The Douglas A-1 Skyraider (formerly AD Skyraider) is an American single-seat attack aircraft that saw service between the late 1940s and early 1980s. The A-1 was a bomber and served as the main infantry support aircraft of the US and Vietnam Republic forces during the Vietnam War.
The photo that you are viewing is one of two A-1 Skyraider aircraft that carried out an air attack on the South Vietnamese Independence Palace in Saigon on February 27, 1962 by two dissident Republic of Vietnam Air Force pilots, Second Lieutenant Nguyễn Văn Cử and First Lieutenant Phạm Phú Quốc. The pilots targeted the Independence Palace, the official residence of the President of South Vietnam, with the aim of assassinating President Ngô Đình Diệm and his immediate family, who acted as his political advisors.
The Douglas A-1 Skyraider (formerly AD Skyraider) is an American single-seat attack aircraft that saw service between the late 1940s and early 1980s. The A-1 was a bomber and served as the main infantry support aircraft of the US and Vietnam Republic forces during the Vietnam War. The Skyraider had a remarkably long and successful career; it became a piston-powered, propeller-driven anachronism in the jet age, and was nicknamed “Spad”.
The Skyraider was conceived in June 1944 when Navy planners rejected Douglas Aircraft chief engineer Ed Heinemann’s concept for a dive bomber. They wanted a single-seater designed around the huge twin-bank, 18-cylinder, 2,500-horsepower Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engine used in the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. Up against deadline, Heinemann and his staff immediately went to work, producing a large fighter concept in short order.
Launched just before the end of the Second World War II, their A-1 Skyraider — was the world’s biggest, most powerful prop-driven, single-seat combat aircraft, able to lift truly freakish weapons loads, greater than that of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
The Skyraider was built in good numbers, not only for the attack role but for the electronic countermeasures, airborne early warning, and other roles. The A-1 was a rugged and powerful aircraft that proved its worth in Korea and Vietnam in the hands of Navy, Marine, and Air Force pilots. It also saw service with a number of foreign air arms.
The A-1 provides a useful baseline for the Skyraider family. It was of generally straightforward configuration, of all-metal construction – mostly aircraft aluminum, with a low-mounted wing and a conventional tail arrangement. Somewhat unusually for the postwar period, it featured tailwheel landing gear, all gear assemblies with single wheels and retractable, with each main gear assembly backwards into the wing, and the wheel folding 90 degrees to lie flat. There was a stinger-style arresting hook behind the tailwheel.
As mentioned above, the A-1 was powered by a Wright R-3350 engine with 2,500 HP, fitted with a single-stage, two-speed supercharger and driving a four-bladed Aeroproducts hydraulically-actuated constant-speed propeller, with a diameter of 4.12 meters.
The wings had a dihedral of 6 degrees, and an incidence of 4 degrees. They folded up hydraulically near mid-span. The tail unit utilized a rounded vertical fin and low-set horizontal planes. The fuselage was largely tubular in shape though somewhat deep in profile. The lower rear fuselage sides were slab-sided and contained dive brake panels with a third panel added to the belly.
Built-in armament consisted of a single M3 20-millimeter cannon in each wing just inboard of the wing fold or two cannons in total, with a maximum of 200 rounds per cannon. Ordnance carrying capability came from the straight wing appendages which provided for seven hardpoints each. Additionally there lay a single hardpoint under the fuselage. At least two underwing positions and the fuselage centerline hardpoint were also plumbed for external fuel stores while internal fuel all resided in a single tank.
The centerline pylon could carry a store with a weight of up to 1,630 kilograms, while each inboard pylon could handle up to 1,360 kilograms, and each outboard pylon could handle up to 225 kilograms. Total external warload is given in many sources as a whopping 3,630 kilograms, but that appears to have been the effective limit, not practical for carrier operations, and not a particularly sane configuration, even though there were cases where Skyraiders were loaded up well in excess of that weight.
The pilot sat under a bubble-type canopy that slid back to open. Field of view was said to be excellent. The pilot was protected by cockpit armor, but there was no ejection seat; clearing the big tail was a problem when bailing out. Avionics were simple, including a radio, identification friend or foe unit, and radio navigation aids.
The Skyraider was produced too late to take part in World War II, but became the backbone of United States Navy aircraft carrier and United States Marine Corps strike aircraft sorties in the Korean War. Skyraider losses in Korea totaled 128 aircraft though 27 of this total was to non-combat-related incidents – particularly tricky handling of the powerful aircraft.
The A-1 served a special role in the Vietnam War, and would earn its greatest fame as the guardian angel of Vietnamese pilots. Although it was originally developed as a carrier heavy attack aircraft and bomber, the A-1 saw the majority of its action as a ground attack aircraft used to assist in the rescue of downed American pilots.
Special operations were conducted when a pilot was shot down. As soon as his distress call was received the rescue plan was set into action. Army helicopter gunships would escort the main rescue helicopter. Orbiting around these helicopters at low to medium altitudes was a special flight of A-1s.
A-1 Sandy pilots would intentionally fly low and slow to entice the enemy into firing so they could be attacked. Once an enemy position revealed itself, it would face the full brunt of an A-1’s power.
Each aircraft carried four 20mm cannons, rockets, napalm canisters, and cluster bombs as well as standard bombs. For rescue missions they would often carry a load of rockets as well as numerous napalm canisters and cluster bombs.
Since November 1972, all American Skyraider aircraft in Vietnam have been transferred to the Republic of Vietnam army. In total, US Air Force lost 201 A-1 Skyraider and the US Navy lost 65 units.
Foreign use of the Skyraider was modest – the US did not push it on the export market because there was such high demand for the machine by the US Navy and Marines. The British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm was the first foreign operator, obtaining 50 AD-4W airborne early warning machines under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program from 1951. The French Air Force purchased over 100 former US Navy Skyraiders for colonial defense duty where they were used in the Algerian War of Independence. Fourteen RN models were then sold off to Sweden and these served from 1962 to 1976 before ending their tenures as target tugs. Other foreign operators became the Central African Republic, Chad, and Gabon. The last Skyraiders in service were retired from the Gabonese Air Force in 1985. Total production of Skyraiders was 3,180 aircraft manufactured during the span of 1945 to 1957.The closest modern alternative is the mighty A-10 Warthog. A worthy successor to the A-1, the A-10 is basically a flying tank. The A-10 does an excellent job at close air support, but is very expensive to operate in comparison to a prop-driven aircraft.