Skyhawk Adversary Colors
by David W. Aungst
One of the most widely used adversary aircraft in US service has been the A-4 Skyhawk. It ranks second only to the F-5E/F Tiger II.
Over its many years of service with US aggressor squadrons the Skyhawk has been painted in more camouflage derivatives than any aircraft I know of. Most of the camouflages are one of a kind. They combine some rather unique colors and patterns to form some of the most interesting camouflages I have ever found.
With the recent release of the A-4E/F by Hasegawa, I have been examining many potential modeling subjects with wild camouflage schemes.
I created the following digital diagrams to assist myself visualizing the appearance of these aircraft. I did this to help decide what schemes I would build first. Before you call the guys in the white coats to have me carted away, know that once the original line drawings were created (without any camouflage applied), it only requires a couple hours of image work to camouflage one diagram and apply markings to it. I could not paint and decal a model any faster.
The diagrams provide me enough visual clue to the overall camouflage patterns to allow me to decide on which camouflages I really do like enough to commit time for model building. Since I had a whole directory of camouflage images starting to accumulate, I decided to make the patterns available to other modelers. Thus, here I am.
Perhaps I can inspire some readers out there to build some models of these aircraft and get their models posted, starting a sort of aggressor Skyhawk library!
First up is one of the more plain looking aggressor color schemes. This is a Top Gun machine, A-4E BuNo 151033. This aircraft is available on SuperScale decal sheet 48-317.
The instruction sheet with this decal set is rather poor. I needed to do a lot of looking and interpreting to glean out this pattern. I found a single picture of the aircraft as presented on the SuperScale sheet in Bandits! (see References).
I found a couple more pictures of the aircraft in the Osprey Superbase book titled Yuma (see References). The pictures in the Yuma book are from a different time period than the decals or the Bandits! picture, but the camouflage seemed to be the same. The main difference between these is that the gold pilot's name blocks (below the cockpit) were no longer being carried when the pictures were taken. Also, the Yuma pictures showed no false canopy under the nose and the use of a lighter gray for the markings applied to the Grayish Blue (F.S.35237) areas of the aircraft.
I chose to make my diagram match what the decal sheet provided, including the gold name block and false canopy. The Bandits! book picture shows the markings on the rear airframe are darker than those on the forward section, but the SuperScale decals are all in one color. According to the SuperScale decals, the left pilot's name block reads "LCDR SOBIECK / SOBS". The right side block reads "LT PARMENTER / TIGER".
For a long period, this was the oldest A-4 Skyhawk in Top Gun. This was the mount for Randy "Duke" Cunningham during his assignment for Top Gun following his service in Vietnam where he became the US Navy's only ace pilot of that conflict.
The positive/negative style of the markings makes them hard to see in pictures, but they are there.
As noted on the diagram, the NAVY (written in green) on the tail was changed at some point to read MARINES (written in red). I have no information on when this change occurred or for how long it was carried. There have been other aircraft assigned to Top Gun that worn MARINES on the tail.
A-4E BuNo 150023 (Top Gun #56, seen below) spent much of its Top Gun career with MARINES titles on the tail.
This aircraft is available on SuperScale decal sheet 48-316. As printed on the two copies of this sheet that I have, the markings are a bit too dark (almost black), and the green NAVY is provided, not the red MARINES. There are a variety of gold name blocks on the decal sheet. The instructions are hard to make out, but I think the correct name blocks read "LCDR MARTIN / REDBONE" on both the left and right sides.
A color picture I have shows the pilot's name being changed to "CAPT. WILL MILES / STUMP" during the period where the red MARINES writing was carried on the tail.
This is the well-known "Colonel Tomb Scheme".
The closely matching colors of this scheme make the aircraft appear as one color in many photographs. I got the pattern shown here from the painting instructions of an old Fujimi 1/72nd scale A-4E kit (stock#25024 / F-24). I am not very confident about the accuracy of the Fujimi instructions as the few color pictures I have compared them to seem to be a bit different. Additionally, the side views and top/bottom views on the Fujimi instructions do not really agree with each other as to where the spaghetti pattern gets applied. I reworked the pattern in my diagram so that it at least agrees with itself on the spaghetti pattern.
After studying a few pictures and seeing how the paint looked in the sunlight, I am convinced that this aircraft was first painted in overall gray. Then, a splotchy pattern of green was applied to create the pattern as seen in the diagram. Originally, I had thought that the aircraft was green first with the spaghetti pattern applied second. Whichever way it is painted, applying this paint scheme to a model will require some air brush wizardry.
The Fujimi decals have the gold pilot block showing "CMDR METCALF / VIPER". I have no idea if CMDR Metcalf is even a real person or, if he is, did he actually fly this aircraft. Perhaps the Japanese are just a little "Top Gun Crazy". Through several books I have pictures of this aircraft, I can not find any picture clear enough to make out the names in the name block. It does appear that different names were carried at different times. I would appreciate anyone with information on this dropping me an e-mail with the names on the aircraft.
Decals for this aircraft are not currently available in any scale from any after-market decal company I am aware of. However, the nose number is the only marking that is not readily available from alternate sources (like SuperScale aggressor decal sheets 48-316 and 48-317). If you can find the nose number somewhere (the typeface is not that uncommon), you can easily model this aircraft (if your air brush skills are up to the challenge).
Top Gun#56 (A-4E BuNo 150023) carried as many as seven different camouflages throughout its career in Top Gun, perhaps even more. Of all of them, this one is my favorite.
The aircraft carried this camouflage in April of 1982. Woven into the aircraft's camouflage is the outline of a MiG 17, allowing the aircraft to masquerade as a MiG during combat training. I have never heard how effective the camouflage was at making the Scooter look like a MiG. Being a short-lived scheme, I assume it was not as convincing as hoped and was removed after its evaluation. I got the pattern shown here from the painting instructions of the same Fujimi 1/72nd scale A-4E kit as the "Colonel Tomb Scheme".
I am more confident of the accuracy of this diagram as I have found several color pictures of this aircraft to confirm the pattern. The Fujimi decals use the same pilot's name block showing "CMDR METCALF / VIPER" as in the preceding scheme. From what I have deciphered from the pictures I have found in books, the pilot's name on the aircraft actually was "CAPT FULTER / CARROT".
I used this diagram to complete the "Fake MiG" model, seen in a previous posting. Decals for this aircraft are not currently available in any scale from any after-market decal company I am aware of. As with the "Colonel Tomb Scheme" above, the nose number is the only marking that is not readily available from some other sources. I do have it on very good authority that this aircraft will have decals available for it (in 1/48th scale) sometime this summer.
This is an early aggressor scheme applied to an A-4E Skyhawk of VA-43 (later VF-43) in June of 1975. Note the full color intake warning markings (red) and rescue arrow (yellow). Also evident are the full size tail markings, applied in black. The only low-vis markings on the entire aircraft are the non-standard black outline national insignia.
The one picture I found of this aircraft shows no other aircraft data beyond the rescue arrow and engine intake warning stripes. I pieced the pattern together for this aircraft from three sources. The first are instruction sheets off of old SuperScale decal sets (32-037 and 72-170). The second is a single color photograph from Famous Airplanes of the World #3 (Douglas A-4 Skyhawk).
Lastly, I consulted the pattern painted onto a model displayed in Scale Modeler magazine (Vol-11/No-9, September 1976). The magazine model was a 1/32nd scale Hasegawa kit built by Bob Archer using SuperScale's decals. I do not know if Bob had any further information for his build than I did or if he was limited to only the rather poor instructions found on the SuperScale decals. Whatever documentation he had, his model turned out well and provided me some idea of what to do with the camouflage in some tricky places.
The bottom camouflage is just guesswork by me as I had very little to go on. I could see just a little bit of the bottom in the FAOW picture, enough to know SuperScale was not correct about the lower wing being solid gray. I pieced what I could from the picture and made the rest work around it.
Another of the camouflages carried by Top Gun#56 (A-4E BuNo 150023).
While I have been unable to nail down a date when this camouflage was carried, attributes of the airframe make me feel this camouflage scheme was a later date than the MiG scheme seen above. This is a rather plain, simple camouflage scheme.
When I found that I had color pictures of both sides of the aircraft in different books, I decided to work up a diagram for the pattern. The bottom is clearly one color in the pictures, but the wing and tail tops are nearly invisible. Hence, I took some artistic license to piece together a pattern from the slight view of the wing and tail edges seen in the pictures.
Decals for this aircraft are not currently available in any scale from any after-market decal company I am aware of. As with the "Colonel Tomb Scheme" and "MiG Scheme" above, the nose number is the only marking that is not readily available from some other sources. If you can find the nose number somewhere (the typeface is not that uncommon), you can easily model this aircraft. I do have it on very good authority that this aircraft will have decals available for it (in 1/48th scale) sometime this summer.
This is a VA-126 aircraft. If you thought the "Colonel Tomb Scheme" seen above would be complicated to paint, you have to check this one out. I must say that tan and brown tiger stripes are a very attractive scheme.
I have seen a few aircraft (notably a couple F-5E and F-5F aircraft) that had a tighter tiger pattern, but this one is still tight enough to be a challenge. I found multiple pictures of this aircraft in two different Osprey books. One is a Superbase book titled Fallon (see References). The cover of this book is a picture of this aircraft. The other book is Navy Attack (see References).
Unfortunately, in all the pictures I found, only the left side of the aircraft is shown. Also, the wing and tail tops are visible only by what colors are present on their edges. I had sent to me a scanned picture of the same aircraft with different camouflage colors (darker) showing the right side. While the colors changed, it appears that the camouflage pattern did not. What I have here on the right side portion of the diagram is based on this picture with the different camouflage colors.
I would appreciate if anyone with a picture of the right side, or anything showing the wing or tail tops could e-mail me some scanned images so I can update my camouflage diagram accordingly. This is likely to be one of my next Hasegawa A-4E Skyhawk projects.
With the recent Skyhawk releases from both Hasegawa and HobbyCraft, the floodgates are opening. I hope to see many new decal sheets come out providing even more of a selection of unique aggressor camouflages. I know that I will be building more of them as time permits.
And, if you think there are a lot of single-seat aggressor camouflages, just wait until Hasegawa releases a TA-4J! There are about three times the number of unique camouflages applied to the TA-4J as are found on the single-seat A-4E/F.
Text and Images Copyright © 2001 by David