Ghost Riders and the regular crew

A mix of beautiful full-color A-4 Skyhawks of Attack Carrier Air Wing 21 (CVW-21– NP tail code) are parked on the flight deck of the modified Essex-class attack aircraft carrier (and Warship Wednesday alumni) USS Hancock (CVA-19), armed for a mission over Vietnam on 25 May 1972– some 50 years ago today.

U.S. Navy photo by PH3 Adrian via National Archives

The aircraft in the foreground is an A-4F Skyhawk (pre-Super Fox update). Skyhawks NP-501 (BuNo 155046), -505 (BuNo 154996), and -510 were assigned to Attack Squadron 55 (VA-55) “Warhorses” (green chevron). NP-316 to VA-212 “Rampant Raiders” (purple tail chevron). NP-412 and NP-416 to VA-164 “Ghost Riders” (red tail chevron). The aircraft are armed with a mix of Mk 82 (500 lb) and Mk 83 (1,000 lb) iron bombs.

Of the two closest identifiable aircraft, NP-501/BuNo. 155046 was shot down just six weeks after this image was captured. LCDR Henry D. Lesesne ejected and was captured when his Skyhawk was hit by an SA-2 missile during an Iron Hand mission to attack a SAM site near the Red River 20 miles SW of Hai Duong. He was released in March 1973, one of the lucky ones in terms of days racked up at the Hanoi Hilton. Meanwhile, NP-505/BuNo. 154996, shown in the foreground, was withdrawn from service in Sept 1993 and later shipped to Argentina for parts recovery– where she may still be.

CVW-21 completed “Hannah’s” 7th (of 9) deployment to Vietnam from 7 January to 3 October 1972, and was her primary Cold War airwing, accompanying the old girl for eight out of nine trips to Yankee Station. 

Where are they now?

For the record, CVW-21 along with all three squadrons shown above (VA-55, VA-164, and VA-212) was disestablished in December 1975 and neither wing nor squadrons have ever been reformed, while Hannah herself decommissioned in 1976 and was quickly sold for scrap before the end of the year.

The Skyhawk began retrograding to fly with the Blue Angels as well as in a training/adversary role with the Navy at about that time– living on to be immortalized in the hands of Jester and Viper in Top Gun.

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