The first delivery of A3D-1s to fleet squadrons took place on March 31, 1956. On that date, five A3D-1s were delivered to Heavy Attack Squadron One (VAH-1) at NAS Jacksonville, Florida. In April of that year, VAH-2 intoduced the Skywarrior to the Pacific Fleet. In September of 1956, the aircraft of VAH-1 were deployed aboard the USS Shangri-la in the Pacific. The National Air Show in Oklahoma City was September 1, 2, and 3, 1956. Capt. Blackburn, Commodore HatWing One and Cdr. Charles T. Frohne, XO Hatron One (VAH-1) and their crews staged from Jacksonville FL to the Shangri-la off the Oregon coast for a demonstration flight. Launching from the carrier they flew to Oklahoma City at an average speed of 606.555 mph, and Capt. Blackburn was awarded the Douglas Trophy for that feat. Without landing they continued on to NAS Jacksonville.
In January of 1957, VAH-1 took the A3D-1 on its first major deployment aboard the USS Forrestal on a cruise to the Mediterranean. The A3D-1s were primarily designed to be service test aircraft that would explore the feasibility of operating large jet-powered aircraft aboard aircraft carriers, and were not considered as being combat-ready.
While it is correct that the first "major" deployment of VAH-1 and the A3Ds commenced on 15 January 1957, the actual first deployment of the A3D-1 was during the Suez Crisis. On 7 November 1956 VAH-1's A3Ds were craned aboard the USS Forrestal at Mayport. Carrier qualifications were actually accomplished enroute to the Eastern Atlantic! The carrier returned to the US on December 12, 1956.
The A3D-2 began to reach fleet squadrons in 1957. It was first delivered to VAH-2. The A3D-2 was used to set some impressive records. In a single flight on March 21, 1957, an A3D-2 set a west-bound US transcontinental speed record with a time of 5 hours 12 minutes as well as a record for Los Angles-New York--Los Angles speed record of 9 hours 31 minutes. On June 6, a pair of Skywarriors took off from the USS Bon Homme Richard that was steaming off the California coast, flew across the country and landed 4 hours later on the USS Saratoga stationed off the east coast of Florida. The A3D-1 and the A3D-2 went on to equip 13 VAH squadrons (including two replacement training squadrons). They operated primarily in the strategic bombing role. The fuselage shape and the sheer size earned the aircraft the appelation "Whale", reflecting the difficulty that carrier crews had in moving the plane around on crowded flight decks.
In the late 1950s, the specialized electronic reconnaissance A3D-2Q, the photographic reconnaissance A3D-2P, and the trainer A3D-2T began to be delivered. The A3D-2Q/EA-3B was issued in 1959 to VQ-1 and VQ-2, these two units being destined to fly Skywarriors for more than 30 years. The A3D-2P/EA-3B was supplied to VAP-61, VAP-62, and VCP-63 beginning in 1959. These squadrons were primarily land-based, but they did provide frequent carrier-based detachments.
The last of 283 Skywarriors rolled off the production line in January of 1961.
Skywarriors figured prominently in the Cold War crises of the late 1950s and early 1960s, including the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. However, the A3D's role in nuclear deterrence began to fade in 1960 with the first deployment of the Polaris fleet ballistic missile submarines and the introduction of the supersonic North American A3J (later A-5A) Vigilante. VAH-7 converted to the A3J-1 in August 1961, and seven other VAH squadrons exchanged their Skywarriors for Vigilantes, while RVAH-3 flew Vigilantes alongside A3D-2T/TA-3Bs between 1961 and 1979. The remaining VAH squadrons continued to fly Skywarriors until they were either disestablished or redesignated.
When the Vietnam War began to heat up in 1964, the Skywarrior was pressed into service, initially as a conventional bomber during 1965 and 1966 with VAH-2, VAH-4, and VAH-8, dropping "iron" bombs on lightly defended targets. Mining missions were flown as late as March of 1967. However, most Skywarriors in the Southeast Asian theatre were destined to serve as tanker aircraft. 85 A-3Bs had their bombing equipment removed and permanent tanker packages installed, being redesignated as KA-3Bs. Later, 34 of these KA-3Bs were modified at NARF as combination electronic countermeasures/aerial tanker aircraft. These were redesignated EKA-3B. The tanker Skywarriors were useful not only in routine combat operations but also in refuelling combat aircraft returning from their missions that were about to run out of fuel short of their carriers or which were suffering major battle damage. Tanker Skywarriors with VAH and VAQ squadrons were credited with saving over 700 aircraft from loss during the course of the war.
Reconnaissance RA-3Bs flew nighttime missions over North Vietnam, identifying road traffic for later strikes. VAP-61 lost four RA-3Bs to ground fire. VQ-1 and VQ-2 operated EA-3B electronic reconnaissance aircraft throughout the war, providing vital intelligence to the fleet and valuable information about North Vietnamese radar systems.
As the Vietnam War wound down, the KA-3B and EKA-3B aircraft were replaced by the KA-6D and the EA-6B respectively, and many KA-3Bs were transferred to the Naval Air Reserve. The EA-3Bs soldiered on for a few more years with Navy carrier-based squadrons. The EA-3B was withdrawn from carrier use and from VQ-1 in December of 1987. VQ-1 turned its planes over to VQ-2, which operated them in support of Operation Desert Storm in January of 1991.
The Naval Reserve unit VAK-308 finally relinquished its KA-3Bs on September 30, 1988, the unit itself was decommissioned a year later. VAK-208 continued on with the KA-3B until 1989.
Beginning in 1970, the RA-3Bs were retired from their photoreconnaissance role and many were modified into ERA-3B electronic aggressor aircraft for service with VAQ-33 and later VAQ-34. These aircraft served in many locations throughout the world, providing realistic simulation of potential enemy threats to shipboard radar operators. These units also operated between them a handful of TA-3Bs, KA-3Bs, and at least one each of the EA-3B, EKA-3B, and UA-3B versions. VAQ-34 retired its ERA-3Bs in February 1991, leaving VAQ-33 the last squadron to operate the Skywarrior. The last Skywarrior was officially retired from VAQ-33 on September 30, 1991.
The following Navy Squadrons used the Skywarrior
First operational unit to receive the Skywarrior. Operational cruises aboard USS Forrestal.
Disposed of last A-3Bs prior to the end of 1962. Unit became RAH-1 Sept 1, 1964 after transitioning to RA-5C
Received first Skywarriors May 1956.
Cruises aboard Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) Coral Sea (CVA-43), Ranger (CVA-61). 8 deployments to SouthEast Asia.
Primarily provide midair refuelling. Unit was redesignated VAQ-132 Nov 1, 1968.
Cruise on USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42). Used as training unit, flying
A3D-1s and A3D-2Ts. Last A-3 class graduated
January 1964. Unit was redesignated RVAH-3 June 1964. Continued operating TA-3Bs until disestablished Aug 1979.
Detachments to USS Hancock (CVA-19), USS Independence (CVA-62). Deployments
to NAS Cubi Point, Philippines and Da Nang AB,
Vietnam. Unit was reorganized as VAQ-131 Nov 1, 1968.
Received Skywarriors in 1957. Made 5 deployments to Mediterranean. Transitioned to RA-5C and
redesignated RVAH-5 May 1964.
Received Skywarriors in 1958. Several Western Pacific deployments on USS Ranger (CVA-61)
and several Mediterranean deployments aboard USS Forestal (CVA-59).
Redesignated RVAH-6 Sept 1965 and transitioned to RA-5C
Transitioned to Skywarrior early 1958. Deployment on USS Independence (CVA-062). Transitioned
to A3J-1 beginning in August 1961. Unit was redesignated RVAH-7 Dec 1, 1964.
Transitined to Skywarrior Aug 1957. Deployments on USS Midway (CVA-41). 3 combat cruises during
Southeast Asia War. Unit was disestablished Jan 17, 1968.
Received Skywarrior January 1957. Six Mediterranean deployments on USS Saratoga (CVA-60).
Transitioned to RA-5C in 1964. Unit was redesignated RVAH-9 Jun 1964.
Activated in 1961 with Skywarrior. Deployments to Western Pacific aboard USS Constellation (CVA-64) and
participated in Gulf of Tonkin incident. Operated as detachment squadron with deployments to Southeast Asia
and to Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean. Unit was redesignated VAQ-129 in September 1970.
Received Skyraider November 1957. Several
deployments to Mediterranean. Transitioned to RA-5C and redesignated RVAH-11 July
Commissioned Jan 3, 1961 with A3D-2. Deployments to Caribbean on USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63)
and to Pacific Fleet. Transitioned RA-5C and redesignated RVAH-13 Nov 1964.
Commissioned Jun 15, 1957 to operate as training unit for replacement crews for all Pacific
Fleet units using Skywarriors.
Initially with A3D-1s, later equipped with A-3B, TA-3B. Decommissioned February 1, 1971,
and training responsibility transferred to VAQ-130.
Formed as Composite Squadron 33 in May 1949 with TBM-3E. Redesignated VA(AW)-33 July 1956, VAW-33 in
June 1959, and VAQ-33 in February 1968. Reorganized in early 1970 at NAS Norfolk as electronic
aggressor unit. Operated several types of aircraft, including A-3Bs, ERA-3Bs, KA-3Bs, and TA-3Bs.
In October 1977, VAQ-33 became the A-3 fleet replacement squadron. To NAS Oceana, Virginia in 1978
and to NAS Key West, FL 1980. Retired last Skywarrior in 1991.
Established March 1, 1983 for electronic warfare. Equipped with KA-3B, EKA-3B, A-7L and KA-3B. Retired
last Skywarrior in 1991.
Established September 1, 1970 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington out of former VAH-10.
Detachments to USS Shangri La off North Vietnam. Detachments to USS Hancock (CVA-19) in Gulf of Tonkin
and USS Saratoga (CVA-6) in Mediterranean. First EA-6B received Jan 1971, and VAQ-129 became
the Prowler fleet replacement squadron.
Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 13 (VAW-13) was commissioned at NAS Agana, Guam Sept 1, 1959 and transferred
to NAS Alameda, California in July 1961. Received first EKA-3Bs and Ka-3Bs in spring of 1967.
Redesignated VAQ-130 on October 1, 1968. Detachments aboard carriers in Gulf of Tonkin.
Stood down June 30, 1974 and moved to NAS Whidbey Island to transition to EA-6B
Formed November 1, 1968 when VAH-4 was redesignated. Operated KA/EKA-3Bs. Detachment
to Gulf of Tonkin on USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) and to Mediterranean on USS John F.
Kennedy (CVA-67). Moved to NAS Whidbey Island, Washington May 1971 to transition
to EA-6B Prowler.
Formed November 1, 1968 when VAH-2 was redesignated. Detachments to USS Constellation (CVA-64).
Combat cruises on USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) and USS America (CVA-66). Moved to NAS
Whidbey Island, Washington January 15, 1971 and transitioned to EA-6B.
Established Mar 4, 1969. Deployments to Gulf of Tonkin on USS Constellation (CVA-64)
and USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63). Stood down August 1971. Reactivated August 4, 1972
at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington with EA-6B.
Established June 17, 1969 with KA-3B and EKA-3B. 2 combat cruises on USS Ranger
(CVA-61). Stood down July 1971. Transitioned to EA-6B May 1972.
Activated May 15, 1969. Deployments and detachments to Southeast Asia on USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), USS
Hancock (CVA-19), USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), and to Mediterranean on USS Franklin D.
Roosevelt (CVA-43), USS Forrestal (CVA-59). Transition to EA-6B July 1974.
Established July 1, 1959 as VCP-61 out of VC-61 to operate a mix of F8U-1Ps and A3D-2Ps. Redesignated
VAP-61 in 1961 when Crusaders were transferred out. Detachments to DaNang AB, South Vietnam
and to carriers and to land bases on Asian mainland, USA, and Bermuda. Decommissioned
July 1, 1971.
Founded in 1949 as Composite Squadron 61 in 1949. Became VCP-63 in 1959 when it received A3D-2Ps to
complement its F8U-1Ps. A3D-2P phased out in 1961, and squadron was redesignated VFP-63.
Received first A3D-1Qs November 1956. To Atsugi July 1960. Combat operations with EA-3Bs in Southeast
Asia beginning in 1964. To NAS Agana, Guam in June 1971, acquiring planes of VAP-61.
Acquired A3D-1Qs in 1956. Moved to NS Rota, Spain November 1958. Deployments to NAS Key west, Florida during
Cuban missile crisis, and to DaNang AB, South Vietnam, and deployments to Eastern Mediterranean and Indian
Operated at least one TA-3B
Commissioned as VAQ-208 with KA-3B Jul 31, 1970. Redesignated VAK-208 in October 1969. Relinquished its KA-3Bs in
Established May 2, 1970 as VAQ-308 with KA-3B. Detachments to Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean.
Redesignated VAK-308. Relinquished its KA-3Bs on
September 30, 1988. Decommissioned September 30, 1989.
Unit did not have any aircraft, but members of the unit flew with Skywarriors of VAQ-208 and VAQ-308.