Two Decades Later, This U.S. Navy Fighter Plane Designed For WWII Continued To Take Down Vietnam Jet Fighters
Many enthusiasts of aviation and aerial warfare make it a point to compare attack aircraft with the goal of singling out the best. Little do they know that each aircraft used in warfare has its own particular strengths and designated purposes.
Truly, the introduction of jet-propelled fighter planes caused a paradigm shift during WWII. However, there was a propeller plane that held its ground and outperformed many of its contemporaries. So, what set the Douglas A-1 Skyraider apart?
A Project Almost Aborted
During WWII, many of the Allied forces started replacing their fighter aircraft with those with jet-propelled engines. Their propeller planes suffered many casualties from the enemy’s MiG-17 fighter jets.
Even though the Skyraider went into service in the same year Nazi Germany surrendered, it still went on to enjoy use in the collection of aircraft owned by the United States Navy and Airforce. Seeing the war was at an end, the order for A-1 Skyraider was almost canceled.
The Skyraider's Design
In 1942, the Douglas Aircraft Company submitted bids for the design of a new aircraft to the US Navy. An assessment of the vulnerabilities of two of their aircraft—Curtiss SB2C Helldiver and Grumman TBF Avenger—necessitated a worthy replacement.
BTD Destroyer, the first design prototype by Douglas, performed poorly during its test flight. It was obvious the design would not stand a chance against its potential competitor, the Martin AM-1 Mauler.
Back to the Drawing Board
In 1944, two years after the project was commissioned, the development of the new aircraft still stalled. So, Navy officials called for an emergency meeting with Douglas’ top engineers.
Going by the obvious lapses of the BTD Destroyer, Ed Heinemann, Douglas’s Chief Engineer, was allowed to shelf that design and create an entirely new one. Heinemann and his team had to work all through that night in a hotel room and presented the new design by the next morning.
Necessity, the Mother of Invention
The new design was presented to the Navy officials that morning, and it was promptly approved. However, the approval came with a clause: the first prototype of the new design must be ready to fly no later than nine months after the approval.
Douglas Aircraft Company accepted the challenge and immediately got to work. In a display of professionalism, the XBT2D was taken on its first test flight on March 18, 1945. That date was just 24 hours late from the 9-month deadline.
Capabilities of the New Aircraft
The XBT2D, later to be called the A-1 Skyraider, was outfitted with the same engine as the prolific B-29 aircraft.
The engine made the plane able to reach speeds of up to 300 miles per hour. It could also cruise at altitudes of over 24,000 feet. However, the biggest plus of the XBT2D was its payload. The plane could carry enough ammunition for a nuclear apocalypse.
To Buy or Not to Buy?
The US Navy was satisfied with the new prototype and placed an order for 548 units of the aircraft, on May 5, less than two months after the test flight.
However, in a twist of fate, Germany surrendered on May 7, and Japan gave in on August 15. WWII had just ended, and only three units of the ordered plane had been delivered to the US Navy.
Let's Be Practical
Since jet fighters had become the order of the day, and WWII had ended, the US Navy canceled their previous order for the XBT2D. However, pilots began flying the three units in their possession for drills and were quite impressed by the plane’s performance.
So, in 1947, the US Navy placed a fresh order for 239 more units of the plane in three variants. It wasn’t until after this order that the US Navy assigned the XBT2D its more popular moniker—AD Skyraider.
The Utility Aircraft
Soon after the fresh order, the US Navy deployed Skyraiders for the shelling of Wonsan during the 1951 blockade of North Korea. The Skyraider performed so well that it was also adopted as the major assault fleet for the war in Vietnam.
Of its many capabilities, the Skyraider could operate from an aircraft carrier, it could bear a payload of 8,000-pound bombs, could operate in any weather, and its armored design made it possible to take on some massive enemy attack.
A Good Streak
A total of 3,180 Skyraiders had been built when Douglas stopped production in 1957. The US Navy flew Skyraiders till 1968 before moving on to adopt advanced fighter jet technologies. So, the Skyraiders in the US fleet were passed on to the South Vietnamese Air Force in 1973.
Skyraiders were flown into the 1980s and were reported to have dropped 6 million pounds of bombs during their combined years of service.