153526 Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk sitting in the AMARC arrival area very shortly after arriving on 25th April 2003. Looking immaculate in it's soviet style 'Aggressor' colors.
Picture © 2003-2012 Bob Shane
Composite Squadron Eight (VC-8) retired it's TA-4Js from active service during May 2003, this event also signified the formal retirement of the Douglas A-4 from US Navy active service. The last active duty flight was the delivery of the very last VC-8 TA-4J (154649) to Palm Springs Airport in California. Here it was demilitarized, rendered incapable of flight and handed over to the Palm Springs Air Museum for display. The disestablishment VC-8 and the closure of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads has come about as a result of the closure of the Vieques Naval Training Range which lies off the east coast of Puerto Rico. The primary VC-8 mission was to support all aspects of fleet training undertaken on these ranges and as a result was directly impacted by this closure.
During Naval tracking exercises the VC-8 Skyhawks played the part of incoming missiles for the fine tuning of ship's radars, this was due to their radar 'signature' being very similar to that of anti-ship missiles. The Skyhawks were also used to launch AQM and BQM aerial target drones during more realistic live firing exercises. Another aspect of the VC-8 mission was that of carrying out Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM) training. Due to the A-4s flying characteristics, which closely match those of early Russian MiGs, the Skyhawks have been used extensively over the years as adversaries during ACM exercises. VC-8, like other US 'Aggressor' squadrons, had their aircraft painted in vivid Soviet style camouflage and given other Soviet style markings. The picture above clearly shows how the aircraft are painted to keep as realistic as possible, even as far as having red stars on the tails and large 'buzz' numbers on the noses.
The adversary role is now carried out by FA/18 Hornets and Northrop F-5 of the remaining US Navy Aggressor squadrons.
Much of the time VC-8 aircraft operated out of their home base but they were also detached to other Naval Air Stations on a regular basis throughout the year to contribute their skills to exercises undertaken in other training ranges. The squadrons H-3 Sea King helicopters were not retired to AMARC, they were reassigned to other operational units. Two units that have been mentioned are the Naval Air Station Key West and Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Two but the exact assignments are not currently known.
As for Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, it was handed back to the Department of the Interior and will become a wildlife refuge.
The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk served with the US Navy and Marines for over 45 years, starting active service during September 1956. Since then it has proved to be a very successful aircraft (hence the types long service life) and extremely popular with those who have flown the type. The aircraft has also proved popular with Air Forces from other countries and are still flying with serveral armed forces including those of Argentina, Brazil, Singapore and Indonesia.
On December 16th, 2010 TA-4J 153526 was transferred over the fence (literally!) to the adjoining Tucson US Navy recruitment offices for display.