Ed Heinemann is a hero of mine. At Douglas, he designed some of my favourite aeroplanes: the A-1 Skyraider, A-3 Skywarrior, A-4 Skyhawk and F4D Skyray. I got the chance to interview Ed in 1979, when I was researching a feature to mark delivery of the last Skyhawk, an A-4M to the US Marine Corps.
I interviewed Ed by phone from Flight’s office, then on Stamford Street in Central London. He was recovering from a stroke, but the interview was going extremely well, I thought, when the fire alarm went off at my end…
Heinmann's Hot Rod (US Navy photo)
I kept talking as my colleagues evacuated the aged building, even ducking down behind my desk at one point to avoid the fire marshal checking our office was empty. On the other end of the phone, in distant California, Ed was slightly bemused by the commotion and a little concerned for my safety, but I was not about to hang up on my hero, and he happily kept answering my questions about designing the Skyhawk.
To me, the A-4 is the epitome of a simple, practical design. When I asked if there was anything he would change about the Skyhawk, Ed said he'd always wanted to redesign two quick and dirty fixes made during early flight testing to cure flow separation. One had been to remove the skin from one side of the rudder, the other to attach a bent-metal “beanie cap” on top of the tailpipe. Both "temporary" fixes were part of every one the 2,960 A-4 Skyhawks built.
Flight's pencil cutaway of the A-4D (Flight archives)