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Douglas A-1 Skyraider

Large single-engined attack aircraft. The A-1 (originally designated BT2D, and later AD) Skyraider was designed as a single-seat attack aircraft to replace the less attractive BTD, and was much simpler and lighter. It was too late for WWII, but much used in Korea and later in Vietnam. The Skyraider was a very effective attack aircraft, but exhausting for the pilot. There were also multi-place versions, ECM and AEW aircraft, and ASW versions. Some of the 3180 Skyraiders built were still in combat service in 1979.

Ed Heinemann, Chied engineer at Douglas was so unimpressed by his XBTD-1 series built to US Navy specification for a carrier based dive-bomber/torpedo carrier that he took it upon himself to design a simpler design which he thought was much more useful. Designated XBT2D-1 when it was flown for the first time in March 1945, the AD-1 Skyraider was to enjoy an amazingly long and varied service career.

Crewed only by a pilot, the Ad-1 was at the time the largest production single seater powered by a Wright R-3350 radial engine. Despite have a vast internal space for weapons, the folding wings were given 7 hardpoints on each side. Wartime experience had shown that the most important characteristic for an aircraft of this type was the ability to deliver a wide range of ordinance. It was this ability and basic veratillity was such that 3180 had been built when production ceased in 1957. As it was just too late for WW2, the AD-1 proved a valuable weapon in the Korean War.

Ad1 to Ad4 variants differed in detail, but the AD-5 had awider cockpit seating two side-by-side and several early versions had APS-20A radar with a rear cabin for 2/3 operators for AEW missions. The AD-5 introduced conversion kits for ambulance, freight. transport or towing targets. The AD-6 and AD-7 were improved single-seat versions used by the French Armee de l'Air in Algeria. In 1962 Skyraiders were re-designated A-1D to A-1J whilst Tactical Air Command used A1-E, A1-H and A1-J versions with great success in South Vietnam, continuing to use them after the Navy had withdrawn their aircraft from this theatre.

The prototype of the Skyraider was first flown on 18 March 1945. Designed as a robust, multirole attack aircraft for the US Navy, the carrier-based Skyraider was able to carry a wide variety of weapons on its numerous wing hardpoints. The Skyraider first saw combat in the Korean War, where its long loiter time and heavy load-hauling capability gave it a distinct utility advantage over the jet aircraft of the time.

Various versions were developed over the years; the most numerous types being: AD-1 (Initial production version with 2500hp R-3350 engine); AD-2 (Improved AD-1 with wheelwell covers and increased fuel load, etc.); AD-3 (Redesigned canopy, improved propeller, etc.); AD-4 (2700hp R-3350 engine, further canopy improvements, etc.); AD-4W (3-seat Early Warning version); AD-5 (4-seat multirole version. Many variants of the AD-5 were capable of carrying up to 12 passengers in the rear fuselage); AD-6 (Single-seat attack version).

During the 1960s, the AD-x designations were changed to A-1D through A-1J. The A-1 series was operated with enormous success during the Vietnam War, where it was used in the Ground Attack, Forward Air Control, and Search and Rescue roles. The AD-6 and AD-7 were used by the French Armee de l'Air in Algeria.

The history of the Skyraider began during WW II when Douglas submitted a design to the U.S. Navy for the XBT2D-1 as a replacement for the famous SBD dive-bomber. The result was a new airplane designated as the "AD" which made its first flight on March 18, 1945. For the next 12 years there was constant improvement in the airplane up through the AD-7, and 3,180 Skyraiders were delivered to the Navy, many of which were used during the Korean War.

In 1963, the U.S. Air Force began a program to modify the AD-5 Skyraider for service in Vietnam and redesignated it the A-1E. Because of its ability to carry large bomb loads, absorb heavy ground fire, and fly for long periods at low altitude, the A-1E was particularly suited for close-support missions.

The A-1E on display was the airplane flown by Major Bernard Fisher on March 10, 1966 when he rescued a fellow pilot shot down over South Vietnam in the midst of enemy troops, a deed for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The airplane, severely damaged in combat in South Vietnam, was returned in 1967 for preservation by the U.S. Air Force Museum.

During World War II the Navy began looking for a new dive-bomber torpedo aircraft to meet its changing tactical and operational requirements. Several planes, among them the AD's direct predecessor, the SB2D/BTD, were developed by the Bureau of Aeronautics. Design difficulties and over-weight problems, however, ultimately led to a decision not to produce the SB2D/BTD. This in turn led to a new design which incorporated the good features of the SB2D/BTD while overcoming its inherent difficulties.

The AD series (later redesignated A-1) that emerged from the combined efforts of the Bureau of Aeronautics and Douglas, who was the contractor, had two particularly significant design aspects. First, great emphasis was placed on the importance of the stringent weight control policy. Secondly, the standard bulky, heavy bomb displacing gear was replaced by a light, explosive device which literally blew the bomb clear. In comparison with the most advanced operational dive-bombers in 1945, the AD's initial design compared most favorably with a 27 percent greater top speed and a capability of carrying up to 4,000 pounds of either bombs or torpedoes.

For the next 12 years there was constant improvement in the airplane up through the AD-7, and 3,180 Skyraiders were delivered to the Navy, many of which were used during the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War also.

Parker Information Resources
Houston, Texas
E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com

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