Project Kahu

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An A-4K on display at MOTAT in Auckland

Project Kahu was a major upgrade for the A-4 Skyhawk light bomber. In 1986, the Royal New Zealand Air Force initiated this project which included the installation of a Westinghouse AN/APG-66 radar optimized for maritime tracking, HOTAS controls and a 'glass' cockpit (2 large CRT screens), MIL-STD 1553B databus; Litton Industries LN-93 inertial navigation system, Ferranti 4510 wide-angle HUD, the Vinten airborne video recording system, the General Instruments ALR-66 radar warning receiver, and a Tracor ALR-39 chaff/flare dispenser.

Parts of the wings were reskinned and some structural elements rebuilt, and the aircraft wiring replaced. Because of advances in miniaturization, it was possible to incorporate these additional electronics items entirely within the fuselage without requiring the use of the dorsal hump. The Kahu-modified Skyhawk could be recognized by a blade-like ILS aerial antenna on the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer. The aircraft also received armament upgrades including the capability to fire AIM-9L Sidewinders, AGM-65 Mavericks and GBU-16 Paveway II laser-guided bombs.

The cost of the project was NZ$140 million and gave the RNZAF Skyhawks the electronic “eyes and ears” of a modern fighter aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon or F/A-18 Hornet.

Project Kahu was named after the Kāhu or New Zealand harrier.

The RNZAF withdrew the Skyhawks from Service in 2001 and they were put into storage awaiting sale.

Draken International signed an agreement with the New Zealand government in 2012 to purchase eight McDonnell Douglas A-4K Skyhawks as well as various other equipment and accessories. The remaining aircraft were given to museums in New Zealand and Australia.

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