The US Air Force had shown interest in the Skyraider as early as 1949, but the interservice rivalries of the day always prevented any production of the Skyraider for the USAF.
As American involvement in VietNam began to increase, the USAF found out that it lacked an aircraft that was useful in the close combat that was taking place with increasing frequency in that nation. In April of 1962, a Special Warfare Center was established at Eglin AFB in Florida to test various aircraft that might be useful in this role. B-26s and T-28s were tested for suitability in the counter-insurgency role, as well as a couple of Navy Skyraiders. The results with the Skyraider were sufficiently favorable that the Air Force decided to acquire some 150 surplus two-seat A-1Es which were to be overhauled for service in VietNam. Making this option even more attractive was the fact that the Republic of Vietnam Air Force was already flying Skyraiders.
Among the modifications was the provision for dual controls in the A-1E cockpit to make it possible to train Vietnamese pilots and also to help in the conversion of USAF pilots who were used to jets rather than piston-engined aircraft.
The first USAF Skyraiders (A-1Es) were delivered beginning in April of 1963 to the Air Force Special Warfare center at Eglin AFB in Florida. Another batch was delivered by December of 1965. In February of 1964, 25 A-1Es were sent to the 34th Tactical Group, quickly supplanted by the First Air Commando Squadron. It was based at Bien Hoa air base. In 1964, the USAF took over from the Navy the job of training Skyraider pilots.
The A-1Es were later supplemented by A-1Hs. The USAF Skyraiders were assigned serial numbers consisting of the original BuNo assigned to the aircraft, prefixed by the last two digits of the Fiscal Year in which they had been originally ordered by the Navy. For example, AD-5 BuNo 132649, which had been ordered by the Navy in FY 1952, became 52-132649.
Initially, the rules of engagement for USAF Skyraiders operating in Vietnam were such that a Vietnamese had to be on board if a combat mission took place. The Vietnamese observer was in principle supposed to have the responsibility for target identification and for the decision to attack. However, it often happened that an experienced American pilot actually flew the mission, with a novice Vietnamese riding along in the other seat and acting as little more than a passenger.
As American forces began to take on more of the fighting in Vietnam, A-1Es began to be flown as single-seaters. One particularly notable flight took place on March 10, 1966 in which Major Bernard F. Fisher landed his A-1E on an unused runaway at the A Shau Special Forces camp under enemy fire to pick up a downed fellow Skyraider pilot. For this act of heroism, Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. His plane, 52-132649, is now on display at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio
The USAF continued to use Skyraiders throughout most of the Vietnam war. The last USAF A-1 rescue mission was flown on November 7, 1972.
One of the better-known exploits of the Skyraider in aircrew rescue was the famous "BAT-21" rescue mission that was later used as the basis of a novel and a motion picture. "BAT-21" was the radio call-sign of EB-66C 54-0466 which was shot down by a SAM over North Vietnam on March 31, 1972. Four of the crew members were killed, but the ECM operator parachuted to safety and landed in the Demilitarized Zone. Skyraiders flew close air support to cover the rescue of the ECM operator, which took several days.