The airplane that became the AD (later redesignated A-1) Skyraider evolved from a Navy decision in 1943 to combine the World War II dive-bombing and torpedo missions in one aircraft. Built around a barrel-like fuselage, it possessed rigid lines that made it anything but graceful in appearance. However, it emanated power and could carry 8,000 lb. of ordnance, more than a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress.
First flown on March 18, 1945, Skyraiders entered fleet service the following year and no aviator that flew one then and later would forget the experience of taking to the air for the first time. “My first impression was that I was in for the ride of my life. I was surrounded by noise and vibration...,” recalled one. “That first flight behind a 3350 radial all alone was something to behold.”
The “Able Dog” or “Spad,” as the Skyraider was called, earned its stellar reputation as one of the finest attack aircraft ever built in the skies over Korea. Their missions were varied, from attacking heavily defended industrial targets like power plants and bridges to knocking out the Hwachon Dam with aerial torpedoes to earning the affection of many a grunt with its close air support capabilities. Operations in Korea also reflected the versatility of the Skyraider, the platform modified to conduct a host of missions including electronic countermeasures and night attack.
In the years following the Korean War, Skyraiders continued to serve the fleet in multiple roles, the roar of their engines increasingly surrounded by the thunder of jets on carrier decks. Some AD pilots trained for the possibility of nuclear war, flying so-called Sandblower missions, long-range flights to deliver nuclear bombs at low altitude that involved such an extended amount of time in the cockpit that aviators nicknamed them “Butt Busters.” By the time of the Vietnam War, the A-4 Skyhawk was increasingly the mainstay of the Navy’s carrier-based attack arsenal. However, Navy Skyraiders participated in the first strikes against North Vietnam in response to the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964, and continued flying attack missions until 1968, when the increasingly sophisticated antiaircraft defenses were deemed too hazardous.
The Navy continued operating electronic countermeasures versions of the Skyraider until 1972 and the Air Force employed them on search and rescue and air commando missions until that year as well, turning over its remaining aircraft to the South Vietnamese Air Force. All told 3,180 Skyraiders would roll off the Douglas assembly line.
The museum’s A-1H Skyraider (Bureau Number 135300) flew the last attack mission by a Navy Skyraider in the Vietnam War on February 20, 1968.
Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Company
Dimensions: Length: 38 ft., 10 in.; Height 15 ft., 8 ¼ in.; Wingspan: 50 ft.
Weights: Empty: 12,094 lb.; Gross: 25,000 lb.
Power Plant: One 2,700 horsepower Wright R-3350-26W engine
Performance: Maximum Speed: 343 M.P.H. at 20,000 ft.; Service Ceiling: 25,400 ft.; Range: 1,300 miles
Armament: Four 20mm fixed forward-firing cannon and 8,000 lb. of ordnance