assembly:
This what-if project was more or less a stopgap: I had a Hasegawa 1:72 A-4E/F kit in The Stash™, primarily bought for its separate avionics hump that is supposed to be transplanted on a Fujimi A-4C someday to create an A-4L, of which AFAIK no OOB kit exists. However, I played with potential fictional operators, and read about the Australian A-4Gs. When I compared them with the historic timeframe of the Dutch HNLMS Karel Doorman, I recognized very close parallels (see background above) so that a small Skyhawk fleet for a single carrier with a focus on ASW duties would make sense – even though Karel Doorman was soon struck by a fire and ended the story. However, this was a great framework to tell the story of Dutch Skyhawks that never had been, and my model depicts such an aircraft soon after its update and in late RNLAF colors.

The Hasegawa kit is not bad, but IMHO there are better offerings, you can see the mold’s age. It goes together easily, comes with a good pilot figure and offers optional parts for an E or F Skyhawk, plus lots of ordnance, but it comes with raised (yet very fine) panel lines and an odd canopy: the clear part is actually only the canopy’s glass, so that the frame is still molded into the fuselage. As a result, opening the cockpit is a VERY tricky stunt (which I eventually avoided), and the clear piece somehow does not fit well into its intended opening. The mold dates back to 1969, when the A-4E/F was brand new, and this was all acceptable in the Seventies and Eighties. But for today’s standards the Hasegawa kit is a bit outdated and, in many cases, overpriced. Permanent re-boxings and short-run re-issues do not make the old kit any better.

Despite these weaknesses the kit was built OOB, without big modifications or the optional camel hump for the A-4F, with the early straight IFR probe and with parts from the OOB ordnance. This included the ventral drop tank (which comes with an integral pylon) and the underwing pylons; from the outer pair the integral launch rails for the Bullpups were sanded away and replaced with a pair of longer launch rails for AIM-9B Sidewinder AAMs from the scrap box.
As a modern/contemporary detail I scratched a training/dummy AGM-65 Maverick without fins for one of the inner underwing stations, which would later become a colorful eye-catcher on the otherwise quite subdued aircraft. Additionally, some small blade antennae were added around the hull, e. g. on the front wheel well cover for the Bullpup guidance emitter.

Painting and markings:
A Kon. Marine Skyhawk offers a wide range of painting options, but I tweaked the background that I could incorporate a specific and unique Dutch paint scheme – the early Eighties livery of the RNLAF’s NF-5A/Bs. These aircraft initially wore a NATO-style green/grey livery with pale grey undersides, but they were in the late Seventies, with the arrival of the F-16s, repainted with the F-16s’ “Egypt One” colors (FS 36118, 36270 and 36375). However, the Egypt One scheme was not directly adopted, only the former RAF-style camouflage pattern was re-done with the new colors. Therefore, the Skyhawks were “in my world” transferred from the Dutch Navy to the Air Force and received this livery, too, for which I used Humbrol 125, 126 and 127. The pattern was adapted from the sleek NF-5s as good as possible to the stouter A-4 airframe, but it worked out.
However, the result reminds unintentionally a lot of the Australian A-4Gs’ late livery, even though the Aussie Skyhawks carried a different pattern and were painted in different tones. Even more strangely, the colors on the model looked odd in this striped paint scheme: the dark Gunship Gray appeared almost violet, while the Medium Gray had a somewhat turquoise hue? Weird! Thankfully, this disappeared when I did some post-panel-shading after a light black in washing…

The cockpit became Dark Gull Grey (FS 36231, Humbrol 140), even though there’s hardly anything recognizable through the small canopy: the pilot blocks anything. The landing gear and the respective wells became classic bright white (Revell 301), as well as the air intake ducts; the landing gear covers received a thin red outline.
The Sidewinders and their launch rails became white, the drop tank was painted in FS 36375 like the underside. The dummy AGM-65 was painted bright blue with a white tip for the live seeker head.

The decals were gathered from various sources. The RNLAF roundels came from a generic TL Modellbau sheet, the tactical code from a Swiss F-5E. The small fin flash is a personal addition (this was not common practice on RNLAF aircraft), the red unit badge with the seahorse comes from a French naval WWII unit. Most stencils were taken from the OOB sheet but supplemented with single bits from an Airfix Skyhawk sheet, e. g. for the red trim around the air intakes, which was tricky to create. The interior of the fuselage air brakes was painted in bright red, too.

After a Koninlijke Marine FJ-4B Fury some years ago, here’s a worthy and logical successor, even though it would have quickly lost its naval base, HNLMS Karel Doorman. Really bad timing! Even though not much was changed, this simple looking aircraft has IMHO a certain, subtle charm – even though the paint scheme makes the Dutch Skyhawk look more Australian than intended, despite representing an A-4G, too. But time frame and mission profiles would have been too similar to ignore this parallel. Not a spectacular model, but quite convincing.

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