The prototype of the aircraft that became the AD(A-1) Skyraider made its first flight on March 11, 1945.
The Skyraider did not possess great speed, its greatest attributes its inherent ruggedness and firepower. It could carry 8,000 pounds of ordnance, more than a World War II four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. Its 2,700 horsepower Wright R-3350-26W engine got the attention of pilots immediately. “My first impression was that I was in for the ride of my life. I was surrounded by noise and vibration,” one remembered.
The Skyraider earned its stellar reputation during the Korean War with its famous torpedo attack against the Hwaechon Dam and successful employment in strike and close-air-support missions. Until its redesignation as the A-1 in 1962, it was known by the designaton AD (A for attack and D for Douglas). That gave rise to one of its enduring nicknames- the “Able Dog.” It was also called the “Spad” in reference to the famous and capable World War I fighter.
Survivability: In combat, the Skyraider demonstrated time and again that it could return to base despite severe damage. On one flight during the Korean War, Ensign John Higgins of VA-729 took a round in his canopy and returned to land aboard USS Antietam (CV 36), the landing signal officer giving him guidance over the radio due to the fact that the shattered canopy allowed for no forward visibility. Upon landing, the lucky aviator found a five-inch long piece of shrapnel lodged in the headrest of his seat.
The Museum’s Aircraft:
Accepted by the Navy on June 29, 1954, the museum’s AD-6 (redesignated A-1H in 1962) is the last attack version of the Skyraider to fly a combat mission. Its first combat cruise came with the VA-25 Fist of the Fleet on board USS Midway (CVA 41) in 1965, during which time the aircraft was part of a June 10th mission that engaged North Vietnamese MiG-17s. Though the aircraft on display was not credited, one of the enemy jets was shot down, one of two MiGs splashed by propeller-driven Spads during the Vietnam War.
Operating with the VA-52 Knightriders, the aircraft deployed aboard the carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA 14) during 1966-1967. Once again assigned to VA-25, it then deployed aboard USS Coral Sea (CVA 43), which spent 132 days on the line during a 1967-1968 cruise. During these three deployments, the museum’s Skyraider logged over 200 combat missions.
On February 20, 1968, Lieutenant (junior grade) Theodore D. Hill Jr. launched from Coral Sea in the museum’s aircraft. During the 4.5 hour mission, he flew rescue combat air patrol covering a helicopter at the site of a downed F-4 Phantom II and supported troops at Khe Sahn. At 7:36 AM Hill caught a wire back aboard Coral Sea, the final combat landing of the cruise for Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 15 and, more importantly, the final mission for a Skyraider in the attack role for the U.S. Navy.
Upon VA-25’s return to the United States, the aircraft, with Lieutenant (junior grade) Hill at the controls, made its final flight from NAS Lemoore, California, to NAS Pensacola, Florida, for delivery to the National Museum of Naval Aviation in 1968. All told, the aircraft logged more than 4,400 hours in the air during its 14 years of service.