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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedA-4: Heinemann’s Hot Rod flies again
By Frederick A. Johnsen

Collings Foundation TA-4F flown by Jared ‘Rook’ Isaacman and Ret Lt Col. Mike ‘Buick’ Eberhardt. Photo by Tyson V. Rininger / www.tvrphoto

AirVenture boasts two flying civilian-owned A-4 Skyhawk attack jets, including a two-seat TA-4F from the Collings Foundation, flown by Jared Isaacman; and an older A-4B piloted by Paul Wood.

From the prolific design team of Ed Heinemann at Douglas Aircraft came aircraft as diverse as the piston-engine A-1 Skyraider and the compact jet-propelled A-4 Skyhawk. Heinemann embraced a keep-it-simple design philosophy since his days in World War II, where he witnessed a design-gone-wrong because it tried to be all things to all people.

Instead, he learned to focus on the primary task at hand, and to shun extraneous—nice, but not necessary—frills. One of his masterpieces of simplicity is the diminutive Skyhawk, sometimes called Scooter, or simply Heinemann’s Hot Rod.

Space is at a premium on aircraft carriers, and the Scooter conserves it with a wingspan of only 27 feet, 6 inches and a length under 42 feet. A fast subsonic attack jet, the A-4 also served from 1974-1986 as the mount of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration team. A-4s flew from U.S. Navy aircraft carriers off the coast of Vietnam to deliver bombs on targets throughout U.S. involvement there.

The non-profit Collings Foundation received its TA-4 through congressional action in the fall of 2000. By 2005, the aircraft was rebuilt and flying in U.S. Marine Corps colors. Pilot Jared Isaacson said the two-seat aircraft evolved from pure trainer versions of the A-4 into the TA-4F that was armed and combat capable.

Isaacson is not a former military fighter pilot. He worked his way into the pilot’s seat of the A-4 following experience in business jets and imported L-39 jet trainers. Jared smiles broadly as he talks about his role as the TA-4 pilot: “It’s a privilege to hang out with the military pilots,” he says.

What’s it like to fly a high-performance jet at AirVenture? Again comes the disarming smile as he acknowledges feeling nervous before demonstrating the A-4 during Wednesday’s air show; he describes an earnest desire to do well before the Oshkosh crowd. Before his flight on Thursday, he figured he had “Oshkosh-itis” tamed.

There’s another thing that needs to be said about Jared Isaacman: that genuine smile and easygoing nature belies the fact he started a financial organization at age 16 in his parents’ basement, growing it into a $10 billion payment processing company. He has been named one of Business Week’s “30 Best Entrepreneurs under the age of 30.”

Did Ed Heinemann succeed in keeping the A-4 simple? “He’s a hundred percent on the money on that,” Isaacman agrees.

There are several morals to this story: Keep it simple when designing a jet; follow your dreams and you, too, can be a fighter pilot; and it is possible to be a wildly successful young entrepreneur while remaining disarmingly self-effacing.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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