The "Scooter" gets it done!
I'd categorize my combat missions pretty much the way Ernest K. Gann did flying: "Hours and hours of sheer boredom, punctuated by moments of stark terror". In "65" most of our operations out of Chu Lai were from the aluminum SATS field, starting with a JATO and recovering with a rolling trap into the arresting gear. Unlike the carrier, where you're trying to land into the 3 wire, on a SATS field the pilot tries to roll about 500 feet (more if possible) before arrestment to save wear & tear on the gear (hell on the hook points, though).
In "65" (A4-C in VMA-225) with the middle third of the runway removed for repairs, I watched a squadron mate (Spider Croft) get a one JATO bottle light with a full bomb load during his take-off roll (he needed both bottles to burn for a successful take-off). As he got to the break in the runway, with dozens of SeaBee's and their heavy equipment working in front of him, he was about 20 knots below lift-off speed. I fully expected to see a fireball or an ejection coming - or both. Instead he "horsed" that little bird into the air; wing-walked it over the SeaBee's missing them all and their equipment, touched down on the hard dirt in a full stall, taxied up onto the last third of the runway and completed his take-off without further incident. He raised the gear and flew his mission. Like to see a Phantom do that.
In "68-69" we operated from the 10,000 foot concrete runway so launch and recovery were much more mundane.
There are several general observations I'd like to make about the A4 - all models.
1. I considered the aircraft to have 2 emergencies - an airborne flameout, which couldn't be restarted; and an uncontrolled fire. Period - end of emergencies.
If 1/2 the tandem hydraulic system gets shot away, the other half flies the airplane. If the whole system gets blown away - pull the handle, disconnect and fly it by wire. If the generator fails, pull the handle and deploy the RAT. If the gear will not come down hydraulically, pull the handle and it falls out. If it will not come down at all, land on the tank(s). If you need to get rid of wing ordnance in a hurry, pull the jettison handle and "chain" it off safe.
2. The aircraft can sustain an enormous amount of damage (battle and otherwise) and still fly well enough to get the pilot home. I've seen birds that were subsequently ruled "strikes" fly home and deliver the pilot to the chocks. Birds that hit the trees and recovered, birds that had 1,000 pound bombs dropped through their wings and still flew. God knows how many of them hit by shrapnel with various systems shot away that still flew. Grossly over stressed aircraft (mine). 7.5 positive to 3.0 negative to 8.5 rolling positive G's within a space of 5-6 seconds. The aircraft might have experienced structure failure, but only popped 70 some rivets while I was avoiding some very nasty 27, 37, & 57 Triple A; that was either trying to kill me or make me a guest of Uncle Ho in Hanoi. It goes on & on.
3. The aircraft is highly maneuverable which allows it to get on the "bomb-line" quickly or move to get on it, if it's not. During the course of my two tours in Vietnam, I saw Phantom's, Thuds, Crusaders, Super Sabers, etc. get asked to leave a target in close support (100-200 meters) of our troops by the FAC who wasn't satisfied with their ability to get exactly on the run-in line and effect a safe delivery without harm to the grunts. I never observed a flight of A4's who didn't get the job done - first time, every time. Practice, sure, but I give a lot of credit to the Skyhawk.
The "Scooter" gets it done!
Arthur Padios (2002)