The magnificent Douglas A-4 Skyhawk served with the Royal Australian Navy from 1968 until 1984 with two squadrons: VF805 and VC724. VF805 was the frontline fighter unit that served aboard the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, while VC724 was shore-based for training and support from Naval Air Station Nowra.
During that period the fixed wing aircraft on the Melbourne gave the RAN a unique capability that was central to Australian defence policy. The Skyhawk Years is a story of busy and varied deployments around Australia, Southeast Asia and regularly to the multinational Rimpac exercises in Hawaii. A particular highlight was a long cruise to the UK in 1977 and participation in the Spithead Naval Review, part of the celebrations for Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee.
With first-hand stories from pilots and maintainers, the challenges of operations from the world’s smallest aircraft carrier are well explained. Also told are thrilling stories of air combat manoeuvres against fighters from other countries, with the A-4 often surprising more well-credentialled adversaries.
A string of mishaps ended the embarkation of Skyhawks on the Melbourne in 1980, with a sad period following which saw the ultimate scrapping of RAN fixed wing aviation four years later. However, among the former pilots and maintainers many fond memories of A-4 operations remain alive.