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The Douglas A-1 Skyraider: The Obsolete Plane That Could

The Beginning

Douglas Chief Engineer, Ed Heineman, Chief Designer Leo Devlin, and Chief Aerodynamicist Gene Root designed an aircraft in a Washington hotel room. The Douglas Company submitted a proposal based on this design in July 1944. The Bureau of Aeronautics representatives awarded Douglas a contract provided they could meet a tight deadline. On March 18, 1945 the XBT2D-1 made its first flight. It was almost 4 months ahead of schedule.[i]

The U.S. Navy changed aircraft’s designation to AD-1 Skyraider and ordered it into production on May 5, 1945.[ii] The Skyraider entered service in 1946.[iii] On May 21, 1953 an AD-4B Skyraider set a weight-lifting record 14,941 lbs. (6,791 kg). This aircraft lifted more than its empty weight of 11,798 lbs. (5,363 kg).[iv]

Unlike many piston engine aircraft developed during World War II and not ready for service during the war the Skyraider had a long postwar career. When production ended in 1957, Douglas had built 3,180 Skyraiders. There were 8 major models and 37 versions.[v]


[i] The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Douglas A-1H (AD-6) Skyraider, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/douglas-a-1h-ad-6-skyraider/nasm_A19830230000, last accessed 8/3/2020.

[ii] The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Douglas A-1H (AD-6) Skyraider, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/douglas-a-1h-ad-6-skyraider/nasm_A19830230000, last accessed 8/3/2020.

[iii] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Aselman.

[iv] The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Douglas A-1H (AD-6) Skyraider, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/douglas-a-1h-ad-6-skyraider/nasm_A19830230000, last accessed 8/3/2020.

[v] The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Douglas A-1H (AD-6) Skyraider, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/douglas-a-1h-ad-6-skyraider/nasm_A19830230000, last accessed 8/3/2020.

In Service

Skyraiders first saw combat in the Korean War. Skyraiders first flew missions on July 3, 1950.[i] The Skyraider was the only aircraft to carry out an aerial torpedo attack. On one mission Skyraider pilot, Lt. (j.g.) Carl B. Austin dropped a 1,000-pound (454 kg) bomb that had a kitchen sink attacked to it.[ii] Chinese forces launched an offensive on April 30, 1951. Skyraiders from the USS Princeton attacked the Hwachon Dam with conventional bombs. The bombs didn’t do the job on the dam, which was 240 feet (73 meters) thick at its base. The next day 5 Skyraiders, with an escort of 8 F4U Corsairs, launched aerial torpedoes against the Hwachon Dam.[iii] It was the only air attack with torpedoes during the war. Commander Richard C. Merrick led the attack. The attack breached the dam and took out electrical power over a large area. This attack broke up the Chinese offensive. Commander Merrick was killed on a mission on May 18, 1951. The Navy posthumously awarded him the Navy Cross for the dam busting and another mission.[iv] A USMC Skyraider, flown by Major George H. Linnemeier and Chief Warrant Officer Vernon S. Kramer scored the only Skyraider air victory of the war on June 16, 1953. The victim was a Polikarpov Po-2. There were 128 Skyraider losses, 101 in combat, in Korea.[v]

In September 1960 the U.S. supplied the first of 100 A-1 Skyraiders to South Vietnam. In November, South Vietnamese Air Force (SVAF) A-1 Skyraiders flew missions to suppress a coup attempt. In February 1962, two rebelling SVAF A-1 pilots attacked the presidential palace.[vi] U.S. pilots served as instructors. These American instructors soon flew combat missions. Six U.S. pilots were killed flying missions with the South Vietnamese Air Force.[vii] Nguyên Cao Ky, who later became the Vice President of the Republic of Vietnam, was one of the A-1 pilots. He first flew the A-1 in 1964. [viii]

The U.S. Navy began flying A-1 sorties in February 1964. The USS Bon Homme Richard was the first carrier to use Skyraiders in Vietnam.[ix] On August 5, 1964 aircraft, including A-1 Skyraiders, from the USS Ticonderoga and USS Constellation launched the first air raids against North Vietnam. The raids were in retaliation for North Vietnamese patrol boats attacking the USS Maddox on August 2 and a reported attack on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy on August 4.[x] Groundfire shot down an A-1, killing its pilot Lt. j.g. Richard Sather. Lt. j.g. Sather was the first naval aviator casualty of the war. [xi]

In February 1965 then Air Marshal Nguyên Cao Ky led 24 Skyraiders into North Vietnam to attack anti-aircraft gun emplacements. All 24 A-1s received damage. Ky was slightly wounded. The anti-aircraft shot down two Skyraiders. Their pilots bailed out over the sea. [xii] Two weeks later Ky led Skyraiders over Saigon[xiii] to stop a coup attempt. The A-1 show of force convinced the rebels to negotiate an end to their attempt.[xiv]

Some Skyraiders were configured for electronic warfare and designated EA-1. In June 1965 a Surface to Air Missile (SAM) shot down an EA-1. The pilot, Lt. Gerry Romano, and his 3 crew members died in the crash. The U.S. Navy lost 65 A-1 and 5 EA-1 Skyraiders during the war.[xv]

On June 20, 1965 a MiG-17 shot down a United States Air Force (USAF) F-4 Phantom II, the best fighter in the American arsenal. The U.S. sent out rescue helicopters with an A-1H Skyraider escort. The Skyraiders were to suppress groundfire. A flight of North Vietnamese MiG-17s attacked the A-1H Skyraiders. Lieutenant Clint Johnson shot down one of the attacking MiGs. This was the only Skyraider air victory of the Vietnam War. It is the last time a piston engine aircraft shot down a jet. It was the third U.S. air victory over Vietnam.[xvi] The Search and Rescue (SAR) team rescued one F-4 crew member. The North Vietnamese captured the other.[xvii]

In October 1965 the USS Midway was going to deliver the 6 millionth pound of ordinance on Vietnam. Commander Clarence W. Stoddard, an A-1 pilot, was given the honor of dropping the 6 millionth pound in Vietnam. His ordinance included a commode that was rigged with a bomb rack.[xviii]

U.S. Navy and USAF Skyraiders also flew night missions against the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and Cambodia. These Skyraiders lacked onboard radar and night-vision aids. [xix]

On March 10, 1966, while supporting besieged Green Berets and ARVN troops, North Vietnamese Army (NVA) groundfire shot down Skyraider pilot, Major Dafford W. Myers. A-1E pilot, Major Bernard F. Fisher landed his Skyraider and rescued Myers. For this action Major Fisher received the Medal of Honor.[xx]

On September 1, 1968 Lt. Col. William A. Jones III was on a SAR mission over North Vietnam when enemy groundfire severely damaged his A-1H. His egress system malfunctioned. Lt. Col. Jones nursed his aircraft back to base. He was wounded and passed on information about the downed pilot while he was on the operating table. The downed F-4 pilot was rescued and Lt. Col Jones was awarded the Medal of Honor. In July 1969 USAF Captain John Flinn was on a SAR mission when enemy fire shot him down over Laos. Captain Flinn was killed. [xxi]

The U.S. kept the A-1s in service until 1972. The last American A-1 shootdown occurred over Laos on September 22, 1972. It was the same A-1H Lt. Col Jones flew on the mission that earned him the Medal of Honor.[xxii] The last USAF Skyraider mission was on November 7, 1972. The Skyraiders kept enemy soldiers from a U.S. Army UH-1 crash site until the rescue of the 7 survivors.[xxiii]

On April 5, 1975 SVAF First Lieutenant Nguyen Lanh was one of the Skyraider pilots sortied to try to blunt the North Vietnamese Army offensive. The A-1s strafed a tank column and destroyed a bridge over the Thach Han River. This delayed the North Vietnamese onslaught in that area. Lieutenant Lanh destroyed 17 tanks during the North Vietnamese offensive.[xxiv] Despite air superiority over South Vietnam the situation quickly deteriorated for the South Vietnamese army. When the SVAF abandoned Phan Rang air base Major Ho Van Hien flew his A-1E out with 25 people in the back of his plane. He landed at Bien Hoa Air Base outside Saigon. Skyraiders flew strike missions against NVA troops advancing on Saigon on April 29.[xxv]

The next day South Vietnam surrendered. Some A-1Es flew to Thailand. Major Hein was one of the escaping Skyraider pilots. He landed at U-Tapao, Thailand with over 20 refugees in his A-1E. Total Skyraider losses in the Vietnam War was 266 with 144 pilots killed. The combat losses were mostly to groundfire. SAMs shot down 5 Skyraiders and three were lost in air-to-air combat.[xxvi]

The Cambodian Air Force received its first 10 of 5 Skyraiders in 1965. They flew combat sorties at least until the Khmer Rouge took over the country. Their subsequent fate is unknown.[xxvii]

The French Air Force also used Skyraiders in Algeria in the close air support role. After Algeria’s independence France gave their Skyraiders to Cambodia, Chad, Gabon, Djibouti, Madagascar, and the Central African Republic. In Chad Skyraiders were used to transport personnel, spare parts, and non-lethal supplies during the government’s fighting with Libyan backed rebels.[xxviii]


[i] Military Factory.com, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=144, last accessed 8/4/2020.

[ii] Defense Media Network, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/skyraiders-torpedo-the-hwachon-dam/, last accessed 8/4/2020.

[iii] National Interest.org, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/douglas-1-skyraider-old-looking-plane-was-vietnam-war-warrior-163292, last accessed 8/4/2020.

[iv] Defense Media Network, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/skyraiders-torpedo-the-hwachon-dam/, last accessed 8/4/2020.

[v] Military Factory.com, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=144, last accessed 8/4/2020.

[vi] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[vii] Vietnam Air Losses.com, https://www.vietnamairlosses.com/index.php/mar-8-64, last accessed 8/5/2020.

[viii] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[ix] Vietnam Air Losses.com, https://www.vietnamairlosses.com/index.php/mar-8-64, last accessed 8/5/2020.

[x] The August 2 attack happened; 4 North Vietnamese sailors died and 6 were wounded in the action. Three North Vietnamese patrol boats received damage. A single machinegun round struck the USS Maddox and a U.S. aircraft was damaged. The August 4 attack was a case of the U.S. ships getting false radar images. The so called Gulf of Tonkin Incident resulting in Congress giving President Johnson the ability to conduct combat operations in Southeast Asia.

[xi] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xii] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xiii] Now Ho Chi Minh City.

[xiv] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xv] Vietnam Air Losses, The A-1 Skyraider (Mar 1964), https://www.vietnamairlosses.com/index.php/mar-8-64, last accessed 8/5/2020.

[xvi] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 Squadron/Signals Publications Inc.

[xvii] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xviii] Vietnam.team-Yankee.com, https://vietnam.team-yankee.com/1660/props-forever-the-a-1h-skyraider-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/4/2020.

[xix] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xx] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xxi] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xxii] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xxiii] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xxiv] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xxv] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xxvi] Military Times.com, https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2017/12/15/how-the-low-slow-a-1-skyraider-earned-its-place-in-the-hearts-of-us-troops-in-vietnam/, last accessed 8/6/2020.

[xxvii] Air Vectors, http://www.airvectors.net/ava1spad.html, last accessed 8/9/2020.

[xxviii] Weapons and Warfare, https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2015/10/19/skyraiders-in-chad/, last accessed 8/9/2020.

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Stats

SOURCE: Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, (c) Tom Gervasi & Bob Adelman 1977.

 

 

 

Max Weight

25,000 lbs.

11,400 kg

Max Speed

318 mph

509 mph

Operational Range

3,000 miles

5,000 km

Ordinance Capacity

8,000 lbs.

3,600 kg

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on September 20, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I learn a lot by researching for these articles. The web really is great for getting informaton.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 20, 2020:

Robert you obviously know a lot about planes and can share it in easy to understand terms. Thanks for writing these hubs.

Robert Sacchi (author) on September 14, 2020:

Thanks for reading, commenting, and the info about the video. I'll have to look it up sometime.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on September 13, 2020:

Robert

Reading this hub reminded me I'd seen a YouTube account of the Skyraider attack on the Korean Dam!

Mark Felton has a ten minute video about the raid and why it was so important, precision flying was essential for it as the planes had to be at exactly one hundred feet doing exactly one hundred and sixty miles an hour, oh and the torpedoes had to be launched one thousand feet out, any miscalculation on any of them would mean failure!

Great hub.

Lawrence

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 13, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. In Vietnam the A-1 had certain advantages; heavy bomb load, long endurance, robust airframe, that made it seem idea for the situation in Vietnam. The U.S. air losses overall were very high. There were a number of reasons for that. Even today there is a large following for low and slow despite the obvious drawbacks.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 12, 2020:

The sky raider was a versatile aircraft but I am a little surprised that it was used so long by the US Air Force. As an aviator, I will say the plane was a bit of an anomaly and its losses vs service performance were too high

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 12, 2020:

In those days they could be a bit comical.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 12, 2020:

Now I get it! Thank you!

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 11, 2020:

Thank you all for reading and commenting:

Liz Westwood, Peggy Woods; In World War II aircraft, and other pieces of military hardware, were developed very quickly by modern standards. The A-1 and some other aircraft were delveloped very quickly by the standards of the day. With aircraft carriers he who can stuff more aircraft onto a carrier has a definite advantage.

FlourishAnyway: The kitchen sink and commode bombs were gags. The kitchen sink was from the old saying of "...everything, including the kitchen sink."

Liz Westwood from UK on August 11, 2020:

I guess the folding wings would save hanger space. This looks like a very useful and versatile plane. I was amazed at it's design in a hotel room and the speed of production.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 11, 2020:

Very interesting that this plane was designed in a hotel room. I guess we can't help where inspiration strikes. Do you know the story behind the kitchen sink attached to that bomb? Seems like a strange thing to do.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 10, 2020:

Ah, that makes sense!

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 10, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. The folded wings are for carrier based aircraft. The idea is with the wings folded more aircraft can be fitted onto the carrier.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 10, 2020:

Like Pamela's husband, my brother was a crew chief aboard helicopters during the Vietnam war. I see from the statistics you showed that many Skyraider airplanes, as well as their pilots, were lost during Vietnam.

I have seen another type of airplane with folded wings. There do not seem to be that many of them.

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 09, 2020:

Yes, it was a different time. If I remember right the Sidewinder AAM was developed in a garage. Thank you for reading and commenting. Helicopters were used in Korea but they really came into their own in Vietnam.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 09, 2020:

The Skyraider history is very interesting. My husband was in Vietnam during some of those years. He was not a pilot but was on helicopters much of the time. I enjoyed this article and I think it is interesting that this design was developed in a hotel room, Robert.