Tuesday 27 February 2018

2018 Skyhawk A4: Courage in the air



"Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit - a magic blend of skill, faith, and valor - that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory." - Walter Lord (1917 - 2002), American Author


This article describes the main actions carried out by the pilots of the Argentine Naval Air Squadron (EA33) and Argentine Air Force Skyfighter Group 5 . Both had a common denominator: the single seat subsonic carrier-capable attack aircraft Douglas A-4 Skyhawk created by Edward H. Heinemann (1908-1991) of the DouglasAircraft Company of the USA

The Royal Navy was surprised by the Argentine aviators, who flew at water level avoiding being detected by the radars of the British ships thus mocking modern antiaircraft systems. This allowed the pilots to get close enough to make the attacks. They needed to refuel twice during the missions. After bombarding the fleet (if they survived), the Argentine planes had to return quickly to their based on the continent before they ran out of fuel. Moreover, they were left unarmed to face the British Harriers which hunted them with Sidewinder AIM 9L missiles. 18,41

An especially dramatic topic that I want to emphasize is that the Argentine pilots had to fly with time-expired ejection seat cartridges.No pilot knew if he would have to fly in a plane with the cartridges in operative conditions or not. In spite of this, they achieved their mission, filling themselves with glory. 45

Stephen Harrison, a former Sea Harrier pilot , praised the attitude of the Argentine pilots. He said that they saw how they lost comrades but kept fighting with tenacity and defending their position in the Malvinas.32

Heinemann's hot-rod

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a ground attack aircraft capable of operating from an aircraft carrier. It was designed by Edward H. Heinemann in the 1950s for the US Navy and the Marine Corps. Originally it was called A4D according to the 1922 US Navy designation.When the unified system was established in 1962, it was renamed A-4.

About 3,000 aircraft were made. They participated in the Vietnam , Yom Kippur and Malvinas wars. In 1965 Argentina paid 7,100,000 and acquired 50 Skyhawk A-4Bs for the Air Force. Then in 1970, the government acquired surplus Naval versions for the Navy.

With the change of the original 7500 lb turbine Wright J-65-W-16 for a 8400 lb thrust J-65-W-20, substitution of electronic equipment similar to that used in the A-4F, Douglas Escapac 1 A -1 0/0 ejection seat and wings equipped with spoilers, the modified aircraft received the denomination A-4Q. The Tulsa Rework Facilities subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas 2 performed the overhaul work.

Edward H. Heinemann
Daniel Guggenheim Medal
National Aviation Hall of Fame
Science National Medal (1982)

Our aircrafts carried British 1000-lb Mk17 non-guided bombs or four 227 kg Spanish / American slow fuse bombs. The plane had two 20mm Mk12 cannons. 3

The ejection seat cartridges 11,34

Historical background
On January 13, 1942, the German Air Force Luftwaffe test pilot , Helmut Schenk ejected from a Heinkel He 280 using a seat with a compressed air system that launched him up and out of the cockpit on rails. By the fall of 1944, the British Air Ministry was receiving reports of sightings of German pilots who were "shot into the sky" from crashing planes. The Heinkel seat saved dozens of pilots during the war.

Heinkel He 280

The world's first jet fighter aircraft
/www.google.com.ar/search?q=Heinkel+He+280+picture&rlz=1C1AWFA_enAR753AR753&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1& fir=lGjxc8RdOcWZgM%253A%252CD09FNMvPZmLm1M%252C_&usg=pJRsqkH04yzlrUpQ9ZoL3THZUyY

One of those seats, captured by the American Army, led the US to develop their own expulsable chair.

The Swedish company Saab also built ejection seats and in 1942 it managed to launch a mannequin in a crash test of its Saab17 aircraft, byusing a cartridge full of explosives.

Many rigs were built to test the effect of a man sitting up on an almost vertical path. About 25-30% of the pilots that eject suffer back problems, due to the force of the explosive ejection. Modern seats further increase the amount of vertical G forces on the pilot, by having an explosive powerful enough to jump over the tail of the plane. Rocket enginesthen take over,pushing the seat about 60 meters high. 34

Ejection seats save the pilot's life but expose him to forces at the limit of human tolerance. Each phase of the ejection sequence is associated with characteristic injury patterns such as compression spine fractures caused by upward acceleration.31

The Humphrey-Kennedy amendment

Due to the Humphrey-Kennedy Amendment military assistance and sale of US weapons to Chile were prohibited after the coup against Salvador Allende in 1973. This prohibition was later extended and applied to Argentina in 1978. At the end of 1979 officials of the US Embassy in Buenos Aires began to recommend that the US Congress vote in favor of some credits for Argentina in recognition of improvements in the human rights situation. Nevertheless, the arms embargo continued until 1989, during the government of Carlos Menem.25,29

The example of Captain Castro Fox's accident

Captain (RE) Rodolfo Castro Fox, a Malvinas war veteran was Commander of the EA33 from December 1981. He suffered an accident on August 9, 1981 when he was catapulted from the A-4Q 3-A-303 most probably by the delayed ejection of his seat. 7

With his plane inverted he fell 13 meters attached to the ejection seat. When the nose-down inverted plane hit the water the ejection seat rockets ignited and the seat, like a torpedo, aimed to the bottom of the sea. The sequence continued through the different explosive cartridges which unlocks the seatbelt and harness, inflates the bladders to separate the seat and starts the parachute extractor.

If this sequence had failed, he would have been dragged to the bottom of the sea tied to the seat. Castro Fox suffered polytrauma, suffocation by immersion, shock lung, cardiorespiratory arrest, skull trauma with loss of consciousness; trauma in both orbits, fractured arm , left rib fracture ,dislocation of the shoulder, several head lacerations, black eyes; bilateral conjunctival ecchymosis and multiple bruises, as reported by then Lieutenant Commander Medicine Doctor Edgar Coria, who assisted cared for him.14

Castro Fox also reported:

“To make things worst, all the MK-1 Mod ejection seat booster cartridges expired on December 30 of that year and, due to the Humprey-Kennedy amendment, the United States did not provide us the cartridges we expected to get.

The delay in the ejection that I suffered in August could have been a signal that they were to expire. Thanks to a loan from the Argentine Air Force, we could use three ejectable cartridges since January 1982. 7

The case of Lieutenant Commander Carlos Zubizarreta (3 A 306) (May 23, 1982)

The Rio Grande runway was wet and icy and there was a crosswind. The "306" was coming in with very little fuel and with a ton of bombs hanging from belly The landing was normal but the overweight caused the left tireto burst. This caused a skid to the left and off the runway, breaking the the front wheel axle.

Zubizarreta, aware that any of the four bombs or all of them could detonate, followed the standard procedure.When he activated the ejection handle , the sequence was started. Theockpit canopy detached normally, but the cartridges did not have a good ignition precisely because their chemical components had expired. This caused a very poor ignition and provided insufficient energy to eject the seat to the necessary altitude and speed in order to complete the whole sequence.

The A-4Q was bow was in a low position due to the breakage of the front axle.The seat was ejected with little speed forwards and downwards without the complete sequence being completed. Zubizarreta barely managed to separate from the seat and the parachute extractor was just deployed at that moment. This caused the pilot to fall face down on the runwayand the heavy ejection seat landed directly on his back receiving directly on his back the heavy ejection seat. Only then did the parachute begin to unfold, albeit partially.

The abundant black smoke emitted by the ejection cartridges confirmed that they had expired. Ironically, some time earlier, one of the drive cartridges had been tested successfully on ground. 46

In the background, the Skyhawk 3-A-306 and the main pilots of the third Naval Air Squadron. From left to right, the fourth standing wearing a balaclava, is Zubizarreta. Photograph taken on May 20,1982.


The extension of expired cartridges

The ejector rockets of the ESCAPAC 1-A1 seat had expired on December 30, 1981. In order to equip the aircrafts, by order of the Commander of the Naval Air Force No. 2, for the purpose of actual operation and duration of the conflict, the life of the expired cartridges MK1-Mod 1, seat ejector was extended. This decision was taken without technical support. 8

The problem of the expired ejection cartridges had not been solved. Only the technical staff knew which aircraft had expired cartridges and which ones didn’t.No pilot could know if he were to fly in a warplane with the proper cartridges .

To avoid problems and possible conflicts, a very unprofessional but effective solution was adopted: the match-up of pilots to planes with operative ejection cartridges was left to chance. 46

Jim Winchester author of Skyhawk: Attack and Close Support Fighter-Bomber-A4 Skyhawk states: The reduced ejection success (Argentine) during the Malvinas conflict was due to the use of expired cartridges for the ejection seats.

Handbook Maintenance Instructions-Navy models A-4A, A-4B, A-4C, A-4E and A- 4L Aircraft-Section XIII-Rocket Catapult Ejection Seat-NAVAIR 01-40AVA-2-13- Pubished by The Direction of The Commander. Naval Air Systems Command. (Kindly submitted by CFTE Franco Dario Pierrotta, Director of the Naval Air Museum)

In these circumstances, the Argentine pilots engaged in the following battles:

The sinking of HMS Ardent (May 21,1982)

In a Third wave attack in May 1982. at 03.01 pm, six A-4Q of the EA33, (Lieutenant Commander Alberto Jorge Philippi, Lieutenant Marcelo Gustavo Márquez, Lieutenant José César Arca, Lieutenant Benito Italo Rótolo, Lieutenant Carlos Alberto Lecour and Lieutenant Roberto Gerardo Sylvester) dropped two to four bombs which exploded in the Type 21 frigateHMS Ardent (F184) commanded by Captain Alan West, RN. 1,38

An indeterminate number of bombs penetrated but did not explode in the ship. The mess deck was destroyed, the communications between the bridge and the control center of the ship were cut, and the ship lost her course. This attack caused numerous casualties among the damage control teams working in the hangar. With the fires in the stern now out of control, the Captain gave the order to abandon ship.

The survivors were transferred to SS Canberra. 22 men lost their lives and 37 were injured .39. One of the survivors was Chief Petty Officer Kent Enticknap who was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his performance .35

When returning to the mainland, three pilots were shot down by Sea Sidewinders missiles : Lieutenant Commander Alberto Jorge Philippi (he safely ejected and spent the night in the farm of Tony Blake.Later he walked to the Argentine lines), Lieutenant José César Arca (he tried to land unsuccessfully in Puerto Argentino and had to eject being rescued by the Argentine Army Captain, Alberto Alfredo Svendsen, in a Bell UH-1 Iroquois) while the Lieutenant Marcelo Gustavo Márquez (29) lost his life when his plane exploded.

That day Philippi and Arca had to use their ejection seats which worked normally. Either it was luck or the cartridges, eventhough they were expired, worked properly. 46

The HMS Ardent continued to burn throughout the night and sank at 04:30 on the 21st.

In November 2003, Phillipi and Blake met again in Bahía Blanca, visited the Puerto Belgrano naval base, played golf and remembered the day they met and a friendship was born. 27

Captain Alberto Jorge Philippi and Tony Blake

https://www.google.com.ar/search?q=philippi+y+blake+falklands&rlz=1C1AWFA_enAR753AR753&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=PiUKJ1Qho2TCRM%253A%252CVAuavZNyaDU08M%252C_&usg=fvM_5veDWw 5JTZsiPYRldu62bA0%3

                        Bomb Alley by Robert Grant Smith (1914-2001)

The British ships anchoring area became known as "Bomb Alley¨. An A4Q Skyhawk from the Third Naval Air Squadron flew low to attack and sink the HMS Ardent. HMS Argonaut and HMS Brilliant were seriously damaged. The Argentine forces lost two planes. R.G.Smith had a special affection for the little Skyhawk A4. This splendid painting was on the cover of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings of May 1983. Its publication was kindly authorized by Sharlyn Marsh, daughter of the deceased artist R.G. Smith and Carol Mason Director of Client Services and Membership of the U.S. Naval Institute .43

Argentine pilots and their A4 Skyhawks:

The attack on HMS Antelope (May 23, 1982)

The sinking of HMS Antelope could be due to the joint Argentine Air and Naval Forces. The book Air War South Atlantic by Jeffrey L. Ethell and Alfred Price erroneously reports that she was attacked solely by the Argentine Air Force. One of the warplanes (First Lieutenant Luciano Guadagnini) collided with the top of the ship mast breaking it while another plane was shot down by Rapier missiles from HMS Broadsword . 28 The sinking was due to the actions of First LieutenantLuciano Guadagnini and Ensign Hugo Gómez.

On May 23 at 12:30 a division of four planes took off to attack naval targets in Puerto San Carlos. The Skyhawk 3-A-302 was commanded by Lieutenant Marcos Benitez. Except for 3-A-305, the three remaining planes crossed the island of Gran Malvina by the north.

The 3-A-302 attacked the frigate type 21 HMS Antelope commanded by the Captain Mick J. Tobin. Two bombs lodged in their interior and they did not explode.

Helmsman Alan White of the Royal Marines aboard Foxtrot 7, from one of the four LCVPs landing craft carried by HMS Fearless commanded by Captain ESJ Larken, was decorated by Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse for having evacuated 47 men from the HMS Antelope 20,40

At night the explosives team experts, led by Sergeant Jim Prescott of the Royal Engineers were extracting the fuze from the third bomb when exploded. Prescott died on the spot and (WO2) John Phillips had his left arm amputated by Surgeon Phil Shouler 24,47. The ship broke in two and sank on the morning of the 24th. 28

Note: John Phillips is retired, lives near Coventry and is trustee of the Limbless Veterans formerly known as the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association (Blesma)

Attack on HMS Broadsword and sinking of HMS Coventry (May 25, 1982)

With the loss of the Malvinas Islands to the British, the Douglas A-4P Skyhawks (A-4B) from Group 5 were moved to operate with squadrons from the Rio Gallegos Military Air Base (Santa Cruz). On Tuesday, May 25, 1982, an attack was organized with two sections of three A-4B aircraft each. The first section took off at 2:00 pm with the Vulcano call sign (Captain Pablo Carballo, Lieutenant Carlos Alfredo Rinke and Ensign Leonardo Carmona) and the second section with the Zeus call sign (First Lieutenant Mariano Velasco, Lieutenant Carlos Enrique Osses and Ensign Jorge Nelson Barrionuevo). 17

At 15:20 hours the Vulcan squadron attacked the Type 22 frigate HMS Broadsword (which provided air defense to HMS Coventry) commanded by Captain William R. Canning RN destroying his Sea Lynx helicopter with a Mk 83 bomb that fell on its deck,bounced and exploded in the sea, causing damage to the electrical, hydraulic and communications system housed under the heliport. 21

The Type 42 destroyer HMS Coventry commanded by Captain David Hart Dyke CBE, LVO, ADC 6 was impacted by two bombs from the Zeus group below the waterline on the port side. One of the bombs exploded inside the computer room, destroying the adjoining operating room, incapacitating its staff. The other entered the forward engine space, exploding under the mess deck, where the first aid station was located, and the ship immediately began to heel to port.

The last impact caused critical damage breaking the fire barrier between the front forward and rear engine spaces, and exposing the entire ship to fire. Given the ship's design, with multiple waterproof compartments, these impacts completely compromised its survival.

Apparently a fault in the Sea Wolf missile system of the HMS Broadsword allowed the sinking of HMS Coventry .(Hart Dyke, David, Four Weeks in May: The Loss of "HMS Coventry." Atlantic Books (2007), ISBN 978-1-84354-590-3)

Within 15 minutes, Coventry capsized; she sunk 15 minutes later. 22,28, 33

The diver Clive Gale went to the area where the HMS Coventry was sunk (91 m deep) as part of a 39 men team of the Royal Navy (Operation Blackleg) and "recovered and destroyed certain items". They recovered the bell and the cross of nails.23

Together, HMS Intrepid gunner Neil Wilkinson and First Lieutenant Mariano Velasco. This last was shot down by Wilkinson. After the war both men met in Córdoba. Velasco and his grandchildren received Wilkinson with open arms. 37

The attack on RFA Sir Galahad (L3005), RFA Sir Tristam (L3505) and HMS Fearless (L10) (June 8, 1982)

At approximately 2:00 p.m. on June 8, the RFA ships Sir Tristram and RFA Sir Galahad were attacked by the Air Force Group 5 at Agreeable Bay (Bluff Cove). Each plane of the Group carried three 500-pound Mark 81 bombs of Spanish design 4,36,44

First Lieutenant Carlos Cachon of the Dogo section (led by Captain Pablo Carballo) aboard Skyhawk C 222 (El Tordillo) 16 hit the RFA Sir Galahad commanded by Captain Phillip Roberts DSO with three 1000 Kg bombs.5,13 

The men lost in this sinking represented 1/5 of all the British casualties in Malvinas. At the time, had on board the 1st Battalion of Welsh Guards. The explosions and the subsequent fire caused the death of 32 of them., 4 Army Catering Corps (Lance Corporal Barry C. Bullers, Soldier Albert

M. Connett , Soldier M. Anthony Jones and Soldier Richard W. Middlewick, 3 members of the Royal Army Medical Corps (Major Roger Nutbeem, Lance Corporal Ian R. Farrell and Soldier Ken Preston), 2 Royal Engineers (Corporal Andrew G. McIlvenny and Sapper Wayne D.Tarbard and 2 Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (Craftsman Mark W.Rollins and Lance Corporal Anthony R. Streatfield). 10,13,26,42

The case of Simon Weston

Simon Weston of the Welsh Guards has had to endure 75 operations in 22 years for having 46% of burns. 48

Simon Weston CBE

Weston said:

Heroes are made by other people, it’s what other people say about you that creates the story. You do what you do at the time, you’re not thinking about what’s going to be said or written about you in 20 years time. When I was on top of the ship all I wanted to do was survive. When I was surviving in hospital and trying to keep my mind together all I wanted to do was be the Simon Weston that I was before and I wanted to go back to the army and play rugby. Nothing that other people say is really what you think of yourself.19

Tell me a conflict that isn’t controversial? The realities we need to understand 35 years later is that the controversy that surrounded the Falklands were largely politically created. As far as soldiers are concerned we don’t have a choice, we’re ordered to go and we do. I was paid to do a job, I wasn’t paid for my opinion. I joined to be a soldier and being a soldier meant that we had to take risks. 19

HMS Sir Galahad

https://www.google.com.ar/search?q=rfa+sir+galahad+attack&rlz=1C1AWFA_enAR753AR753&tb m=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi8yY_F3bLZAhUGgpAKHW1LDCwQ7AkIZw&biw=1680&bih=919#imgrc=OHE6Kh4mi

In a documentary program Guard Simon Weston met Carlos Cachon the pilot who dropped the bomb. The latter visited him at his home in Liverpool and since then they have been friends. 19

HMS Sir Tristam, commanded by Captain G.R.Green, was hit by three 500-pound Mark 82 bombs 36,two of which were dropped by the leader of the attack squad, Lieutenant Daniel Eduardo Gálvez. 2 crewmembers died.

At 16:50, a second wave consisting of four Skyhawks from Group 5 attacked and sank a landing craft of the HMS Fearless, which transported the vehicles of the headquarters of the 5th Brigade from Port Darwin to Pleasant Bay in the Sine Choiseul. Six Royal Marines died in this attack, as did seaman Yeung Shui Kam, RFA and Yu Sik Chee, Bosun, RFA .26

Sea Harriers shot down three Skyhawks (Lieutenants Juan José Arrarás (C 226), Danilo Rubén Bolzan and Alférez Jorge Alberto Vázquez). Bolzan's plane was shot down by Lt. David Smith, while the other two Skyhawks were killed by Lt. David Morgan. The fourth plane suffered damage and lost a large amount of fuel, but managed to return to its base assisted by a KC-130 tanker.

In conclusion we can say that the Argentine Naval Air force, , made 1800 hours in combat area out of the 6250 hours that they flew. They dropped 34,000 tons of ordnance. For each warplane lost 4250 tons of enemy ships were sunk 15, 30 . The following were KIA : One Chief, three Officers and two NCOs. 28

In the case of the Argentine Air Force there were 505 combat sorties, of which 455 (88%) were completed. 272 sorties (64%) reached their target. 34 aircraft were lost. They flew 12454 hours of which 2782 were flown in combat zones .18

Opinions 12,28

Since 1914, never in the history of wars did aviators have to face such a terrific conjunction of deadly obstacles, neither those of the RAF over London in 1940 nor those of the Luftwaffe in 1945. Your courage has dazzled us.Not only the Argentine people should never forget you, but also many of us in this world who are proud that you are our brother pilots. To the fathers and mothers, to the brothers and sisters, to the wives and children of the Argentine pilots who went to their death with the most fantastic and most amazing courage, I tell them that they honor Argentina and the Latin world. Oh! The truth is valid only for the blood shed and the world believes only in those causes whose witnesses are killed for it.

Pierre Clostermann

French Ace of the Second World War

“I reckon that the Argentine pilots have displayed unequaled valor.”

British Defense Secretary John Nott


CFTE Franco Dario Pierrotta, Director of the Naval Air Museum in Comandante Espora Naval Air Base, Ruta Nacional 3 Vieja, s/n, 8107 Bahía Blanca, Buenos Aires


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May 18th, 2018-35th Annual Dinner of the Third Argentine Naval Squadron (E33)

Standing: (Left to Right): CN Rodolfo Castro Fox, CN Félix Medici, CN José Arca, VL Benito Rotolo, CF Carlos Oliveira, CF Marco Benitez and the author.
Below (Left to Right) TN Diego Luis Goñi, Manuel Arce (son of CF Manuel Arce) and CN Roberto Gerardo Sylvester.