By: Norm Goyer
The Skyraider has a history which is very unique in combat aircraft. Its versatility and weight lifting ability has never been challenged. Add to that the ability to linger for hours over targets made it indispensable in both Korea and Vietnam. The AD-1 was the last piston powered combat aircraft used by all of our armed forces. When we left Vietnam many were turned over to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. We trained their pilots in the US so they could continue to use the AD-1 for years to come. During Vietnam, the huge single-engine prop driven fighter bomber was used in a sky full of jets. The lifting power was so great that it was capable of carrying more guns and bombs than a full loaded B-17 of World War II, and flown by a single pilot.
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 July 6, 1944 as the XBT2D-1. The XBT2D-1 made its first flight on March 18 1945 and in April 1945, the USN began evaluation of the aircraft at the Naval Air Test Center (NATC). In December 1946, after a designation change to AD-1. As you see, it only missed being used in World War II by a few months.
Over its very long production run the AD-1 used a number of radial engines starting with a Wright R-3350 engine, The Douglas Skyraider 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) 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.
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 in the mid-1960s by the Grumman A-6 Intruder as the Navy’s primary medium attack plane in super carrier-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.
Skyraiders were offered for sale as surplus after Vietnam and many are still being flown by collectors and can be seen at major airshows around the country. There is also a huge variety of color schemes and different military markings available so each one flying is truly an unique historical aircraft. The Douglas AD-1 will always be remembered as a very significant aircraft in our wartime aviation history.
Specifications Douglas AD-1
- Crew: One
- Length: 38 ft 10 in
- Wingspan: 50 ft 0¼ in
- Height: 15 ft 8¼ in
- Wing area: 400.3 ft²
- Empty weight: 11,968 lb
- Loaded weight: 18,106 lb
- Max. takeoff weight: 25,000 lb
- Engine: Wright R-3350-26WA radial engine, 2,700 hp
- Maximum speed: 322 mph 280 kn at 18,000 ft
- Cruise speed: 198 mph 172 kn
- Range: 1,316 mi 1,144 nmi
- Service ceiling: 28,500 ft
- Rate of climb: 2,850 ft/min
- Wing loading: 45 lb/ft²