A-1 (AD) Skyraider
A-1H VA-152 USS Oriskany 1966.jpg
U.S. Navy A-1H Skyraider from Attack Squadron VA-152 over Vietnam in 1966.
Role Attack aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
First flight 18 March 1945
Introduction 1946
Retired 1985 Gabonese Air Force[1]
Status Phased out of service
Primary users United States Navy
United States Air Force
Royal Navy
South Vietnam Air Force
Produced 1945–1957
Number built 3,180
Developed into Douglas A2D Skyshark

The Douglas A-1 Skyraider (formerly AD) was an American single-seat attack aircraft that saw service between the late 1940s and early 1980s. It became a piston-powered, propeller-driven anachronism in the jet age, and was nicknamed "Spad", after a French World War I fighter.[2] The Skyraider had a remarkably long and successful career, even inspiring its straight-winged, slow-flying, jet-powered successor, the A-10 Thunderbolt II.[3]

It was operated by the United States Navy (USN), the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and the United States Air Force (USAF), and also saw service with the British Royal Navy, the French Air Force, the Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam (VNAF), and others.

Design and developmentEdit

The piston-engined Skyraider was designed during World War II to meet US Naval requirements for a carrier-based, single-seat, long-range, high performance dive/torpedo bomber, to follow-on from earlier types such as the Helldiver and Avenger. Designed by Ed Heinemann of the Douglas Aircraft Company, prototypes were ordered on 6 July 1944 as the XBT2D-1. The XBT2D-1 made its first flight on 18 March 1945 and in April 1945, the USN began evaluation of the aircraft at the Naval Air Test Center (NATC).[4] In December 1946, after a designation change to AD-1, delivery of the first production aircraft to a fleet squadron was made to VA-19A.[5]

The AD-1 was built at Douglas' El Segundo plant in Southern California. In his memoir The Lonely Sky, test pilot Bill Bridgeman quotes a production rate of two aircraft per day, describing the routine yet sometimes hazardous work of certifying AD-1s fresh off the assembly line for delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1949 and 1950.[6]

Douglas XBT2D-1 Skyraider prototype NACA

Douglas XBT2D-1 Skyraider prototype.

The low-wing monoplane design started with a Wright R-3350 radial engine, later upgraded several times. Its distinctive feature was large straight wings with seven hard points apiece. These gave the aircraft excellent low-speed maneuverability, and enabled it to carry a large amount of ordnance (more than its own weight in weapons Script error[citation needed]) over a considerable combat radius and loiter time for its size, comparable to much heavier subsonic or supersonic jets. The aircraft was optimized for the ground-attack mission and was armored against ground fire in key locations unlike faster fighters adapted to carry bombs, such as the Vought F4U Corsair or North American P-51 Mustang, which would be retired by U.S. forces before the 1960s.

Shortly after Heinmann began design of the XBT2D-1 a study was issue that showed for every 100 lbs of weight reduction the take-off run was decreased by 8 feet, the combat radius increased by 22 miles and the rate of climb increased by 18 feet. Heinmann immediately had his design engineers begin a program of finding weight saving on the XBT2D-1 design no matter how small. 270 lbs was found by simplifying the fuel system; 200 lbs by eliminating an internal bomb bay and hanging the bombs, drop tanks and rockets from the wings or fuselage; 70 lbs by using a fuselage dive brake; and 100 lbs by using an old fashion tail wheel design. In the end Heinmann and his design engineers found over 1800 lbs of weight savings on the original XBT2D-1 design.[7]

Navy AD series were initially painted in ANA 623 Glossy Sea Blue, but during the 1950s following the Korean War, the color scheme was changed to light gull grey (FS26440) and white (FS27875). Initially using the gray and white Navy pattern, by 1967 the USAF began to paint its Skyraiders in a camouflaged pattern using two shades of green, and one of tan.

Used by the USN over Korea and Vietnam, the A-1 was a primary close air support aircraft for the USAF and VNAF during the Vietnam War. The A-1 was famous for being able to take hits and keep flying. There was added armor plating around the cockpit area for added pilot protection. It was replaced beginning the mid-1960s by the Grumman A-6 Intruder as the Navy's primary medium attack plane in supercarrier-based air wings; however Skyraiders continued to operate from the smaller Essex class carriers.

The Skyraider went through seven versions, starting with the AD-1, then AD-2 and AD-3 with various minor improvements, then the AD-4 with a more powerful R-3350-26WA engine. The AD-5 was significantly widened, allowing two crew to sit side-by-side (this was not the first multiple-crew variant, the AD-1Q being a two-seater and the AD-3N a three-seater); it also came in a four-seat night-attack version, the AD-5N. The AD-6 was an improved AD-4B with improved low-level bombing equipment, and the final production version AD-7 was upgraded to a R-3350-26WB engine.

In addition to serving during Korea and Vietnam as an attack aircraft, the Skyraider was modified into a carrier-based airborne early warning aircraft, replacing the Grumman TBM-3W Avenger. It served in this function in the USN and Royal Navy, being replaced by the Grumman E-1 Tracer and Fairey Gannet respectively in those services.[8]

Skyraider production ended in 1957 with a total of 3,180 built. In 1962, the existing Skyraiders were redesignated A-1D through A-1J and later used by both the USAF and the Navy in the Vietnam War.

Operational historyEdit

Korean WarEdit

AD Skyraider VA-195 USS Princeton

Workhorse of the U.S. Navy in Korea: the Able Dog.

Though the Skyraider was produced too late to take part in World War II, it became the backbone of United States Navy aircraft carrier and United States Marine Corps (USMC) strike aircraft sorties in the Korean War(1950–1953), with the first ADs going into action from the USS Valley Forge with VA-55 on 3 July 1950.[9] Its weapons load and 10-hour flying time far surpassed the jets that were available at the time.[8] On 2 May 1951, Skyraiders made the only aerial torpedo attack of the war, successfully hitting the Hwacheon Dam, then controlled by North Korea.[10]

On 16 June 1953, a USMC AD-4 from VMC-1 piloted by Major George H. Linnemeier and CWO Vernon S. Kramer shot down a Soviet-built Polikarpov Po-2 biplane, the only documented Skyraider air victory of the war.[11] AD-3N and -4N aircraft carrying bombs and flares flew night-attack sorties, and radar-equipped ADs carried out radar-jamming missions from carriers and land bases.[8]

During the Korean War, A-1 Skyraiders were flown only by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, and were normally painted in dark navy blue. It was called the "Blue Plane" by enemy troops.[12] A total of 128 Navy and Marine AD Skyraiders were lost in the Korean War, 101 in combat and 27 to operational causes.


A-1E 1SOS PavePat 1968

A 1st SOS A-1E carrying a BLU-72/B, 1968.

A-1H 602SOS Jun1970

A 602nd SOS A-1H in June 1970.

As American involvement in the Vietnam War began, the A-1 Skyraider was still the medium attack aircraft in many carrier air wings, although it was planned to be replaced by the A-6A Intruder as part of the general switch to jet aircraft. Skyraiders from the carriers USS Constellation and Ticonderoga participated in the first US Navy strikes against North Vietnam on 5 August 1964 as part of Operation Pierce Arrow in response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, striking against fuel depots at Vinh, with one Skyraider from Ticonderoga damaged by anti-aircraft fire, and a second from Constellation shot down, killing its pilot.[13][14] During the war, U.S. Navy Skyraiders shot down two Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 jet fighters: one on 20 June 1965, a victory shared by Lieutenant Clinton B. Johnson and Lieutenant, junior grade Charles W. Hartman III of VA-25;[15] and one on 9 October 1966 by LTJG William T. Patton of VA-176.[11] While on his very first mission, Navy pilot Lieutenant (j.g.) Dieter Dengler took damage to his A-1H over Vietnam on 1 February 1966, and crash-landed in Laos.[16]

As they were released from Navy service, Skyraiders were introduced into the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). They were also used by the USAF to perform one of the Skyraider's most famous roles: the "Sandy" helicopter escort on combat rescues.[17] USAF Major Bernard F. Fisher piloted an A-1E on the 10 March 1966 mission for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing Major "Jump" Myers at A Shau Special Forces Camp.[18] USAF Colonel William A. Jones, III piloted an A-1H on the 1 September 1968 mission for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. In that mission, despite damage to his aircraft and suffering serious burns, he returned to his base and reported the position of a downed US airman.[18]

A-1E Skyraider aircraft in formation, 1965

A-1E Skyraiders fly in formation over South Vietnam on way to target on 25 June 1965. The aircraft are assigned to the 34th Tactical Group, based at Bien Hoa, South Vietnam.

After November 1972, all A-1s in U.S. service in Southeast Asia were transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) and their former roles were taken over by the subsonic LTV A-7 Corsair II.[19] The Skyraider in Vietnam pioneered the concept of tough, survivable aircraft with long loiter times and large ordnance loads. The USAF lost 201 Skyraiders to all causes in Southeast Asia, while the Navy lost 65 to all causes. Of the 266 lost A-1s, five were shot down by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and three were shot down in air to air combat; two by North Vietnamese MiG-17s. The first A-1 was shot down on 29 April 1966, and the second A-1 was lost on 19 April 1967; both were from the 602 Air Commando Squadron (ACS). The third A-1 Skyraider was from Squadron VA-35 and was lost to a Chinese MiG-19 (J-6) on 14 February 1968. Lieutenant (j.g.) Joseph P. Dunn, USN, had flown too close to the Chinese held island of Hainan, and had been intercepted. Lieutenant Dunn's A-1 Skyraider was the last U.S. Navy A-1 lost in the war, and he did not survive. Shortly thereafter, A-1 Skyraider naval squadrons transitioned to the A-6 Intruder, A-7 Corsair II or Douglas A-4 Skyhawk.

In contrast to the Korean War, fought a decade earlier, the US Air Force, in Vietnam, utilized the naval A-1 Skyraider for the first time. As the Vietnam War progressed, USAF A-1s were painted in camouflage, while USN A-1 Skyraiders were gray/white in color; again, in contrast to the Korean War, when A-1s were painted dark blue.

A-1H VA-25 CVA-41bomb

A-1H "Paper Tiger II" carrying the toilet bomb in October 1965.

In October 1965, to highlight the dropping of the six millionth pound of ordnance, Commander Clarence J. Stoddard of Attack Squadron 25 (VA-25), flying an A-1H, dropped a special, one-time only, object in addition to his other munitions – a toilet.[20]

A-1J Skyraider VA-176 Vietnam 1966

1966: A VA-176 A-1J loaded with ordnance for a mission in Vietnam.

South Vietnamese Air ForceEdit

VNAF Skyraider at Da Nang 1967

A-1H Skyraider of the VNAF 516th Fighter Squadron being loaded with napalm at Danang AB in 1967.

The A-1 Skyraider was the close air support workhorse of the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) for much of the Vietnam War. The US Navy began to transfer some of its Skyraiders to the VNAF in September 1960, replacing the VNAF’s older Grumman F8F Bearcats. By 1962 the VNAF had 22 of the aircraft in its inventory,[21] and by 1968, an additional 131 aircraft had been received. Initially Navy aviators and crews were responsible for training their South Vietnamese counterparts on the aircraft, but over time, responsibility was gradually transferred to the USAF.

The initial trainees were selected from among VNAF Bearcat pilots who had accumulated 800 to 1200 hours flying time. They were trained at Corpus Christi, Texas, and then sent to LeMoore, California for further training. Navy pilots and crews in Vietnam checked out the Skyraiders that were being transferred to the VNAF, and conducted courses for VNAF ground crews.[22]

Over the course of the war, the VNAF acquired a total of 308 Skyraiders, and was operating six A-1 squadrons by the end of 1965. These were reduced during the period of Vietnamization from 1968 to 1972, as the U.S. began to supply the South Vietnamese with more modern close air support aircraft, such as the Cessna A-37 and Northrop F-5, and at the beginning of 1968, only three of its squadrons were flying A-1s.[23]

As the U.S. ended its direct involvement in the war, it transferred the remainder of its Skyraiders to the South Vietnamese, and by 1973, all remaining Skyraiders in U.S. inventories had been turned over to the VNAF.[24] Unlike their American counterparts, whose combat tours were generally limited to 12 months, individual South Vietnamese Skyraider pilots ran up many thousands of combat hours in the A-1, and many senior VNAF pilots were extremely skilled in the operation of the aircraft.[25]


XBT2D-1 NAN6-61

The XBT2D-1 in 1945.

Douglas AD-1Q Skyraider VC-35

A VC-35 AD-1Q in the late 1940s.

AD-3Q AD-4N AD-5N VC-33 NAS Atlantic City NAN6-55

VC-33 AD-3Q, AD-4N, and AD-5N in 1955.

AD-4W VC-12 CV-32

AD-4W AEW-aircraft landing on the USS Leyte

AD-5 Skyraider VMA-331 1950s

A VMA-331 AD-5 in flight.

EA-1F VAW-13 1966

EA-1F (AD-5Q) ECM-aircraft, BuNo 135010, of CVW-9 in 1966

AD-5W on deck USS Kearsarge 1957-58

A VAW-11 AD-5W aboard USS Kearsarge, 1958.

AD-6 Skyraider

AD-6s from US Navy Attack Squadron 42.

Single-seat dive-bomber, torpedo-bomber prototype for the U.S. Navy.
Three-seat night attack prototypes; only three aircraft built.
Photographic reconnaissance prototype; only one built.
Two-seat electronics countermeasures prototype; one aircraft only.
BT2D-2 (XAD-2)
Upgraded attack aircraft; one prototype only.
The first production model; 242 built.
Two-seat electronic countermeasures version of the AD-1; 35 built.
AD-1 with radar countermeasures and tow target equipment, no armament and no water injection equipment.
Three-seat airborne early warning prototype. AD-3W prototype; one aircraft only.
Improved model, powered by 2,700 hp (2,000 kW) Wright R-3350-26W engine; 156 built.
Unofficial designation for AD-2s used as remote-control aircraft, to collect and gather radioactive material in the air after nuclear tests.
Two-seat electronics countermeasures version of the AD-2; 21 built.
AD-2 with radar countermeasures and target towing equipment, no armament and no water injection equipment; one aircraft only.
Similar to XBT2D-1 except engine, increased fuel capacity.
Proposed turboprop version, initial designation of A2D Skyshark.
Stronger fuselage, improved landing gear, new canopy design; 125 built.
Anti-submarine warfare model; only two prototypes were built.
Three-seat night attack version; 15 built.
Electronics countermeasures version, countermeasures equipment relocated for better crew comfort; 23 built.
Target towing aircraft, but most were delivered as the AD-3Q.
Airborne early warning version; 31 built.
AD-3W modified for ASW with Aeroproducts propellor
Strengthened landing gear, improved radar, G-2 compass, anti-G suit provisions, four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and 14 Aero rocket launchers, capable of carrying up to 50 lb (23 kg) of bombs; 372 built.
Specialized version designed to carry nuclear weapons, also armed with four 20 mm cannon; 165 built plus 28 conversions.
Equipped for winter operations in Korea; 63 conversions.
Three-seat night attack version; 307 built.
Designation of 100 AD-4Ns without their night-attack equipment, but fitted with four 20 mm (0.79 in) cannon, for service in Korea as ground-attack aircraft.
version of the AD-4N; 36 conversions.
Two-seat electronic countermeasures version of the AD-4; 39 built.
Three-seat airborne early warning version; 168 built. A total of 50 AD-4Ws were transferred to the Royal Navy as Skyraider AEW Mk 1.
AD-5 (A-1E)
Side-by-side seating for pilot and co-pilot, without dive brakes; 212 built.
AD-5N (A-1G)
Four-seat night attack version, with radar countermeasures; 239 built.
AD-5Q (EA-1F)
Four-seat electronics countermeasures version; 54 conversions.
One prototype to test Magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) anti-submarine equipment.
AD-5W (EA-1E)
Three-seat airborne early warning version; 218 were built.
Utility version of the AD-5.
AD-6 (A-1H)
Single-seat attack aircraft with three dive brakes, centerline station stressed for 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) of ordnance, 30 in (760 mm) in diameter, combination 14/30 in (360/760 mm) bomb ejector and low/high altitude bomb director; 713 built.
AD-7 (A-1J)
The final production model, powered by a R-3350-26WB engine, with structural improvements to increase wing fatigue life; 72 built.

Specifications (A-1H Skyraider)Edit

AD-4 BuAer 3 side view

Line drawings for the AD-4 Skyraider.

Data from McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920[26]

General characteristics



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