Heinemann, his Hot Rod, and the fire alarm

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)


3 Responses to Heinemann, his Hot Rod, and the fire alarm

  1. Jim Winchester 7 April, 2008 at 5:19 pm #

    Interesting recollections there and great to see the ‘Scooter’ in Flight, befitting an aircraft that is still in service with four air arms and several contractors 53 years since its first flight. I have to nitpick one thing – that the ‘temporary’ rudder buzz fix was applied to all 2,960 Skyhawks. All A-4As (161 built) had the smooth-surfaced rudder and some of these served as late as perhaps 1968 without any notable problems. Also at least the first A-4B was also delivered this way and maybe a few others.
    A-4s Forever!

  2. The Woracle 7 April, 2008 at 5:28 pm #

    I stand corrected. Here’s what she looked like originally:


  3. John Price 8 April, 2008 at 12:43 pm #

    The phrase i’ve always associated with Ed heinemann, and blessed him for it often, is:
    “Simplicate and add more lightness”, which is what the Skyhawk – and in fact all “good” aircraft – is all about – innit?

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