Nicknamed “Spad”, after the French World War I fighter, the Douglas A-1 Skyraider was a single-seat U.S. attack aircraft with a service career that spanned between the late 1940s and the early 80s. Though the Skyraider was produced too late to take part in World War 2, it became the backbone of United States Navy aircraft carrier and United States Marine Corps (USMC) strike aircraft sorties in the Korean War (1950–1953). The first Skyraiders saw action flying off of the USS Valley Forge with VA-55 squadron on 3 July 1950. It was operated by the United States Navy (USN), the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and the United States Air Force (USAF), and also flew with the British Royal Navy, the French Air Force, and the Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam (VNAF). In U.S. service, it was finally replaced by the A-7 Corsair II swept wing subsonic jet in the early 1970s.
The Skyraider was designed as a carrier-based, single-seat, long-range, high-performance dive and torpedo bomber, to replace the Grumman Helldiver and Avenger. Designed by Ed Heinemann prototypes were ordered on 6 July 1944 as the XBT2D-1. The XBT2D-1 made its first flight on 18 March 1945 and in April 1945, the USN began evaluation of the aircraft at the Naval Air Test Center (NATC). In December 1946, after a designation change to AD-1, delivery of the first production aircraft to a fleet squadron was made to VA-19A. In 1962, the existing Skyraiders were redesignated A-1D through A-1J and later used by both the USAF and the Navy in the Vietnam War.
The original Navy AD series was initially painted in ANA 623 Glossy Sea Blue, but during the 1950s following the Korean War, the color scheme was changed to light gull grey (FS26440) and white (FS27875). Initially using the gray and white Navy pattern, by 1967 the USAF began to paint its Skyraiders in a camouflaged pattern using two shades of green, and one of tan.
Used by the USN over Korea and Vietnam, the A-1 was a primary close air support aircraft for the USAF and VNAF during the Vietnam War. With armor plating around the cockpit area for added pilot protection the A-1 was famous for being able to take hits and keep flying. With the super carrier-based air wings the Skyraider was replaced beginning in the mid-1960s by the Grumman A-6 Intruder as the Navy’s primary medium-attack plane; but many Skyraiders continued to operate from the smaller Essex class aircraft carriers.
For service in Vietnam, USAF Skyraiders (Sandies) were fitted with the Stanley Yankee ejection seat. This extraction system used twin rockets to pull the escaping pilot from the cockpit. In addition to serving during Korea and Vietnam as an attack aircraft, the Skyraider was modified to serve as a carrier-based airborne early warning aircraft, replacing the Grumman TBM-3W Avenger. It fulfilled this function in the USN and Royal Navy, eventually being replaced by the Grumman E-1 Tracer and Fairey Gannet, respectively.
Although the Skyraider production ended in 1957 with a total of 3,180 having been built, the Skyraider remains a very popular warbird airshow performer with many in full flying condition though out the country.