Virtual Museum of the Vietnam War

Douglas A-1H "Skyraider" VNAF

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Model built by Jacek Minich, Warsaw, Poland

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History of development

The Douglas Skyraider was designed in the last days of World War II to meet the requirements for a carrier-based dive/torpedo bomber to succeed such airplanes as Curtis Helldiver or Grumman Avenger. The prototype of the new machine, constructed by the famed Ed Heinemann was ordered on the 6th of June 1944 under the designation XBT2D-1. It's first flight was conducted on 18th of March 1945 and in April of the same year the US Navy begun to test the new design. In December 1946 the tests were finished and the new aircraft went into production under the designation AD-1.

AD Skyraider was the main attack aircraft of the US Navy after World War II, and was modified many times (versions from AD-1 to AD-7), it could also carry almost every external weapon in the US inventory, including torpedoes and even nuclear bombs. There was also the AD-5 variant, in which two pilots sat side-by-side, and the fuselage had enough room for cargo, ten passengers or four stretcher patients.

During the Korean War the Skyraiders performed their duties very well, serving the US Navy and the Marines.

In 1962 the designations of all types of aircraft used by US Navy were changed to become part of the United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system. From that moment on all variants of the AD family changed their designations to A-1. Main variants of the Skyraider are shown in the table below:

Old designation New designation Description
AD-1 First variant of the aircraft
AD-1Q Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM) variant. The so-called "Q-bird". Additional electronic equipment and a place for an additional crew member in the rear fuselage
AD-2 Corrected and strengthened variant
AD-2Q ECM variant, similar to AD-1Q
AD-2QU Target towing variant, one AD-2Q (122373) aircraft was modified
AD-3 Further improvements, slightly corrected undercarriage, exhaust and propeller
AD-3Q ECM variant, improved on AD-2Q
AD-3W Early warning version, with radar in a large radome under the fuselage and place for two additional crew members in the fuselage
AD-3E Special electronic equipment variant, two AD-3W aircraft were modified
AD-3N Night attack variant, with crew of three
AD-3S Anti-submarine variant, two AD-3N were modified
AD-4 New attack variant, with altered electronic equipment, improved canopy and armament increased from two to four 20mm cannons
AD-4L Winterized attack variant, equipped with de-icing gear
AD-4B Nuclear weapons capable variant
AD-4Q ECM variant
AD-4N Night attack variant
AD-4NL Winterized night attack variant
AD-4NA A-4D Day attack variant, resulted from removal of additional equipment from AD-4N aircraft for use in Korean War
AD-4W Early warning variant, with radar under the fuselage
AD-5 A-1E Attack variant, extensively modified in comparison to previous variants, with two-man crew sitting side-by-side, widened and lengthened fuselage and enlarged vertical stabilizer
AD-5U UA-1E AD-5/A-1E aircraft assigned for utility duties and towing practice targets
AD-5N A-1G Night attack variant
AD-5Q EA-1F ECM variant. Due to modular structure, this variant was very versatile, also known as "12 in 1"
AD-5W EA-1E Early warning variant, with radar under the fuselage
AD-5S Anti-submarine variant, one prototype was built
AD-6 A-1H Single-seated attack variant, development of the nuclear-capable AD-4B. Variant in production parallel to the AD-5
AD-7 A-1J Further development of the AD-6, with strengthened motor and landing gear

As the war in Vietnam begun, the Skyraider was actually obsolete, the future belonging to jet-powered aircraft. Nevertheless the Skyraiders of the US Navy (also called Able Dogs from the old AD designation) conducted strike missions, for which they were designed, over both South and North Vietnam. When the US Navy begun to withdraw the Skyraiders and replace them with the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, the US Air Force expressed its interest in the older machine. Initially it was meant to provide the air force of Republic of Vietnam (VNAF) with a close support aircraft with the capability to carry a crew of two, the Vietnamese pilot and the American "Advisor". The availability of "wide face" double-seated Skyraiders gave an opportunity to use those cheap and simple to maintain machines, which were at the same time very effective against lightly armed opponent. Later the USAF also adopted the single-seated variant. The VNAF, on the other hand, first adopted the single-seat variant then later the multi-seaters. The multi-seaters were disliked by the Vietnamese pilots as visibility from the cabin was poor when compared with the single seater.

VNAF got their first Skyraiders in September 1960. In 1962 there were 22 aircraft of this type in the South Vietnam's inventory, until 1968 an additional 131 were received. First, the US Navy was responsible for training the South Vietnamese crews, later this responsibility was gradually transferred to the USAF. By 1965 there were six squadrons flying the A-1, later this number begun to fall as the VNAF were getting new, jet powered types of aircraft. In 1972 the Americans withdrew from Vietnam and transfered all their Skyraiders to the VNAF.

As opposed to the American pilots, who only had a one year tour to serve in Vietnam, the Vietnamese pilots at times accumulated thousands of hour of combat flying and some of them became extremely skilled operators of the Skyraider.

The exhibited Skyraider boasts the paint scheme of the 83rd Special Operations Group, also caled "Than Phong" - the divine wind in Vietnamese - a unit established in 1965 by Nguyen Cao Ky, a prominent South-Vietnamese military aviator and politician. This unit was designed to participate special operations, and thus it's aircraft wore special camouflage pattern and only minimal national markings. "Than Phong" could support special forces units, sometimes flying places that were officially off limits. The symbol on the engine cowling is taken from the Vietnamese To Tom card game

construction report

Specifications of the A-1H aircraft

Length : 11 938 mm
Height: 4775 mm
Wing span: 15 240 mm
Empty weight: 5 400 kg
Maximum takeoff weight: 8 213 kg
Propulsion: One 1986 kW (2700 HP) Wright R-3350-26WB 18-cylinder air-cooled radial engine
Armament: Four 20mm M3 cannons in the wings; The Skyraider could in addition carry 3629 kg of ordnance (bombs, rockets, cannon pods) externally, on 15 stations under wings and fuselage
Range: 2116 km
Max speed: 518 km/h
Crew: 1 pilot


Jim Sullivan, AD Skyraider in Action, Aircraft Number 60, squadron/signal publications

Ed Barthelmes, Richard S. Dann & Don Greer, A-1 Skyraider Walk Around, Walk Around number 27, squadron/signal publications

Wayne Mutza, The A-1 Skyraider in Vietnam: The Spad's Last War, Schiffer Publishing

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