A-4E Skyhawk, John S. McCain

Naval Aviator, American Hero

John Sydney McCain III

Artwork and research is by;

Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette

Military Artist/Historian

John S. McCain, A-4E Skyhawk

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Poster Print; Price $14.95 each.

Only 550 posters were published. Poster prints are not autographed or numbered.

Shipping is only $6.00 any where in the world.

I have not had the opportunity to interview McCain personally so I took notes form his books and stories from his friends.

I did meet John McCain one time only for two minutes and I really appreciated the opportunity to meet such a great American even though the time was so brief.

John McCain earned his Navy wings of Gold in Pensacola, Florida. The first attack aircraft that McCain flew was the A-1 Skyraider off a carrier deck of the USS Intrepid. McCain served two and one-half cruses in the Mediterranean on the Intrepid and two on the USS Enterprise. After McCain’s second tour on the Enterprise the air group was summoned back to the ship under the disguise of a secret mission. The Carrier sailed out of Norfolk back to sea telling everybody they would be having carriers trials. The mission turned out to be the Cuban Missile Crises. McCain and his fellow pilots waited for a week off Cuba for orders to take off for their first combat mission only to be disappointed when the crisis was resolved.

After his tour on the Enterprise, McCain was assigned to the Chief of Air Basic Training in Pensacola. This was a cherished assignment yet McCain was not happy. The conflict in Viet Nam was starting to heat up and McCain was eager to become a combat pilot flying missions over Viet Nam. His wish was granted when he received orders to Jacksonville, Florida. He was given orders to a squadron that would be assigned to the USS Forrestal. Fortunately McCain had just completed training in the A-4 Skyhawk. Later that year the USS Forrestal sailed on a course that would take it to Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf off Viet Nam.

This is what John McCain wanted, to fly combat missions. On July 29, 1967 McCain was sitting in the cockpit of his Skyhawk ready for his sixth mission. He was waiting for his turn to take off. He had checked his fighter during his walk around and gone over every procedure in the cockpit. His plane captain was assisting in the last minute details as he checked the seatbelts on the pilot. There were other aircraft on the flight deck warming up waiting for their turn to take off as well. The other fighters on the deck waiting were other fighters in his group and a group of F-4 Phantoms. The deck was full and the pilots were simply waiting their turn.

Everything was going well in that morning and everyone was ready to go. The crew on the flight deck were performing their duties to perfection illustrating their fine training. In one Phantom that was sitting at an angle to McCain’s Skyhawk was a pilot that was going through his check list. Then somehow the pilot in the Phantom hit a switch that fired one of his air-to-air missiles. The aircraft that was right in front of his fighter was John McCain’s Skyhawk.

McCain and his plane captain had just closed his canopy and his friend gave him a thumbs up indicating that he was ready to go. Suddenly his fighter was struck by an arrantly fired missile from the Phantom on the deck of the Forrestal. McCain’s external fuel tank exploded. The shock knocked off several bombs that were mounted under the wings of his Skyhawk. McCain was sitting in the middle of a fireball that was foaming fire from under his fighter. The horror of the moment was that his plane captain was enveloped in the flames. In an instant McCain opened his canopy and crawled onto the nose of his burning aircraft. He then grabbed the refueling extension. Pulling himself out to the end of the refueling probe he was poised over the fire. McCain was trying to get out past the flames that were consuming his fighter but the fire was under him and he was doomed. Not giving up McCain dropped to the deck into the inferno. He raced through the curtain of fire swatting at his flight suit that caught aflame.

After collecting his senses McCain surveyed the situation. McCain then ran back to help the deck crew as they raced towards the flames. McCain watched a deck crew spray one of the 1000 pound bombs that had fallen from his Skyhawk into the fire. They were trying desperately to keep the bomb from detonating. Within moments the bomb exploded in a mushroom cloud. Everyone was killed in the group that was spraying the bomb. McCain was just behind them helping with the water hose when the bomb went off throwing McCain backwards onto the flight deck.

Shrapnel had tore into McCain’s chest and legs. The fire was spreading as more fuel ignited and more bombs and rockets exploded. The 1000 pound bomb had torn a whole in the flight deck exposing the deck below which was filled with aircraft and munitions. A fire and disaster on the deck could be handled however if the munitions below started to explode then the carrier was at risk of further damage and sinking. McCain jumped up and went below were he helped move bombs away from the fire that had spread into the hanger below. It was one of the worst naval accidents in recent Naval history. Yet the brave acts of the crew saved the Forrestal.

During McCain’s recuperating from his wounds he was distraught thinking his war cruse was over. The Carries was in deed heading back to the States for repairs. The seriously wounded had been flow to military hospitals in Japan. McCain was lying in his bunk being miserable thinking his combat career was over.

The squadrons that were flying in Viet Nam at the time were losing aircraft and pilots form enemy action as well as operational accidents. The carrier USS Oriskany had lost a few pilots and openly requested the pilots from McCain’s group the chance to change squadrons an continue flying combat for the rest of the Oriskany war tour. McCain and others form his squadron jumped at the opportunity to join a squadron on the USS Oriskany. After a brief rest period McCain reported to VA-163, the “Saints,” aboard the Oriskany and back to the war.

McCain was in hog heaven in that he was able to again fly combat missions again. On October 26, 1967, McCain launched from the Oriskany for his twenty-third mission over North Viet Nam. The target was a power plant in Hanoi. Hanoi was a difficult target that claimed many American pilots in the past. This meant nothing to McCain because he wanted action. Their group took off and formed up for their flight to the target.

The North Viet Nam military did have modern advanced radar systems. They were also well equipped with guided missiles and a multitude of different caliber anti-aircraft guns. As a matter-in-fact, the Hanoi area was better protected by their anti-aircraft defenses than Berlin, Germany during the second world war. It was a tough target.

The flight in to Hanoi was uneventful and once in the area of the target the group set up their attack. The problem was that the American used the same approach over and over. Well it just so happens the Vietnamese have brains and reasoning skills. They were not the “Stupid Gooks” that American Propaganda portrayed. The flight of A-4’s came in and were immediately tracked by enemy radar controlling the dreaded SAM missiles. The sky was filled with black burst of anti-aircraft fire. McCain looked down and saw SAM’s launched from the ground.

McCain’s on board warning system alerted him that a SAM was heading for his Skyhawk. That missile was not going to stop him, McCain thought. He was going to hit the target. The missile warning buzzer was winning but McCain continued on the course to the power plant. McCain was on his final approach to the target and decided to continue. McCain was going to drop his bombs and then divert and dodge in order to avoid the incoming missiles. With perfect precision McCain dropped his bombs at 3,500 feet. He was starting evasive maneuvers immediately when the right wing of his Skyhawk was blown off. In a split second McCain ejected.

As McCain ejected his arm was broken by separating parts of his aircraft. Witnesses say that his parachute barely opened before he hit the water. McCain landed in a small lake next to the power plant. It was almost impossible with a broken arm to disengage from his parachute and try to swim. Fortunately the lake was not that deep. McCain neared the edge of the water when people, all civilians rushed into the water and  pulled McCain out of True Back Lake.

You need to understand that civilians do not like to be bombed and the citizens started to beat McCain severely. They were using their fist, feet, shovels and tools to beat him. Their intent was to Kill John. Fortunately Vietnamese soldiers came to his rescue and saved him from being killed by the harmed citizens.

John McCain was then an official POW from that day until March 15, 1973. The reason that McCain had to stay in prison so long was due to the fact that American corporations and many of its politicians were making millions of dollars in dragging the war out as long as possible. Other wise McCain and all the many other American P.O.W.’s would have been released much sooner.

It is a fact that once the Vietnamese realized that they had the son of an Admiral they offered to release him. McCain’s response was that he would accept their offer if the rest of the American prisoners could leave with him. The answer from the Vietnamese was no. So McCain was condemned for many years of prison life. That was an honorable act or is this really the truth.

After the war McCain stayed in the Navy and continued flying for a time. One of his stations was Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida. John, his wife and children lived in Orange Park during this time.John McCain retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1981. He then entered politics and was first elected to Congress in 1982.

The rest you could say is “History.”

McCain’s VA-163 A-4E Skyhawk was Bureau Number 149959 and had 300 on the nose. As you may know all Navy aircraft that end in “00” such as 100, 200, 300, etc… are assigned to the CAG (Commander Air Group). So McCain was flying the CAG A-4E when he was shot down on October 26th, 1967.

Since the USS Forrestal was getting repaired due to the massive fire that occurred on July 29th, McCain and other VA-163 pilots were temporarily assigned to VA-43 on the USS Oriskany along with some VA-163 A-4E’s including 149959. My guess would be that the USS Forrestal markings would have been painted out and USS Oriskany added by October. Since that is the Carrier VA-163 was flying from at the time.

McCain was not the CAG, he was flying the CAG bird, which was Modex “300”. I have talked to a number of carrier fighter pilots and even though they had an aircraft assigned to them they flew whatever bird was located on the deck for launch. On a carrier it would be too much of a headache and hassle to try to orchestrate each pilot flying his own plane. On the other hand the USAAF pilots during WWII were able to fly almost exclusively their own planes unless it was down for maintenance.
This is the aircraft McCain flew on October 26, 1967.


That is not McCain taking the barrier. It is a wounded pilot by the name of Denny Earl. “300” was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and Denny was wounded in both legs.

He flew back to the Oriskany and had to use the barrier. “300” was repaired and then lost with McCain two weeks later.


Two other VA-163 birds carrying bombs.


This is the original painting. 2×4 feet. This painting is for sale for $1,400.00, you pay for postage. This painting has only been autographed by the Artist. I will add more to the painting above. I will paint John McCain’s name and a smaller image of the A-4 in flight under the tail. This is a nice big painting.

Would you like an original painting autographed by one of the most famous Americans in recent history?

John McCain autographed two canvases for me when I met him at a Books-A-Million in Jacksonville, Florida.

I was wondering if anyone was interested in buying a painting of John McCain’s A-4 that has been autographed by him.

The size of the canvas that John autographed is 18×36″. I have two of them available. For information on the acquisition of one of these painting, please E-Mail below. Price is $3,000.00.


Artist and John McCain.

If you served with John McCain and would like to share your stories, please contact me below.

Thank you.

Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette

Aviation Artist/Historian

e-mail: aviationartstore@peoplepc.com