(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
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