Skywarrior in Service with Hughes/Raytheon

Last revised November 21, 2001

Long after the Skywarrior has been withdrawn from active duty with the US Navy, several A-3s are still active in flight test roles flying under civilian registration numbers.

Almost from the time of the very first introduction of the Skywarrior into Navy service, some planes were allocated to aerospace corporations for research and development work. A single RA-3B had been bailed to Westinghouse for tests, and another A-3 (BuNo 144843) had been bailed to the Raytheon Company for development of the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile.

In 1963, a couple of A-3s were bailed to the Hughes Aircraft Company in Culver City, California for use in development of the AWG-9 radar system and the AIM-54 Phoenix missile. These systems were to be carried aboard the General Dynamics F-111B, which was currently under development for the US Navy. A radome from an F-111B was grafted onto the nose of each A-3, a radar station for the AWG-9 was installed at the navigator's station, and additional electronics and cooling systems were installed in the bomb bay. A gas turbine auxiliary was mounted in the rear fuselage.

Although the F-111B project was cancelled in May of 1968, work continued on both the AWG-9 radar and the Phoenix missile for the F-14 Tomcat, and the Skywarriors continued to fly with Hughes. Another A-3 joined the Hughes program at this time, replacing one of the earlier planes. This plane (BuNo 144867) was fitted with an F-14A radome and could carry a Phoenix missile underneath an underwing pylon. It was redesignated NTA-3B. It was later used in support of development of the new APG-71 radar for the F-14D. The plane was retained by Hughes even after work on these projects was completed, but the plane was assigned a civilian registration number of N577HA.

When the Navy finally ended A-3 operations in 1991, all of the civilian users of the A-3 were out of luck since the Navy was no longer able to supply spare parts and support for their planes. Rather than ground their Skywarriors, both Hughes and Raytheon proposed that they be given all of the Navy's remaining A-3 airframes for support of their research programs, saving the Navy the cost of disposal. The Navy readily agreed to this plan. Two other companies--CTAS and Thunderbird Aviation--later joined the plan. 

A total of eleven Skywarriors were distributed among these firms. Since they were no longer military aircraft, they were issued civilian registration numbers.

Thunderbird Aviation of Tucson, Arizona operated BuNo 144856 as N160TB. It was fitted with a long tail attachment with a disk-shaped antenna at the end.

CTAS gave up its single EA-3B in 1993, and Westinghouse ended its activities with the A-3 in 1994. Thunderbird Aviation went belly-up in 1996, and Hughes absorbed its planes. Hughes and Raytheon merged in December of 1997, and all of the civilian-operated Skywarriors were now with just one company. Some of the planes absorbed by Raytheon were given new civilian registration numbers at this time, ending with the letters 'RA'.

There are 14 Skywarriors currently registered to Raytheon Flight Test Operations. All of them have civilian N-registrations. Of the fourteen Raytheon Skywarriors, are two EA-3Bs, three TA-3Bs, and nine RA-3Bs and ERA-3Bs. Six airworthy Skywarriors are active at the Van Nuys, California site of Raytheon. Two others are stored there for future use, and one is being cannibalized for spare parts. There are four more stored at Mojave, California and one at Tucson, Arizona. They are currently used for various programs of weapons research, and several are flying with fighter noses grafted onto them.

The following Skywarriors are currently operated by Raytheon Flight Test Operations:

142256			Douglas YA3D-2P Skywarrior 
				c/n 11582.  Later redesignated A3D-2P and changed to RA-3B in 1962.   
					SOC Nov 15, 2000.  Now with Raytheon Flight Systems and stored at Mojave Airport as N256HA
142666/142669	Douglas A3D-2P Skywarrior 
				C/n 11729/11732.  Redesignated RA-3B in 1962.
				142667 to NRA-3B.  Issued to Hughes Aviation as N576HA.  Now active with Raytheon Systems Co. as 
					RAYCO 76. Civil reg N876RS.
				142668 modified as ERA-3B.  Bailed to Thunderbird Aviation as N163TB.  Now with Raytheon Flight Systems, 
					in storage at Mojave.
144825/144847	Douglas A3D-2P Skywarrior 
				C/n 12071/12093.  Redesignated RA-3B in 1962.
				144825 bailed to Hughes Aviation as N578HA.  Now active with Raytheon Flight Systems as RAYCO 78, civil reg N878RS.
				144832 to ERA-3B May 1973.  Bailed to Thunderbird, then to Hughes/Raytheon.  Stored at Mojave 
					as N162TB
				144838 to ERA-3B 1981-1983.  Later bailed to Raytheon Flight Systems, in storage at Van Nuys, CA
					as RAYCO  73, civil registration of N573HA
				144841 to ERA-3B 1981-1983.  Bailed to Hughes Aviation Sep 1991.  In storage with Raytheon Flight Systems at
					Mojave as RAYCO 72.  Civil registration of N572HA.
				144843 bailed to Raytheon in 1978.  Used for Patriot missile tests.  Now in storage at
					Mojave, CA RAYCO 71, civilian registration N571HA.
				144846 to ERA-3B 1982/83.  Bailed to Hughes for spare parts as N547HA.  Then bailed to Raytheon Flight Systems
					Picked clean in 1999 by and chopped up for disposal.
144848/144855	Douglas A3D-2Q Skywarrior 
				C/n 12094/12101.  Redesignated EA-3B in 1962.
				144849 bailed to Raytheon Flight Systems.  Not sure of this one.
144856/144867	Douglas A3D-2T Skywarrior 
				C/n 12102/12113.  Redesignated TA-3B in 1962.
				144856 to Thunderbird Aviation as N160TB.  Now in storage at Van Nuys as RAYCO 70, civilian number N870RS. 
				144858 to Hughes Aviation as N579HA.  Still active with Raytheon Systems Co as RAYCO 79, civilian number N879RS.
				144865 converted to utility transport and redesignated UA-3B.  Bailed to Hughes as N575HA.
					Still active with Raytheon Systems Co. as RAYCO 75, civil reg. N875RS.
				144867 used by Hughes Aeronautical system as NTA-3B N577HA for testing AWG-9 radar.  Still 
					active with Raytheon Systems Co. of Van Nuys, CA as RAYCO 77, civilian no. N877RS.
146446/146447	Douglas A3D-2P Skywarrior 
				c/n 12398/12399. Redesignated RA-3B in 1962.
				146446 to ERA-3B Sep 1972.  Bailed to Thunderbird as N161TB, then to Hughes.
					SOC Nov 15, 2000. 
146448/146459	Douglas A3D-2Q Skywarrior 
				c/n 12400/12411.  Redesignated EA-3B in 1962.
				146454 bailed to Hughes as N574HA.  Now flying with Raytheon as N864RS RAYCO 74.  


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

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

  3. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  4. A-3 Skywarrior Association web site--

  5. Last of the Great Whales--Civilian-Operated Test-Bed Douglas A-3s, Mark Munzel, Air Enthusiast, May/June 2001..