When you think of the two-seat trainer version of the legendary “Scooter“, the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft, the first thing that springs to mind is the TA-4 tandem two-seat variant with one canopy, as operated by the US Navy, US Marine Corps, Royal Australian Navy, Royal New Zealand Air Force and many other armed forces. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) did things a little differently…
The RSAF operated 44 Douglas A-4S Skyhawk attack aircraft from 1973 to 1992 (they were from a batch of 50 A-4B aircraft purchased to be modified with British avionics and 30mm Aden cannons to match the ex-RAF Hawker Hunters in service at the time). 50 Douglas A-4S-1 (modified A-4C’s retaining the original 20mm cannons) entered service as attrition replacements in 1982. An example of a single seat A-4S Skyhawk (607 – BuNo 145013) is on display at the RSAF Museum.
In addition, combat capable two seat training versions of these aircraft were built, comprising 7 TA-4S and 8 TA-4S-1. The original Douglas A-4 fuselage was heavily modified with a 710 mm (28 inch) fuselage plug inserted to accommodate an additional instructors seat in a separate cockpit higher above that of the pilot, giving the instructor improved vision but the resulting TA-4 aircraft an ungainly, almost bug like appearance! This unique double cockpit arrangement is reminiscent of World War Two era Supermarine Spitfire two-seat trainers. There is a forward fuselage and cockpit section of a TA-4S (651 – BuNo 145047) on display at the RSAF Museum.
In the late 1980’s the A-4S aircraft were retired and the A-4S-1 were upgraded by Singapore Aircraft Industries (SAI and later ST Aerospace) to become the SAI A-4SU Super Skyhawk aircraft, with advanced avionics and weapons systems including new navigation systems, laser targeting, radar warning receivers and chaff/flare dispensers, plus a General Electric F404 non afterburning turbofan engine, which provided 29% more thrust and an improved take-off time (crucial in the limited air space of Singapore). This variant was in RSAF service from 1989 to 2005 (replaced by General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighters). A ST Aerospace A-4SU Super Skyhawk single seat attack aircraft (929 – BuNo 145073) is on display out the front of the RSAF Museum, atop a pole!
Douglas TA-4S and TA-4S-1 two-seat combat trainers were also upgraded to become the Singapore Aircraft Industries (SAI and later ST Aerospace) TA-4SU Super Skyhawk, which remained in service until 2013. They were replaced by Alenia Aermacchi M-346 jet trainers (which are now known as the Leonardo M-346). Today you can also see a finely preserved ST Aerospace TA-4SU Super Skyhawk example (900 – BuNo 147742) at the RSAF Museum.
I hadn’t been to the RSAF Museum since the early 2000’s when it was at the Changi Air Base. A lot has obviously changed since then and in January 2018 I visited the new complex next to Paya Lebar Air Base. It’s a small place but has a great collection!
Given it is alongside the active base (you register when you arrive at the museum), you may strike it lucky and see RSAF combat aircraft flying about. I saw General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons and Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagles taking off and practicing for the upcoming Singapore Air Show when I was there (unfortunately I wasn’t in town long enough to see the show). It’s an added bonus (although its not advisable to take photos of the active aircraft when you are essentially on the base)!