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The Skyhawk Association is proud to dedicate our Internet Website to Ed Heinemann. This remarkable individual is truly one of the legendary stalwarts in the golden age of aviation.

Designer of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

"Heinemann's Hot-Rod" - the Ferrari of airplanes.

Ed Heinemann with Donald Douglas (1947)

Example of A-4C Identification Plate.

Ed Heinemann and Bob Krall pose by BuNo. 137813 on 10 MAY 1986 at Pensacola. Photo from Bob Krall.

Ed Heinemann was responsible for the design and development of a remarkably successful series of combat aircraft, from the Dauntless dive bomber to the A4 Skyhawk jet. During a career that extended over six decades, he designed more than 20 fighter, bomber, and rocket aircraft. He died on 26 November 1991 at the age of 83.

His story is told in the excellent volume, ''Ed Heinemann: Combat Aircraft Designer", co-authored by Rosario "Zip" Rausa, published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1980.

Airplanes were a part of Ed Heinemann's life since he was given a toy biplane on his eighth birthday. Years later as a teenager he would roam the grounds of the Ascot Park Speedway in Saginaw, Michigan, watching the planes flying about and waiting for the occasional visit of the Goodyear blimp. As she descended, he would run onto the field, grab the guy wires, and help haul her down.

Like the great World War II pilot, Jimmy Doolittle, Ed Heinemann attended Manual Arts High in Los Angeles, but unlike Doolittle, that's where his formal education ended. His extraordinary mechanical aptitude was recognized and nurtured in those classroom days in a way that really paid off later. He became a man whose life spanned the golden age of flight and whose foresight, determination, and genius provided the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force with some of the most reliable fighting machines ever to take to the sky.

A4D-1 Douglas "Skyhawk" (A-4A)

Pilots called the Skyhawk: "Heinemann's Hot Rod;" The "Scooter;" and The "Tinkertoy" ("Tink" for short). This plane enjoyed the longest production run of any tactical aircraft in the history of aviation, about 25 years! First flown in 1954, it was finally retired from U.S. Navy active duty in 2003. It is still in use as a civilian owned combat trainer, and with some foreign countries. The Skyhawk's contribution to the conflict in Southeast Asia is well documented. In the hands of courageous pilots, marine and navy alike, it was a superb close air support and interdiction weapon. Operating from the Yankee Station carriers, it was a spearhead for major strikes against the most heavily defended targets in the history of warfare. Based ashore below the seventeenth parallel, the marines put the bomber to excellent use. The Blue Angels flew the Skyhawk for many years. Top Gun instructors flying the Skyhawk whupped everything in the sky - including Tomcats, Phantoms, Crusaders, Hornets and Vipers. It has been said that the aircraft's most significant contribution evolves around how it proved that with diligent engineering, hard work and continuing cooperation between builder and buyer, wonders can be worked. Wonders that last a very long time!

Speed Record Press Conference 17OCT55
Ed Heinemann and LT Gordon Gray
Closed Course Speed Record
A4D-1 Skyhawk BuNo 137820

Curious onlookers view the Navy’s new record setting A4D-1 Skyhawk BuNo 137820. Flown by Lt. Gordon Gray it set a new speed record of 695.163 MPH for the 500 kilometer closed course at Edwards Air Force Base, Muroc, CA, 17 October 1955. Official U.S. Navy photo 681515.

Three Douglas Products - 30OCT55 Miramar Air Show
A4D-1 BuNo 137814
A3D-1, A4D-1 and F4D-1.
Ed Heinemann in-flight in a Skyhawk. Ed Heinemann after Skyhawk flight.
Ed Heinemann next to the last Skyhawk built.

Heinemann was one of a kind, the leader of a design team, which time and time again gave the Navy, the finest aircraft available. Born in Saginaw, Michigan on 14 March 1908, he moved to California in 1914, where he began with Douglas Aircraft Company in 1926 as a draftsman. He served as project engineer before becoming Chief Engineer in 1936 and Vice President for Military Aircraft in 1958. In 1960, he joined Guidance Technology as Executive Vice President and in 1961 became Corporate Vice President - Engineering for General Dynamics, a position from which he retired in 1973.

Heinemann was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1953 "for the greatest achievement in aviation in America" - the F4D "Skyray", as well as the Gugginheim Medal in 1978 in honor of his invaluable contribution to the nation. He was enshrined in the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1981 and received the National Medal of Science from President Reagan at the White House on 24 May 1983. He was designated Honorary Naval Aviator Number 18. He was a long time member of the Tailhook Association.

Following are some key rules Ed said he tried to adhere to when dealing with people. They give you a measure of the man!

Tell people what is expected of them.

Tell them in advance about changes that will affect them.

Let those working for you know how they are getting along.

Give credit where credit is due, especially for extra effort or performance. Do it while it's hot. Don't wait.

Make the best use of each person's ability.

Strive to keep ahead of schedule.

Don't waste time.

If you're the boss, give guidance, direction, and most important, decisive answers to questions.

Make sure people know where to go to get answers.

Beware of office politicians.

If you want to pick a man for a difficult job, pick one who has already thought out the problem or is capable of doing so quickly.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices. Beware of these.

Respect the specialists -- those who are masters of a particular phase of an operation. But be wary of allowing them to make big decisions.

Avoid lengthy committee meetings.

Avoid paralysis by analysis.

Plan ahead.

In a world where the focus seems to shift daily from one technological wonder to another, the value of solid engineering—a design well thought-out and well executed—is too often overlooked. This is as true in jet aviation as it is anywhere else. Today more than ever it’s important to reflect on the work of pioneering aircraft designers, to better understand just what it takes to make a truly great airplane, then and now.

Ed Heinemann was once named by maverick designer Burt Rutan as among a handful of engineers who were the “pioneers who provided my inspiration.” I first came to appreciate Heinemann’s genius years ago as a young aerospace engineer, while I was conducting bench-marking studies for range and payload across a number of jet designs, the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk among them.

It’s easy to underestimate how phenomenal an accomplishment “Heinemann’s Hot Rod”—as the A-4 became known— truly was. By the time Heinemann conceived of the design, he had already proved his mettle with more than a dozen aircraft, leaving his distinctive imprint on virtually every fighter, strike aircraft or experimental airplane to come out of Douglas during the 1940s and ’50s. From the SBD Dauntless, which was instrumental in turning the tide at the Battle of Midway, to the experimental D-558-2 Skyrocket, which in November 1953 enabled Scott Crossfield to become the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound (see “Skyrocketing Through Mach 2,” January 2014), Heinemann’s team of engineers was a breed apart.

Known widely as “Mr. Attack Aviation,” Heinemann himself never completed a formal degree as an engineer. He rose through the ranks, first as a draftsman, then as an apprentice to and colleague of other legendary aircraft designers—Donald Douglas, Jack Northrop and Howard Hughes among them—before finally becoming Douglas Aircraft’s design engineering chief. He had learned engineering on the job, hands-on, and was widely recognized for his natural talent.

When the U.S. Navy first approved Douglas in January 1952 to design a new carrier-based strike jet, capable of carrying a 2,000-pound payload up to 300 nautical miles, with a maximum speed of 500 knots and a maximum takeoff weight of no more than 30,000 pounds, Heinemann confidently predicted that he could deliver the requested range and payload in an airplane that weighed less than half the Navy’s requirement, and with a top speed 90 knots faster. What he proposed seemed impossible—an airplane too good to be true. And when the Navy nonetheless signed a contract putting Heinemann’s confidence to the test, Admiral Thomas S. Combs emphasized in no uncertain terms that the strike jet was expected to meet all the Navy’s objectives, and that it also “absolutely must not exceed one million dollars per copy.” As time would prove, Heinemann’s team delivered on every one of those promises: range, payload, takeoff weight and cost.

How did Ed Heinemann succeed in doing what the experts of his day had not imagined was possible? Some new super-secret alloy? A secret engine? No, nothing so elaborate. Heinemann succeeded by applying the first principles of engineering and by merciless attention to detail. Every aspect, every element of the airplane was scrutinized to reduce weight. Every unnecessary redundancy was challenged.

After considering a swept-wing design, as was fashionable at the time, Heinemann’s team at El Segundo, California, selected a delta-wing configuration with a span short enough to avoid having to fold the wings to fit on a carrier deck. It also provided for maximum wing-root thickness, stiffness and fuel capacity. Eliminating the wing-folding mechanism alone saved an estimated 200 pounds. The airplane’s black boxes, including the communications, navigation, IFF and power supply systems, were consolidated into a single unit, for a weight savings of some 40 pounds. The Skyhawk’s ejection seat was similarly re-designed to eliminate a third of its parts, coming in at 58 pounds below the original weight estimate,less than half what the standard Navy ejection seat weighed. And when the subcontractor assigned to design the air conditioning system showed up at Heinemann’s door with a unit that was 20 pounds over target, he was told to come back when it met the required weight. The air conditioning unit eventually came in at 5 pounds below the weight that Heinemann’s team had allotted for that system.

When the first XA4D-1 rolled out of the assembly floor, it weighed 7,896 pounds, more than 270 pounds below the target empty weight that Douglas had signed up for. And when the Skyhawk finally reached production, the first 500 airplanes would cost an average of $860,000 each, well below the Navy’s $1 million upper limit.

Ed Heinemann’s guiding principles—simplifying every component to its bare minimum, combining functions into fewer components and designing direct load paths that maximized structural synergy—were reflected throughout the airplane. The main landing gear, for example, was anchored directly into the main wing spar, providing a straight load path between landing gear forces and the airframe. The main wing spars themselves were machined from a single forging, eliminating the need for fasteners between spar elements. And the skin of each wing was formed from a single sheet of aluminum, again eliminating the need for extra fasteners and maximizing structural strength.

The XA4D-1 first flew on June 22, 1954, with the last production aircraft rolling off the assembly line in February 1979. A total of 2,960 Skyhawks were produced during those 25 years. Heinemann’s team had shown the same dedication to simplification inside the cockpit that they had displayed throughout the structural design, reducing instrumentation by roughly two-thirds compared to the F3D Sky-night that had preceded it. As one pilot said of his first A-4 flight: “It scared me to death for the first half hour. I kept looking around the cockpit for something to do. But it was so simple to fly there really wasn’t much to do! I merely got in, started up, took off and enjoyed it.”

Despite its diminutive size, the Skyhawk quickly demonstrated its ability to carry far larger bomb-loads than the 2,000 pounds that the Navy had specified. Beginning with the A4D-5 (later A-4E) model, the external stores stations were increased from three hard-points to five, upping external capacity to 8,200 pounds. The A-4E also introduced the Pratt and Whitney J52 engine, increasing available thrust from the 7,700 pounds of the original Westinghouse J65 engine to 8,500 pounds in the J52-P-6A. Later versions of the J52 produced even more thrust, eventually culminating in the A-4M/N models’ J52-P-408, which produced 11,200 pounds of thrust and increased the external weapons load to some 9,155 pounds. Not bad for a “light attack” jet. None of these later upgrades would have been possible, however, without the sound foundation established by Heinemann and his team so many years before.

To appreciate just how good the structural design of the A-4 really was, it’s useful to compare its empty weight to its maximum takeoff weight on a logarithmic basis. Comparisons like this are routinely used in conceptual design, to gauge how heavy an airplane will need to be to perform its required mission. Drawing on the published literature, and comparing the A-4 to its peers across decades of jet aviation, it is readily apparent that the Skyhawk far exceeded the maximum takeoff weight that was considered the norm for a fighter-bomber of its size. When viewed in this fashion, only a handful of strike aircraft, developed decades after the A-4 and with the benefit of composites and other structural technologies unavailable when it was designed, would actually exceed the standard the Skyhawk set.

The A-4 formed the backbone of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps close air support and strike capabilities throughout the Vietnam War. Navy Skyhawk squadrons made 107 cruises to Southeast Asia, as compared to 84 for the F-4 Phantom. Assigned to the most dangerous attack missions, the Skyhawk also racked up the most combat losses, though only one fell to an enemy MiG. All the other losses were attributed to ground-fire or SAMs. The Skyhawk also flew into battle with the Israeli Air Force in the course of three wars. Stunningly nimble when stripped of its bomb-load, it would serve for decades more in the adversary units providing opposition for the Navy’s “Top Gun” air combat training program. And in 1991—nearly 40 years after the first prototype flew—the A-4 would again serve in combat during Operation Desert Storm, as part of the Kuwait air force. The last TA-4 was not retired from active Navy service until May 2003, a testament to the enduring legacy of Heinemann’s design.

It has been more than 20 years since I graduated with my degree in aerospace engineering. I’ve worked on many exciting programs, using materials that were not even envisioned when Ed Heinemann drew up the first plans for the A-4, and applying computer design tools that were never imagined in his day. Yet I still look back with admiration at what Heinemann and his El Segundo team accomplished. There are things I learned from the A-4 that I’ve carried with me throughout my career.

First, an airplane that is truly devoted to its task, whose design is not diluted by extraneous objectives, can achieve much and exceed all expectations. Second, I learned to be impressed more by results and less by titles. Heinemann’s skill and experience was worth more than a roomful of degrees. I also learned that big solutions begin with little thought experiments, sketched out on small pieces of paper. As Ed used to remind his staff at El Segundo: “Paper is cheap! When beginning a project, sketch out all your ideas and concepts. Dream a lot. Let your mind freewheel. You can’t go wrong, no matter how many sheets you fill out and toss into the wastebasket.” And above all, he understood that engineering is a team sport: “Aircraft development is an evolutionary process. What flies today is an outgrowth of what flew yesterday. The knowledge of aeronautics has flowed from a wide range of sources, and designers benefit from the efforts of others. No single person could do it all.”

The A-4 was a remarkable achievement that served the U.S. and its allies well in wartime and peace. As Heinemann himself wrote: “I believe that the aircraft’s most significant contribution revolves around how it proved that with diligent engineering, hard work, and continuing cooperation between builder and buyer, wonders can be worked. Wonders that last a very long time.”

Engineer John Golan has worked in the U.S. aerospace industry for more than two decades as a designer, structures analyst and engineering manager on a variety of civil and military jet propulsion systems. For further reading, he recommends: Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, by Jim Winchester; Ed Heinemann: Combat Aircraft Designer, by Edward H. Heinemann and Rosario Rausa; and Aircraft Design, by Edward H. Heinemann, Rosario Rausa and K.E. Van Every.

Harry S. Gann

Harry photo

The old Douglas Aircraft bird farm was a fertile breeding ground for legends - not only in terms of the aircraft they put on our flight-lines, but also in the men who designed and built them. The pioneering and engineering genius of Donald Douglas, Jack Northrop and Ed Heinemann immediately come to mind.
Another legend who flourished at Douglas was a respected, quiet, supremely modest guy whom many of our Association members knew well. Harry Gann's determined route from high school athlete in Arizona, to earning a Mechanical Engineering degree at USC, and then on into a career in aviation, was via a tour as a WWII ground-pounder with General George S. Patton. At the Battle of the Bulge, he was wounded by a land mine.

After some serious post-war rehab (and with his hard-won engineering degree in hand), Harry spent a few years with smaller companies, then signed on at North American Aircraft before moving to the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1954. At Douglas, he worked as a mechanical designer on control systems for the A4D Skyhawk, A3D Skywarrior, F4D Skyray and the F5D Skylancer. Along the way, just like his good friend R. G. Smith (another Douglas Legend), Harry developed a parallel career interest. In Harry's case, it was using scholarly research and often daring photography from cockpits and runways to record aviation history.

As the powers at Douglas became aware of Harry's deep love for aviation, the fact that he had co-authored a book on air racing while still in college, and that he was a founder and officer of the American Aviation Historical Society (AAHS), they concluded that his highest value to the company and to aviation in general was to turn this great talent loose on worldwide aviation. Thus, they vested him with the title: "Director of Information for Douglas Aircraft". Later in 1989 the title was changed to "Company Historian".

Now Harry was off and running on what would become more than four decades of being "The Source" for historical facts and photo records of Douglas commercial and military products. Needless to say, his repertoire continually expanded to include experimental and military aircraft of other U.S. and foreign origins as well.

When Douglas folded into MacAir, Harry didn't skip a beat. He was already the unofficial Blue Angel photographer and was named an Honorary Blue Angel in 1979. But the Marine Corps had already beaten that by making him an Honorary Marine Aviator in 1975. To top it off, he was designated Honorary Naval Aviator Number 24 by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jay Johnson, at the annual ANA convention in May 1997, thereby joining two other illustrious Douglas alumni who had been accorded that rare honor - Ed Heinemann and R. G. Smith.

Harry's research products and photo archives, which he readily shared with any legitimate inquiry, have been featured in virtually every aviation publication worth its salt and in many other media throughout the world. Moreover, he has been personally acclaimed by many of those professional organizations. Our favorite is Roy Stafford's great piece on Harry, which was published in the November 1997 issue of Air Classics magazine. Roy's write-up notes how Harry was always eager to suit-up and do air-to-air shots of Marine formations - just as he did for the Blue Angels for seventeen years.

So, did Harry need more recognition? HE sure didn't think so, but there were many Marines who disagreed and here's just one reason why. Back in 1989, when Brigadier General Dave Shuter, CG MCAS El Toro, committed the station to development of a proper museum, Harry was one of the very first to join the volunteer support group which promptly incorporated as the MCAS El Toro Historical Foundation. As the fully occupied Douglas Historian, he still made time to donate his unique expertise to the project, bringing along other skilled volunteers from Douglas such as Tom Dozier, who refers to Harry as "walking history."
The immediate objective of the Station and the Foundation was to graduate from "Historical Holding" status to become certified by the Commandant of the Marine Corps as a "Command Museum" - the only such purely aviation-theme facility in the Marine Corps. When Harry retired from Douglas in 1992, Major General Drax Williams lured him to the Curator post at El Toro - which promptly led to that prized certification. The sheer power of Harry Gann's professional credentials turned the trick and we owe him - BIG TIME!
Jay Hubbard
Brigadier General, USMC (Retired)

You will find many of Harry Gann Photographs throughout this site.

Harry's Final Flight - October 30, 2000


Harry, the Skyhawks bid you "Farewell" and wish you clear skies and a happy reunion with your countless friends.
Harry S. Gann Internment November 6, 2000.
National Cemetery, Riverside, California.
Internment Service "Missing Man" Fly-by made by:
VFA-146 Blue Diamond F/A-18 Hornets

R.G. Smith

1914 - 2001
Smith Photo

Original R.G. A-4 Blueprint

Robert Grant Smith, better known in the Naval Aviation Community as simply, "R. G.", is a legendary figure known as one of the flying community's most accomplished artists. "R. G." was an engineer who just happened to be a superb artist.
He graduated from the Polytechnic College of Engineering in Oakland in 1934 with a degree in mechanical engineering and found work with Northrop Aircraft, then a subsidiary of Douglas Aircraft. A strong patriot, when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor he tried to enlist. To his great regret he was told he was doing critical national defense work.
Modest and unassuming, R.G. preferred to be known as an engineer despite his position in later years as the Douglas Company's full-time artist. He was very proud of the contributions he made to the design of a succession of Douglas Aircraft. R.G. was especially influential in the design of the A-4 Skyhawk.
R. G.'s works hang in the National Air and Space Museum, the Pentagon, squadron ready rooms and in ships throughout the fleet. His paintings draw the viewer in, giving them the feeling they are witnessing the event live. From SBDs attacking Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway; an F3D downing a North Korean MiG; Skyraiders bombing a train; a patrol boat under fire at night in South Vietnam, to a Skywarrior refueling a damaged Skyhawk returning from North Vietnam, he brings the event alive before your eyes.
He enjoyed a happy family life with wife, Betty, and children Sharlyn and Richard, plus nine grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
R. G. passed away May 29th, 2001 at the age of 87 at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. He was an aircraft configuration engineer, patriot, devoted family man, and Honorary Naval Aviator Number 10.

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