Service of AD Skyraider with US Navy

Last revised October 18, 2001

In the spring of 1946, a few XBT2D-1s were delivered to the Pacific Fleet Air Headquarters at NAS Alameda for service trials. These tests uncovered some serious problems with main undercarriage and wing skin failures, most of which took place when when the landing weights and landing sinking speeds were high. The aircraft's structural strength was obviously too weak to stand up to the rigors of hard carrier landings. An attempt was made in the AD-1 to rectify these problems, and some structural strengthening was added which increased the empty weight by 515 pounds. Maximum gross weight reached 18,030 pounds.

In December of 1946, VA-19A at NAS Alameda was declared operational with the AD-1. Deliveries to two Atlantic Fleet squadrons, VA-3B and VA-4B, began in April of 1947. These two units completed carrier qualification trials aboard the USS Sicily. They were soon deployed aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Throughout the late 1940s, more and more Navy carrier-based units were equipped with Skyraiders of various versions. As the year 1950 began, it appeared that the production of the Skyraider was going to be winding down quite shortly, with 12 Navy AD attack squadrons, plus two AD-4N night attack and two AD-3W early warning squadrons already in service.  However, North Korean forces invaded the South on June 25, 1950, and President Harry Truman ordered American armed forces to oppose the attack. On July 3, AD-4s of VA-55 based on the USS Valley Forge launched an air attack on North Korean airfields near Pyongyang, making the first use of the Skyraider in combat. The next day, VA-55 Skyraiders attacked a bridge span, ten locomotives, and gunboats sailing on a nearby river. Later in the month of July, Skyraiders from VA-55 struck the Wonsan Oil Refinery. AD-4s from VA-115 based on the USS Philippine Sea joined in general support of beleaguered UN forces retreating from the North Korean advance.

The first Marine Skyraider squadron, VMA-121 brought AD-3s to Korea in October of 1951, and they flew missions from land bases throughout the war.

Throughout the Korean conflict, the Skyraider was used in a variety of roles--day and night attack against North Korean and Chinese troop concentrations as well as radar jamming and electronic countermeasures. It was able to carry a large variety of offensive loads, and was the only plane capable of delivering 2000-lb bombs with dive-bombing precision against targets such as mountain bridges and hydroelectric dams. Numerous sorties were flown by AD-4N night-attack aircraft. These three-seat aircraft were very effective in night operations, carrying a 500 lb bomb, 6 250 lb bombs and six flares. Shore-based US Marine units flew the AD-4Q to ferret out enemy radar installations.

The rate of Skyraider production was stepped up during the Korean war. However, the AD-5 and AD-6 versions were too late to see any action in the Korean War. After the Korean War ended with an armistice in July of 1953, production of the continued. The peak of Skyraider usage was in 1955, when 29 Navy squadrons and 13 Marine Corps squadrons were flying Skyraiders. The last Skyraider came off the production line in February of 1957, a much longer production run than had been anticipated back in the late 1940s.

Replacement of some Navy carrier-based Skyraiders by A4D Skyhawks began in 1956, and by 1963 the A-6A Intruder began replacing many of the others. However, Navy Skyraiders were still around to participate in the SouthEast Asian war. They were among the first aircraft to strike at North Vietnam, when A-1Hs of VA-52 and VA-145 from the carriers Ticonderoga and Constellation respectively participated in retaliatory strikes against torpedo boats and their support facilities at five locations along the North Vietnam coast. A VA-145 Skyraider was hit by AAA and managed to get back to its carrier, but BuNo 139760 was shot down. For the next four years, Skyraiders from Seventh Fleet carriers flew close air support missions over South Vietnam and conventional attack and countermeasures missions against North Vietnamese targets. Because of its slow speed and long endurance, the Skyraider gained a reputation as an ideal escort and ground-fire suppression aircraft to accompany helicopters carrying troops. Skyraiders also flew support during rescues of downed American aircrews over North Vietnam, and their long endurance times and accurate flak suppression fire made it possible to recover numerous downed pilots.

Although the Skyraider was never intended to be a fighter, it did achieve a couple of MiG "kills" during the Southeast Asian War. On June 20, 1965, Lts Charles Hartman and Clinton Johnson in A-1H BuNo 137523 and 139786 shared in the downing of a MiG-17 by cannon fire. On October 9, 1966, Lt JG William T. Patton of VA-176 flying A-1H BuNo 137543 shot down a MiG-17 near Hanoi.

The last single-seat Skyraider combat sortie took place with VA-25 from the USS Coral Sea on February 20, 1968, but multi-seat Skyraiders continued to fly in countermeasures roles until December of 1968. The last ECM sorties were flown on December 27, 1968 by EA-1Fs with VAQ-33. Most Navy Skyraiders were consigned to storage shortly after their withdrawal from service. The last Navy Skyraiders were retired in early 1972.


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  2. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920, Vol 1, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1988

  3. The Douglas Skyraider, Harry Gann, Aircraft in Profile, Doubleday, NY.

  4. American Combat Planes, 3rd Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.