2012/07/07-07/08 Dayton Air Show (Prologue)


(Click here to go to the second part)

As an annual event of my family, we visited Dayton Air Show this year.  What I was looking forward to the most was A-4B Skyhawk demonstration.  I have a special emotion about A-4 Skyhawk.  It is difficult for me to say which is my favorite airplane because every airplane has own story.  But, I would say A-4 Skyhawk is probably my second favorite airplane following Concorde.  I had desperately been wanting to see A-4 Skyhawk flying, not as a static display.

Why A-4 Skyhawk is special to me goes back to when I was a senior-year high-school student back in 1990.  I then was trying to write my own flight simulator with a 80386 PC.  I was studying 3D graphics on my own.  There was no OpenGL or Direct 3D.  Well, it is better not for Direct 3D.  In fact, I even didn't have a C compiler.  So, I had to start with writing a polygon-drawing function, or procedure, all in 80386 assembly language.  All I could use was dual floppy disk drives.  One floppy disk had 80386 assembler, and the other source code.  After a few months of effort, I somehow managed to draw 3D scene with my program.  Next thing was aerodynamics calculation, and I had to pick an airplane to simulate.  I purchased a book that had bunch of technical drawings of then-modern airplanes.  I flipped through, and A-4 Skyhawk somehow caught my eyes.  Two delta-wing design looked very simple and well balanced.  I made a photocopy of the drawing and measured the wing area.  I then took a typical lift and drag function from a book I found in my high-school library and came up with a flight dynamics model.  Then I had to implement it in assembly language with fixed-point numbers.  Floating-point processor called 80387 was sold separately from the CPU then.  Even with the floating-point processor, I didn't expect I was able to get an adequate performance with 80386 16MHz CPU.  I used a fixed-point number with 16-bit integer part and 16-bit below decimal part.  It was more than 20 years ago.  My programming skill was far less than my current level, and coding in the assembly language was not as easy as C++.  There was no operating system that supervised an application program.  A coding error didn't give me a nice dialog box saying "your program crashed!".  Instead, the computer just frozen up.  Sometimes DOS-Extender was able to give control back to DOS, but in most cases I had to restart when it happened.  After numerous painful trial and errors (many reboots!), my virtual A-4 Skyhawk finally took to the air!  I submitted my flight simulator to Japan High-School PC Software Contest, sponsored by Obunsha and Fujitsu and got the third place prize.  That gave my teacher a mixed feeling since the award revealed that I was writing such a program instead of studying for the college entrance exam.  But, that time I was already admitted to Keio University.  It made my teacher's feeling even more mixed, I guess.

A-4 Skyhawk is not just nice looking, but also truly was a great airplane.  It was the first carrier-based aircraft that was capable of mid-air refueling.  Due to the short carrier deck, A-4 Skyhawk could not take off with full fuel and ammunitions.  Something had to be left on the ground.  However, after taking off and accelerating to the adequate air speed, A-4 Skyhawk had no problem carrying full ammunition and full fuel.  So, what it did was taking off with full ammunition and partial fuel, and added the fuel in the air, then continued on to the combat zone.  It was also very maneuverable.  I believe some countries were using it as a fighter airplane until early 1990s, although I lost a citation.  In fact, Navy TOP GUN school was using it as a simulated enemy fighter jet, which proves its superior maneuverability.

When I graduated my high school and moved to Fujisawa, near Atsugi Navy air base, a squadron called VC-5 was flyilng A-4 Skyhawks.  Sometimes I saw a formation of A-4 Skyhawks approaching the base distant away while I was riding a bike.  I was expecting to see some aerobatics in Atsugi Air Show.  Instead, VC-5 was disbanded before I had a chance to see it flying up close.  A-4 Skyhawks of VC-5 were sitting on the ground with ejection seat removed and waiting to be scrapped.  That quite disappointed me.  Well, anyway I don't think I was able to take a nice crisp picture of it flying with my photo skill then.

Since then, I had been wanting to see A-4 Skyhawk flying.  First chance came in 2006.  A TA-4 Skyhawk of Collings Foundation was supposed to fly in Wings Over Pittsburgh 2006.  I went there, and TA-4 was on display.  But, the flight was cancelled.  I was hoping to see at least a take off of it after the show.  But, TA-4 taxied out and then came back to the ramp.  I suppose there was some problems.  Honestly, that was a major disappointment to me.

This time, Dayton Air Show 2012, A-4B Skyhawk was going to perform an aerobatic according to the web page!  Finally!  I really looked forward to seeing A-4B aerobatics and came to Dayton. 

(To be continued to the second part)

Correction: I first wrote VQ-5, but actually that was my false memory.  The A-4 squad I saw near Atsugi base was apparently VC-5 according to this web site.

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