One of the most versatile and durable naval aircraft was the Douglas AD/A-1 Skyraider. It also was one of the first specialized electronic aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, as the Skyraider’s large payload capacity and carrier capability made it an ideal candidate for several electronic configurations.1
Earlier Douglas had dominated U.S. carrier-based attack aircraft with the SBD Dauntless dive bomber and the TBD Devastator torpedo bomber. The brilliant Ed Heinemann developed the follow-on, multipurpose attack aircraft. His prototype aircraft—designated XBT2D-1 and tentatively named Dauntless II—made its first flight on 18 March 1945 and was an immediate success. Mass production was initiated with the name Skyraider.
It proved to be a versatile aircraft, capable of several attack and support configurations. Two early planes were fitted with radar and searchlights for night attack and designated XBT2D-1N; one was provided with electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment and became the XBT2D-1Q; and another carried a massive airborne early warning (AEW) radar, becoming the XBT2D-1W (subsequently XAD-1W).
The aircraft were redesignated in the AD-1 series in December 1946, and the surviving aircraft were changed to A-1 on 1 September 1962. There were 28 variants of the production Skyraiders, including three basic types of electronic aircraft:
• AD-1Q electronic countermeasures variant; 2 crew; 35 built
• AD-2Q electronic countermeasures version; 2 crew; 21 built
• AD-3N night-attack version; 3 crew; 15 built
• AD-3Q electronic countermeasures version; 2 crew; 23 built
• AD-3W airborne early warning version; 3 crew; 31 built
• AD-4N night-attack version; 3 crew; 307 built (AD-4NL was the winterized version, with 36 conversions)
• AD-4Q electronic countermeasures version; 2 crew; 39 built
• AD-4W airborne early warning version; 3 crew; 168 built (50 transferred to the Royal Navy as Skyraider AEW Mk 1)
• AD-5N/A-1G night-attack version with radar countermeasures; 4 crew; 239 built
• AD-5Q/EA-1F electronic countermeasures version; 4 crew; 54 converted from AD-5N aircraft
• AD-5W/EA-1E airborne early warning version; 4 crew; 218 built
The last Skyraider came off the production line in 1957. That AD-7 was the 3,180th aircraft in the series. The AD/A-1 achieved an outstanding record in the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict as well as in several Cold War confrontations and crises.2
1. See N. Polmar, “The Versatile, Durable Skyraider,” Naval History 25, no. 5 (October 2011): 62–63. The Skyraider story is told in detail in René J. Francillon, McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920 (London: Putnam, 1979), 384–405.
2. In the Vietnam War, Skyraiders were flown by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and South Vietnamese Air Force.