Doug Matthews has successfully flown his recently refurbished Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk for the first time! We have been following this exciting project for several months, and have posted a few earlier pieces on the project, and its history. The aircraft, Bu.156925, now wears the markings of VF-126, but had originally served in VT-86.
A former US Navy pilot, Doug Matthews acquired the aircraft in late 2015 with just five hours on the clock following a ten-year restoration. The Skyhawk has since undergone a significant upgrade, which included a complete cockpit rebuild, at Matthews’ facility, Classic Fighters of America. He and co-owner, Al Armstrong, have just completed the first post-restoration flight. (Al Armstrong is a former US Navy F/A-18 Hornet instructor and regular pilot of the Commemorative Air Force Dixie Wing‘s FG-1D Corsair, SBD Dauntless and P-51D Mustang.)
WarbirdsNews founding editor, Moreno Aguiari conducted an exclusive interview with Doug Matthews today to discuss his latest adventure.
WN: Can you describe the flight and how it went?
DM: We started the A-4 up and Al and I went out for the first test flight. We delayed taxi due to running a few tests and calibration for all the new Garmin avionics and so it took about 30 mins before we were ready for take off. We did the power check and everything was good all the tests were good so we took off. We left the landing gear extended and the flaps extended and did two landings and taxied back in and shut down to check the airplane over carefully. We found no problems so Al got out and got into one of the Marchettis with the photographer and then we took off again and retracted everything and then we flew for about 20 minutes with the Marchetti for a photo shoot. We took a lot of shots. We also had a photographer on the ground taking shots of landings etc. and then we tested all the systems. beautiful day and came back in.
WN: Why did you conduct the first flight with the gear down?
DM: We wanted to see if during the flight if we would develop any hydraulic leaks, because if you raise the landing gear and you have hydraulic leaks then the problem you have is you may not be able to get your landing gear down.
WN: How much time did you have in the A-4 during your Navy service?
DM: Maybe 25 hours in the Navy.
WN: How did the aircraft fly in comparison to your memories from your Navy service?
DM: It flew the same. Same thing. Same airplane other than all the avionics, of course and the fact that this has been restored. …So you walk up to this airplane that’s glistening, shiny, you know, because it’s been stripped and painted. And then you get in the cockpit, and the cockpit looks like it just came from the factory, of course, because it’s all new. And then you see all the glass of the Garmin avionics so you feel like you’re in a different airplane, but it still flies the same.
WN: Did Al get a chance to fly?
DM: No he went in the back seat with me to run all the check lists and be the safety pilot. And then when we landed he got in the Marchetti and flew it. So he didn’t get a chance to fly the A-4 again. But he will come down in the next week probably.
WN: Are there any issues left to resolve?
DM: It was a successful test flight. We had no discrepancies.
WN: You mentioned that you would be putting this aircraft up for sale once she was flying again. Is that the case now?
DM: It’s for sale and we have several interested parties that have been watching it during restoration and will come back for demonstration flights.
WN: How often will you fly?
DM: We are going to fly it every month.
WN: How would you describe the condition of this aircraft?
DM: This is the finest one in the world… It’s just completed. It’s very low time… has a very low time engine and low time airframe. And of course it’s new paint, new interior, new avionics. Everything is new.
WN: Why this paint scheme
DM: I flew as a guest in that squadron in the Navy and we wanted a typical navy paint scheme. These aircraft were used for aggressors towards the end of their Navy life and they were painted up like Russian aircraft or with camouflage, and I wanted something that was more typical historic navy.
WN: That’s about all for now. Thank you very much for your time!
WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Doug Matthews very kindly for taking the time to speak with us after this successful test flight. We hope to bring our readers more details in the near future. We also wish to thank Adam Glowaski of Box 5 Media for providing such terrific images of the test flights to complement this article. Now that the Skyhawk is done, Classic Fighters of America will focus their attention on continuing the restoration of their second F-86 Sabre, alongside a small flotilla of Italian SIAI-Marchetti S.211 jet trainers.
Here is a small slide show featuring the impressive attention to detail made in refinishing this beautiful TA-4J.
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