The Douglas A-1 (formerly AD) Skyraider was an American single-seat attack bomber of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. A propeller-driven anachronism in the jet age, the Skyraider had a remarkably long and successful career well into the space age, and inspired a straight-winged, slow-flying, jet-powered successor which is still in front line service today, the A-10 Warthog.
It was operated by USN, USAF and also in service with the Royal Navy, French and South Vietnamese Air Forces among others.
The A-1 was originally designed to meet World War II requirements for a carrier-based, single-seat, long-range, high performance dive-/torpedo bomber. Designed by Ed Heinemann of the Douglas Aircraft Company, the Skyraider was ordered in 6 July 1944 as the XBT2D-1. The prototype made its first flight on 18 March 1945 and in April 1945, began evaluation at the Naval Air Test Center (NATC). 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.
The AD-1 was built at Douglas' El Segundo plant in Southern California. In his memoir The Lonely Sky, test pilot Bill Bridgeman describes the routine yet sometimes hazardous work of certifying AD-1s fresh off the assembly line (quoting a production rate of two aircraft per day) for delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1949 and 1950.
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 hardpoints apiece. These gave the aircraft excellent low-speed maneuverability, and enabled it to carry a tremendous amount of ordnance over a considerable combat radius and loiter time for its size, comparable to much heavier subsonic or supersonic jets. The aircraft is optimized for the ground-attack mission and is armored against ground fire in key locations. This is unlike faster fighters adapted to carry bombs such as the F4U Corsair or P-51 Mustang, which would be retired by U.S. forces long before the 1960s.
The piston-engined, prop-driven Skyraider was a postwar follow-on to World War II dive bombers and torpedo bombers such as the Helldiver and Avenger. It was replaced in the 1960s by the A-4 Skyhawk as the Navy's primary light attack plane. Used over Korea and briefly over North Vietnam, it was adopted as the primary ground support attack for the U.S. Air Force and South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) during the Vietnam War, before being supplanted by the jet-powered A-37 Dragonfly in USAF and VNAF and the A-7 Corsair II in US Navy service.
 Operational history
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, with the first ADs going into action from the USS Valley Forge with VA-55 on 3 July 1950. Its weapons load and 10-hour flying time far surpassed the jets that were available at the time. On 2 May 1951, Skyraiders made the only aerial torpedo attack of the warsuccessfully hitting the Communist-controlled Hwacheon Dam. 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. 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. During the Korean War (19501953) A-1 Skyraiders were flown only by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, and were normally painted in dark navy blue. A total of 101 Navy and Marine AD Skyraiders were lost in combat during the Korean War, and 27 were lost to operational causes, for a total loss of 128 Skyraiders in the Korean War.
 Communist China
On 26 July 1954, two Douglas Skyraiders from the aircraft carriers USS Philippine Sea and Hornet successfully shot down 2 PLAAF La-7s off the coast of Hainan Island while searching for survivors after the shooting down of a Cathay Pacific Skymaster airliner 3 days previously , also by La-7s.
The Skyraider in Vietnam pioneered the concept of tough, survivable Counterinsurgency (COIN) aircraft with long loiter times and large ordnance loads. The Douglas Skyraider was arguably the best tactical and CAS aircraft the U.S. had in Vietnam. Its heavy weapons load and long loiter time made it the favorite of those on the ground in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
In the beginning, the A-1E had dual controls, because pilots were deemed advisors and Vietnamese pilots ostensibly were performing the combat duties. When USAF took an active role, the Skyraider was flown as a single-seater.
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 Red Chinese MiG-19 (J-6) on 14 February 1968. Lieutenant (j.g.) Joseph P. Dunn, USN, had flown too close to the Communist 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.
VA-115 A-1H loaded with ordnance for a mission in Vietnam
In 1965, the A-1 Skyraider was still the medium attack aircraft in many carrier air wings, although it was slated to be replaced by the A-6A Intruder as part of the general switch to jet aircraft. Skyraiders participated in the first strikes against North Vietnam before they were replaced. 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; and one on 9 October 1966 by LTJG William T. Patton of VA-176. 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.
As they were released from Navy service, Skyraiders were introduced into the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). 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 A-7 Corsair II. Shortly thereafter, A-1 Skyraider naval squadrons transitioned to the A-6 Intruder, A-7 Corsair II or 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.
In 1965, to highlight the dropping of the six millionth pound of ordnance; Commander Clarence J. Stoddard, flying an A-1H, dropped a special, one-time only, object in addition to his other munitions a toilet.
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.
In 1963, USAF modified 150 Skyraiders into A-1Es for use by the 1st Air Commando Wing. USAF units began flying the Skyraider in Vietnam in 1964 and by the end of 1972, the last of the A-1s of the 1st Special Operations Squadron were turned over to the VNAF. In those eight years of operations, the Air Force used the Skyraider for a variety of missions. There were A-1 squadrons which flew exclusively at night to interdict truck traffic along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Other squadrons were supporting General Vang Pao and his loyalists in Laos. Army special operations were also supported by A-1s on priority missions.
The common bond between all A-1 squadrons was SAR , They were also used to perform one of the Skyraider's most famous roles: the "Sandy" helicopter escort on combat rescues. 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. USAF Colonel William A. Jones, III piloted an A-1H on the September 1, 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.
The Skyraider had all the necessary assets; speed, ordnance carrying capability, communications, and the ability to withstand punishment. Since the A-1 was frequently operated near its maximum gross weight, its speed capability was not fast. There was a standing joke among Spad drivers. There was only one speed you had to remember- 120 knots. You took off at 120 knots, cruised at 120 knots, and landed at 120 knots. Weapons deliveries were planned at higher airspeeds, maybe as high as 250 knots, but after third or fourth pass, 120 knots worked for weapons delivery too.
The Sandy SAR load was perfect. It had ordnance such as CBU-25, HE 2.75 " rockets, and 20 mm to kill trucks and other light skinned vehicles. It had the highly accurate, high rate of fire SUU-11 mini-gun pod with 7.62 mm ammo. And it had specialized SAR ordnance such as the M-47 smoke bomb, CBU-22, and WP rockets.
The A-1 had three different radio capabilities. The UHF radio was used to communicate with the survivor and strike aircraft that had only UHF. The UHF also had an ADF (automatic direction finder) capability that was used to help pinpoint the location of the survivor on the ground. Additionally, the UHF Guard receiver had to be left on to avoid missing the inevitable bandit calls from the various GCI agencies covering the area. The VHF-AM radio was used to coordinate with command and control agencies, primarily King, the HC-130 that also served as an airborne tanker for the HH-53 Super Jolly Green rescue helicopters. Finally, the VHF-FM radio was used by the Sandys for inter-flight communications. It was quite normal for all three radios to be in use at the same time. It was normally the wingman's job to handle the coordination with King while Sandy Lead worked with the survivor.
The A-1 was notorious for being able to take hits and stay and fight. The battle damage images speak for themselves. With the exception of the aircraft with part of its wing missing, these A-1s made it back safely. There was added armor plating around the cockpit area for added pilot protection.
With the total remaining A-1 assets in 1971-1972 residing in one operational USAF squadron, the SAR effort got first priority for several reasons. First and foremost, the absence of a viable and capable SAR force would have had a negative impact on the rest of the air operations in SEA. The prospect of getting shot down with no possibility of rescue was not a happy one. Certainly, the SAR force was not as robust with 20 A-1s as it was in the earlier days of the war when there were over 100 Skyraiders spread out over a half dozen squadrons. But the capability was there. One need look no further than the pickup of Capt Roger Locher near Yen Bai Airfield northwest of Hanoi to see this was true. A story on this mission was written in the August 1997 issue of Flight Magazine. The SAR for Bowleg 02 was another example of being able to go onto Hanoi's doorstep to retrieve downed aircrews. Another factor was the impact these SARs had on the enemy. Certainly, we did not get every downed airmen back home safely, but we got our fair share.
Another high priority mission during this final chapter in the Skyraider's SEA war experience was the support given to Gen Vang Pao in Laos. He had his headquarters at Long Tien with a landing strip (LS 20A) nearby. High to the north and east of LS20A was a large ridge of mountains called Skyline Ridge. These "Barrel Roll" missions were never dull, always unpredictable, and usually dangerous. The bulk of these missions were flown to northern Laos which was comprised of mountainous areas with limestone karst pinnacles and terrain elevations of at least 4,000 feet. There was seasonal drama here when the communist forces would wait for the rainy season to invade when US air power would be hampered by low ceilings and poor visibility. The A-1 was well suited to work this area including the infamous PDJ (Plaine des Jarres). This was a relatively level plateau in northern Laos that was about 15 nautical miles across from south to north, and 20 nautical miles wide from east to west.
Still another high priority mission for the 1st SOS in the final year was support of "special operations" in Laos. These were protecting the insertion and extraction of special teams in the border area. These missions could either be boring as hell or so busy that you wished you had another set of hands.
 French use
The French Air Force bought 20 ex-USN AD-4s as well as 88 ex-USN AD-4Ns and 5 ex-USN AD-4NAs with the former three-seaters modified as single-seat aircraft with removal of the radar equipment and the two operator stations from the rear fuselage. The AD-4N/NAs were initially acquired in 1956 to replace aging P-47 Thunderbolts in Algeria. The Skyraiders were first ordered in 1956 and the first was handed over to the French Air Force on 6 February 1958 after being overhauled and fitted with some French equipment by Sud-Aviation. The aircraft were used until the end of the Algerian war. The aircraft were used by the 20e Escadre de Chasse (EC 1/20 "Aures Nementcha," EC 2/20 "Ouarsenis" and EC 3/20 "Oranie") and EC 21 in the close air support role armed with rockets, bombs and napalm.
The Skyraiders had only a short career in Algeria. But they nonetheless proved to be the most successful of all the ad hoc COIN airplanes deployed by the French. The Skyraider remained in limited French service until the 1970s. They were heavily involved in the civil war in Chad, at first with the Armée de l'Air, and later with a nominally independent local air force staffed by French mercenaries. The aircraft also operated under the French flag in Djibouti and on the island of Madagascar. When France at last relinquished the Skyraiders it passed the survivors on to client states, including Gabon, Chad, Cambodia and the Central African Republic.(several aircraft from Gabon and Chad have been recovered recently by French warbird enthusiasts and entered on the French civil register).
The French frequently used the aft station to carry maintenance personnel, spare parts and supplies to forward bases. In Chad they even used the aft station for a "bombardier" and his "special stores"--empty beer bottles--as these were considered as non-lethal weapons, thus not breaking the government-imposed rules of engagement, during operations against Libyan-supported rebels in the late sixties and early seventies.
In addition to serving during Korea and Vietnam as an attack aircraft, it 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 E-1 Tracer and Fairey Gannet respectively in those services.
Four AD-6s over Subic Bay in the Philippines in 1955
AD-4W AEW-aircraft landing on the USS Leyte
Douglas A-1E (AD-5N) (USAF S/N 52-135206/ former USN BuNo 135206) in flight
EA-1F (AD-5Q) ECM-aircraft, BuNo 135010, of CVW-9 in 1966
Douglas AD-6s (A-1H) from VA-215 on the USS Hancock(CVA 19)
Production ended in 1957 with a total of 3,180 built. However, 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. Some of the 3,180 Skyraiders built were still in combat service in 1979.
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.
* XBT2D-1: Single-seat dive-bomber, torpedo-bomber prototype for the U.S. Navy.
* XBT2D-1N: Three-seat night attack prototypes, only three aircraft built.
* XBT2D-1P: Photographic reconnaissance prototype, only one built.
* XBT2D-1Q: Two-seat electronics countermeasures prototype. One aircraft only.
* BT2D-2 (XAD-2): Upgraded attack aircraft, one prototype only.
* AD-1: The first production model, 242 built.
* AD-1Q: Two-seat electronic countermeasures version of the AD-1, 35 built.
* AD-1U: AD-1 with radar countermeasures and tow target equipment, no armament and no water injection equipment.
* XAD-1W: Three-seat airborne early warning prototype. AD-3W prototype, one aircraft only.
* AD-2: Improved model, powered by 2,700 hp (2,000 kW) Wright R-3350-26W engine, 156 built.
* AD-2D: Unofficial designation for AD-2s used as remote-control aircraft, to collect and gather radioactive material in the air after nuclear tests.
* AD-2Q: Two-seat electronics countermeasures version of the AD-2, 21 built.
* AD-2QU: AD-2 with radar countermeasures and target towing equipment, no armament and no water injection equipment, one aircraft only.
* XAD-2: Similar to XBT2D-1 except engine, increased fuel capacity.
* AD-3: Proposed turboprop version, initial designation of A2D Skyshark.
* AD-3: Stronger fuselage, improved landing gear, new canopy design, 125 built.
* AD-3S: Anti-submarine warfare model, only two prototypes were built.
* AD-3N: Three-seat night attack version, 15 built.
* AD-3Q: Electronics countermeasures version, countermeasures equipment relocated for better crew comfort. 23 built.
* AD-3QU: Target towing aircraft, but most were delivered as the AD-3Q.
* AD-3W: Airborne early warning version, 31 built.
* XAD-3E: AD-3W modified for ASW with Aeroproducts propellor
* AD-4: 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.
* AD-4B: Specialized version designed to carry nuclear weapons, also armed with four 20 mm cannon. 165 built plus 28 conversions.
* AD-4L: Equipped for winter operations in Korea, 63 conversions.
* AD-4N: Three-seat night attack version, 307 built.
* AD-4NA: 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.
* AD-4NL: version of the AD-4N, 36 conversions.
* AD-4Q: Two-seat electronic countermeasures version of the AD-4, 39 built.
* AD-4W: Three-seat airborne early warning version, 168 built.
* Skyraider AEW. Mk 1: 50 AD-4Ws transferred to the Royal Navy.
* A-1E (AD-5): Side by side seating for pilot and co-pilot, without dive brakes, 212 built.
* A-1G (AD-5N) - Four-seat night attack version, with radar countermeasures, 239 built.
* EA-1F (AD-5Q) - Four-seat electronics countermeasures version, 54 conversions.
* AD-5S: One prototype to test Magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) anti-submarine equipment.
* EA-1E (AD-5W): Three-seat airborne early warning version.
* A-1H (AD-6) - Single-seat attack aircraft with three dive brakes, centerline station stressed for 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) of ordnances, 30 in (760 mm) in diameter, combination 14/30 in (360/760 mm) bomb ejector and low/high altitude bomb director, 713 built.
* A-1J (AD-7): The final production model, powered by a R3350-26WB engine, with structural improvements to increase wing fatigue life, 72 built.
* UA-1E: Utility version of the AD-5.
Thunder Over Michigan Air show, 2006.
See also: List of A-1 Skyraider operators
* Central African Republic
* South Vietnam
* United Kingdom
* United States
A-1E (AF Serial No. 52-132649)
* A-1E (AF Serial No. 52-132649) is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft was originally a US Navy aircraft assigned Bureau Number (BuNo) 132649. Transferred to USAF, it was flown by Major Bernard Francis Fisher on 10 March 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 aircraft was severely damaged in combat in South Vietnam and was returned in 1967 for preservation by the Air Force Museum. It is the only surviving Air Force Medal of Honor Aircraft.
* An A-1H, BuNo 135300, is on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, Florida. This aircraft is painted in the markings of Attack Squadron TWO FIVE (VA-25).
* An AD-1, BuNo 126882, is visiting the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, TX. This aircraft is painted in Vietnam colors and is in flying condition. The aircraft survived Hurricane Ike without damage as it was flown out before the storm.
* A vintage Skyraider owned by aircraft collector Claude Hendrickson, III, of Alabama was seized by U.S. officials in May 2009 shortly after the aircraft was imported from France. Officials indicate that Hendrickson had failed to execute certain paperwork during its importation and the Skyraider is currently impounded. 
 Popular culture
Douglas Skyraider parked at airport ramp.
The A-1 Skyraider received various nicknames including: "Spad", derived from the aircraft's AD designation, its relative longevity in service and an allusion to the "Spad" aircraft of World War I, "Able Dog" (phonetic AD), the "Destroyer," "Hobo" (radio call sign of the USAF 1st Air Commando/Special operations Squadron), "Firefly" (602nd ACS/SOS), "Zorro" (22nd SOS), "The Big Gun," "Old Faithful," "Old Miscellaneous," "Fat Face" (AD-5/A-1E version, side-by-side seating), "Guppy" (AD-5W version), "Q-Bird" (AD-1Q/AD-5Q versions), "Flying Dumptruck" (A-1E), "Sandy" (Combat Search And Rescue helicopter escort) and "Crazy Water Buffalo" (South Vietnamese nickname).
While the Skyraider is not as iconic as some other aircraft, it has been featured in some Vietnam-era films such as The Green Berets (1968), Flight of the Intruder (1991) flying as Sandy escort, and in We Were Soldiers (2002) in the ground support role. The Skyraider also played a leading computer generated role in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn (2007), retelling the story of Navy LT Dieter Dengler's escape from Laos. Skyraiders are also featured in the classic Korean war movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1953).
 Specifications (A-1H Skyraider)
Douglas Skyraider - Landing Gear detail.
Data from McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920 
* Crew: One
* Length: 38 ft 10 in (11.84 m)
* Wingspan: 50 ft 0¼ in (15.25 m)
* Height: 15 ft 8¼ in (4.78 m)
* Wing area: 400.3 ft² (37.19 m²
* Empty weight: 11,968 lb (5,429 kg)
* Loaded weight: 18,106 lb (8,213 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 25,000 lb (11,340 kg)
* Powerplant: 1× Wright R-3350-26WA radial engine, 2,700 hp (2,000 kW)
* Maximum speed: 322 mph (280 kn, 518 km/h) at 18,000 ft (5,500 m)
* Cruise speed: 198 mph (172 kn, 319 km/h)
* Range: 1,316 mi (1,144 nmi, 2,115 km)
* Service ceiling: 28,500 ft (8,685 m)
* Rate of climb: 2,850 ft/min (14.5 m/s)
* Wing loading: 45 lb/ft² (220 kg/m²
* Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (250 W/kg)
* Guns: 4 × 20 mm (0.79 in) M2 cannon
* Other: Up to 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) of ordnance on 15 external hardpoints including bombs, torpedoes, mine dispensers, unguided rockets, or gun pods