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Douglas Skyraider, a favorite aircraft in Vietnam

Short Flights


Bob Grondzik in his AD-1 Skyraider over Mojave on Veterans Day 2010.

The Douglas A-1 was originally designed in 1944 to meet World War II requirements to replace the SBD dive bomber. It was to be a carrier-based, single place, long-range, high-performance, dive/torpedo/bomber. First flight was March 1945.

Douglas Aircraft Company at El Segundo developed the XSB2D Destroyer, a single engine two place dive bomber, also with the capability of torpedo attack missions. It was designed with an inverted gull wing, similar to the F4U Corsair. The maximum bomb load of 4,000 pounds was carried internally.

While this aircraft was under development, the Navy changed its requirements from a two place (SB) Scout Dive bomber to a single seat (BT) Dive Bomber – Torpedo Attack aircraft.

Aircraft designer, Ed Heinemann, created a completely new design with drawings, overnight in his hotel room and presented the drawings of the XBT2D-1 to the Navy the next day. Douglas was awarded the contract for 15 experimental planes.

The low-wing monoplane design started with a Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engine, later upgraded several times. Its distinctive feature was large straight wings with seven hard points apiece. These gave the aircraft excellent low-speed maneuverability, and enabled it to carry a large amount of ordnance over a considerable combat radius and loiter time for its size, comparable to much heavier subsonic or supersonic jets. The aircraft was optimized for the ground-attack mission and was armored against ground fire in key locations.

I remember communicating with our dear late friend, Bob Grondzik, also known as "Skyraider Bob", about the incredible Douglas AD Skyraider. Bob suffered a heart attack and passed away in October 2012, we still miss him deeply.

He always flew up from Ramona to Mojave on veterans Day to honor all who served and in 2009 his friend Rick Morrison flew his Skyraider with the name, "Naked Fanny" to Mojave. His daughter, Dana Mattner, flew Bob's T-28 Fennec in formation with the Skyraider and was the only Father-Daughter flying team out there. When they flew up for veterans Day, his wife Mary Ann rode in the back seat of the T-28.

The AD-1 was operated by the United States Navy (USN), the United States Marine Corps (USMC), and the United States Air Force (USAF), and also saw service with the British Royal Navy, the French Air Force, the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF), and others. It remained in U.S. service until the early 1970s, and was replaced in the U.S. by the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.

The A-1 Skyraider was well-suited for several combat jobs in Vietnam, flying rescue, close air support, and forward air control (FAC) missions. It was called Spad, Sandy and Able Dog!

In the rescue role, the Skyraider pilot was required to locate the downed airman and protect him with the A-1's firepower. He became the on-scene commander of the recovery effort, controlling fighter-bomber strikes on hostile positions and escorting the helicopters during the pickup of the survivor.

On a close air support mission, the Skyraider pilot's ability to attack ground targets with pinpoint precision made the A-1 an outstanding weapon to support friendly troops in contact with the enemy.

In the FAC role, the A-1 pilot was an aerial observer and controller. In constant radio contact with Army units in his sector, he warned of enemy ambushes and then controlled fast-moving fighters in strikes on the hostile positions.

The airman downed deep in enemy territory and the embattled foot soldier caught in a Vietcong (VC) crossfire often depended on the Skyraiders for their very lives!

Skyraider with the name, "Naked Fanny"

The Skyraider could reach a speed of 400 mph in a dive, it was slow in comparison with the jet fighters. Its slow speed made the A-1 more vulnerable to ground fire, but also gave the pilot more time to find the enemy's concealed positions. Furthermore, the A-1's maneuverability allowed the pilot to make many firing passes on the target in rapid succession: it could be quickly turned and repositioned for another attack without leaving the immediate area. It could pretty much turn on a dime!

A-1s came to Vietnam in the summer of 1964 and became the workhorses of the Vietnamese Air Force and the mainstay of the U.S. Air Force counterinsurgency operations. Eight thousand pounds of ordinance could be hung from its wings and long endurance (in excess of four hours) made it an ideal aircraft for rescue escort, close air support, or FAC missions. Able to fly in poor weather, withstand small arms and automatic weapons fire, and carry a great variety of ordnance, the Skyraider was a favorite with fighter pilots and FACs (Forward Air Controllers).

Great airplane with many great life-saving stories.

See you on our next flight!


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