Airborne Awesomosity, Atomic Hangovers

Antiquity in the Age of the Atom – Douglas A-1 Skyraider

This picture is from 21 years after WWII

 

During the Cold War the atom changed everything or did it. Some things age like a fine wine, cheese, or technology.

 

With the new easy to remember naming system

Douglas XBT2D-1

Let’s take a step back to establish a premise. Early in World War II there is a very famous aircraft known as the Fairey Swordfish that was archaic in many ways. It was a two place biplane torpedo bomber with an open cockpit. A plane so out of place in time that by all accounts it belonged in a museum. Yet this aircraft would be involved in one of the most famous sinking of an unsinkable battleships of all time.  That was because the technology of the time really didn’t know how to counter it.

So where am I going with this. This is a site about the Cold War. It was a time of jet engines and the atom. The future was here. The problem was that we had a lot of people with a strong knowledge of what worked with the old tech and they weren’t too keen on walking away from. More importantly there was also a lot of that technology still floating, gunning, and motivating itself around postwar for decades after the second great war. That’s what this series will be about.  Equipment that is from another time that is stuck in the future of yesterday.

Today’s topic is a rather famous one. The Douglas XBT2D-1 Skyraider started life at the end of World War 2 as a torpedo dive bomber.  Like every single radial driven aircraft of its time it was designed with the Wright R-3350 in mind. The same engine that would power the B-29 Superfortress and a couple early Tupelov TU-4 Bulls. So the engines were in short supply. It would make it’s first flights in late March and early April of 1945. A perfect time to get started producing wartime aircraft. Well the Navy still had a need at least. So enough variants would be built for the aircraft to prove itself before the war ended.

It was probably creating contrails as well

 

As with some other aircraft we will see the Navy would end being the home of some of our antiquities. There is a good reason for this. Early jets required a long run up before they could take off. Where prop aircraft had a short takeoff run. Add that to short ranges for jet aircraft and the Naval hierarchy all yelled “Hrrumph” a lot when the topic of jets came up. At some point we will go over all the various solutions they came up with. It’s rather creative. Sticking to our current narrative though they kept building the case for the Skyraider now carrying it’s new AD-1 name. Which just rolled off the tongue easier.

As the years rolled on the Skyraider, or Spad to some, would go on to serve in Korea and then it’s much more famous service in Vietnam. The Skyraider would become well known to many for it’s Air Force duty on aircrew rescue missions. Once again thanks to their loiter time and immense ordnance load. The Spad would just circle an area and help to keep it clear for the rescue. During these years you would also see some specialized variants show on the airframe. Such as AWACS and early ECM (electronic control measures) aircraft. Early on in the aircraft’s development there was an attempt to create a turboprop version known as the Skyshark. One of the many ways to get jets onto Naval carriers.  It didn’t go into production.

 

In Vietnam the years and hours had to be showing on the airframes. As I have been reading over the years this would be the reason we would start to hand the warworn ones off to the South Vietnamese. You know only the best for our allies.   Still you had to know they were getting a very valuable aircraft that looked like something out of a black and white WWII movie.

 

Nope I doublechecked

Checked the pixels and its not a photoshop

The Douglas Skyraider reminds me a lot of the an older version of today’s Warthog. An outdated platform in a world full of newer and supposedly better aircraft. One that is always dragged back into the light even though the joints crack and it’s not as fast it used to be. Yet it still gets the job done. The Skyraider had two air to air kills of jets in Vietnam and two air to air kills of biplanes in Korea. Just read that over for a second. It got better with age. The Mig-17’s couldn’t turn as fast as the Spad could. Don’t kid yourself though many Spads fell at Mig hands but its a testament to this aircraft.

 

  • Victor

    Sometimes you need old technology for the reasons you stated , good article.

  • ptschett

    The older brother of one of my dad’s best friends flew Skyraiders in Vietnam and was interviewed for a veterans’ history collection. He had some harrowing incidents, like needing to fly 1/2 hour back to base at night with no engine oil pressure because the bottom cylinder on the rear bank was shot off…

    http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.09844/

  • alex

    Knew a pilot in the service (1966) who flew these in combat in Vietnam.

    Had a MIG on his tail once and thought he was a goner, swerved side to side, etc, to no avail. then he threw out his air brakes. Stopped on a dime, the MIG shot by him and he blew he MIG out of the sky.

    True story.

    • Wayne Moyer

      They had a much tighter turning radius than the Mig’s. Which is how they got their two victories. Several others were able to stay alive until jet fighters were able to get onto scene and shake them off.

  • Rob Connolly

    Re. the Swordfish – yes, I believe the fire-control equipment on German warships utterly lacked the calibration to deal with such a slow-moving aircraft. Swordfishes also carried out the very successful attack on the Italian navy at harbour in Taranto; which helped inspire some other people to see if it couldn’t be replicated on a larger scale at a certain site in Hawaii …

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