Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu

The Ki 45 was Japan’s first twin-engine fighter and its most successful night fighter. It also served capably in a variety of missions, including ground attack, antishipping, and kamikaze.

The Kawasaki Ki-45 required more time to develop and place in service than almost every other Japanese warplane of World War II. By 1937 the notion of long-range strategic fighters, capable of escorting bomber fleets to targets and back, was becoming prevalent. Germany began successfully experimenting with its Messerschmitt Bf 110, which prompted the Imperial Japanese Army to adopt similar craft. That year it invited several companies into a competition, and Kawasaki, after many trials and prototypes, originated the Ki 45 Toryu (Dragon Slayer). This was a handsome, low-wing design with a pointed nose and a long, tandem cabin housing pilot and gunner. Initial flights revealed that the craft was underpowered, so a succession of better engines ensued until the Nakajima Ha–25 was utilized. Other problems centered around the landing gear, which were weak and hand-cranked in flight. With better motors and powered undercarriage, the Ki 45 showed promise, so in 1941 it entered production. A total of 1,701 were ultimately built, and they received the code name Nick during World War II.

Takeo Doi, chief project engineer, began work on this design in January 1938 but the first production aircraft did not fly combat until the fall of 1942. When it finally entered service, the Ki-45 soon became popular with flight crews who used it primarily for attacking ground targets and ships including U. S. Navy Patrol Torpedo (P. T.) boats. The Toryu was also the only Japanese Army night fighter to see action during the war.

The Japanese did not develop a dedicated single-engined ground support aircraft; the Japanese army relied on light bombers, such as the Ki-30 (‘Ann’), Ki-32 (‘Mary’), Ki-36 (‘Ida’) and Ki-51 (‘Sonia’). These were all obsolescent. However, the Kawasaki Ki-45-KAI Toryu (‘Nick’), although primarily designed as a twin-engined long-range fighter, turned out to be a quite useful attack aircraft. The Ki-45-KAIb version was armed with a 37 mm Type 98 tank gun, which fired the same ammunition as the Type 94 anti-tank gun (not to be confused with the less powerful Type 94 tank gun). The Type 98 was manually loaded. The Ki-45-KAIc instead carried a 37 mm Ho-203, less powerful than the Type 98 but equipped with a 15-round belt feed. The Ho-203 was later scaled up to the Ho-401 57 mm cannon, and this weapon (with 17 rounds) was installed in the attack version of the Ki-102 (‘Randy’) fighter, the successor of the Ki-45. Of this Ki-102b (also known as the Army Type 4 Assault Aircraft) about 200 seem to have been completed. The Ho-401 with its 520 m/s muzzle velocity was a suitable weapon for use against soft targets, but not much use against armour. Rikugun, the army aeronautical research institute, designed the Ki-93 with the Ho-402 in a belly fairing; this was also a 57 mm weapon but much larger and more powerful, firing its projectiles at 700 m/s. However, only one Ki-93 was ever flown. These Japanese aircraft were no longer as unprotected as most Japanese combat aircraft had been at the start of the conflict, but they were not heavily armoured either, the designers’ priorities being performance and handling.

Japanese strategists observed the Americans and the Europeans design and build a number of twin-engine, two-seat, heavy fighters during the mid- and late 1930s. The Japanese Army needed a long-range fighter to cover great distances during any large-scale conflict in the Pacific and army planners felt that a twin-engine design could meet this need. In March 1937, the Japanese Army Staff sent a rather vague specification for such an airplane to a number of manufacturers. Kawasaki, Nakajima, and Mitsubishi responded, but the latter two dropped out of the competition to concentrate on other projects. Between October and December 1937, the army amended the specification with additional information and directed Kawasaki to begin the design work. The specification described a two-seat fighter with a speed of 540 kph (336 mph), an operating altitude of 2-5,000 m (6,560-16,405 ft), and endurance of over 5 hours. The army chose the Bristol Mercury engine, built under license, to power the new aircraft.

In January 1939, Kawasaki rolled out the first prototype but initial flight tests did not impress. The airplane was too slow to meet the army speed requirement, and it suffered mechanical problems with the landing gear and engines. Top speed remained a problem, despite major changes on the second prototype, and the army put the project on hold. In April 1940, Kawasaki substituted 14-cylinder Nakajima engines, rated at 1000 horsepower each, for the original 9-cylinder motors rated at 820 horsepower each. Engineer Doi also revised the engine nacelles and prop spinners. These modifications increased top speed to 520 kph (323 mph) but the revisions continued. Kawasaki narrowed the fuselage, increased the wing span and area, revised the nacelles again, and modified the armament package. The new aircraft did not fly until May-June 1941 but performance at last met army standards and they ordered the Toryu into production.

Kawasaki delivered the first Ki-45 Kai (modified) in August 1942 but Toryus did not reach combat units in China until October. Unlike many Japanese Navy fighter airplanes, the Ki-45 aircraft had crew armour and fire-resistant fuel tanks. These airplanes also carried a heavy gun battery that usually consisted of 20 mm and 37 mm cannons. Toryus operated in the New Guinea area against Allied shipping and attacked Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers of the 5th Air Force. The Japanese also employed some Ki-45s as night fighters. Field personnel modified these Toryus by substituting the upper fuselage fuel tank for two 12.7 mm machine guns mounted to fire obliquely upwards at a target’s vulnerable belly. This worked so well that the army told Kawasaki to manufacture a night fighter version of the Toryu-the Ki-45 Kai (Mod. C)-with two 20 mm cannon, mounted obliquely, and a 37 mm cannon mounted in the lower fuselage.

In June 1944, 20th Air Force bomber crews flew Boeing B-29 Superfortresses on the first raids against the Japanese home islands since Doolittle’s attack back in May 1942. Bad weather and attacks by Japanese fighter interceptors, including Ki-45 Toryus, hampered these raids. On one mission, Ki-45 pilots downed eight Superfortresses.

On March 9, 1945, the 20th Air Force began flying low altitude attacks at night using incendiary bombs. These missions marked a radical departure from the traditional American high-altitude, daylight bombing strikes. The Japanese fought back with anti-aircraft gunfire and night fighter attacks. As many as six Sentais (groups) of NICK night fighters defended the home islands by war’s end. The Ki-45 Kai Hai (Mod. C) the Japanese Army’s only night fighter, operated alongside Navy night fighters including the Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko (IRVING) and P1Y1-S Byakko (FRANCIS). Examples of the IRVING and FRANCIS are also preserved in NASM’s collection. The NASM Ki-45 Kai Hai (Mod. C) is the last known survivor of 1,700 Ki-45s built by Kawasaki. The company built a total of 477 Kai Hai C night fighters.

The NASM airplane was produced in the second of three batches and the thrust-augmentation exhausts fitted to the engines to improve speed and reduce glare at night identify aircraft in this batch. This NICK was one of about 145 Japanese airplanes returned to the United States for evaluation after the war. The Navy shipped them to Norfolk, Virginia, aboard the escort carrier USS Barnes. On December 8, 1945, the Navy transferred the NICK to the U. S. Army Air Forces at Langley Field, Virginia. Personnel at Langley shipped the Ki-45 to the Air Depot at Middletown, Pennsylvania, for overhaul and flight test. During the next few months, the aircraft was extensively test-flown at Wright Field, Ohio, and Naval Air Station Anacostia in the District of Columbia. During the army’s evaluation, pilots reported that NICK handled very poorly on the ground. They also did not like the cramped cockpit, excessive vibration, and the poor visibility. Takeoff distance, climb speed, flight characteristics, approach and landing, and manoeuvrability were all rated as good to excellent.

The first Ki 45s were deployed in Southeast Asia and, despite exceptional maneuverability for their size, were at a disadvantage fighting single-engine opponents. Given their speed and heavy armament, however, they proved ideal for ground attacks and antishipping strikes. Moreover, the Ki 45 was also an effective bomber interceptor and played havoc with American B-24 formations throughout Burma and Indochina. When the B-24s switched to night attacks, the Ki 45 was converted into a night fighter by mounting heavy cannons on top of the fuselage in slanted fashion. Considerable success was achieved, which gave rise to the Ki 45 KAIc, a dedicated night-fighter version, in 1944. These machines also performed useful work against high-flying B-29s over Japan toward the end of the war. More ominously, on May 27, 1944, it fell upon four Nicks to perform the first army kamikaze attacks against American warships off Biak.



    Prototype aircraft

KI-45 Type 1

    Modified operative models

Ki-45 KAI

    Prototype aircraft

Ki-45 KAI

    Pre-series aircraft

Ki-45 KAIa

    Toryu: Two-seat fighter Type 2 of Army (Mark A) initial model of series, one 20mm Ho-3 in ventral position, two Ho-103 12.7mm in the nose and a flexible 7.92mm in the back position

Ki-45 KAIb

    retrofit version based on the KAIa, 20mm belly cannon replaced by a 37mm type 94 tank gun

Ki-45 KAIc

    Mark C version against naval objectives, one 37 mm (1.46 in) Ho-203 automatic cannon in the nose, one 7.92 mm (.312 in) machine gun in the back position.

Ki-45 KAId

    Mark D, a modified Model B, night fighter version, equipped with one 37 mm (1.46 in) Ho-203 cannon in nose and two fixed 20 mm Ho-5 cannons in a Schräge Musik-style dorsal frontal position, and one 7.92 mm (.312 in) Type 98 machine gun in back position.

Ki-45 II

    Single-seat fighter prototype; later re-designated Ki-96.

Total production: 1,691 or 1701 units depending on source.

Specifications (Ki-45 KAIc)

General characteristics

    Crew: 2

    Length: 11 m (36 ft 1 in)

    Wingspan: 15.02 m (49 ft 3 in)

    Height: 3.7 m (12 ft 2 in)

    Wing area: 32 m2 (340 sq ft)

    Airfoil: root: NACA 24015; tip: NACA 23010

    Empty weight: 4,000 kg (8,818 lb)

    Gross weight: 8,820 kg (19,445 lb)

    Powerplant: 2 × Mitsubishi Ha-102 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines, 783 kW (1,050 hp) each

    Propellers: 3-bladed constant-speed propellers


    Maximum speed: 540 km/h (340 mph, 290 kn)

    Range: 2,000 km (1,200 mi, 1,100 nmi)

    Service ceiling: 10,000 m (33,000 ft)

    Rate of climb: 11.7 m/s (2,300 ft/min)

    Wing loading: 171.9 kg/m2 (35.2 lb/sq ft)

    Power/mass: 0.26 kW/kg (0.16 hp/lb)


1 × 37 mm (1.457 in) Ho-203 cannon, 1 × 20 mm (0.787 in) Ho-3 cannon, 1 × 7.92 mm (0.312 in) Type 89 machine gun on a flexible mount in the rear cockpit

Fairey Swordfish

When British naval intelligence determined that a large number of Italian warships lay at anchor in Taranto harbour in November 1940, an attack was organized, to be carried out by 21 single-engine carrier-based biplanes. The operation was a huge success — three battleships were severely damaged, a cruiser and two destroyers were hit, and two other vessels were sunk. In the space of one hour the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean had been altered forever.

The unlikely cause of this destruction was one of the warplane legends of World War Two, the Fairey Swordfish Mk.1, first flown on 17 April 1934. It was a three-man torpedo-bomber and reconnaissance biplane with a basic structure of fabric-covered metal. The wings folded for storage on the crowded deck of an aircraft carrier. Armament included one forward-firing Vickers machine gun and one swivelling Vickers in the rear cockpit. Primary offensive power took the form of depth charges, mines, bombs or, especially, a torpedo.

Unfortunately, this outstanding plane was too slow to withstand the punishment of German anti-aircraft fire. Long, accurate approaches to the target made the Swordfish very vulnerable when delivering its torpedo. Thus came re-deployment in an anti-submarine warfare role, using depth charges and, later, rockets.

As with many wartime aircraft, Swordfish were produced by more than one manufacturer. Well over half (almost 1700) were built by the Blackburn company in Sherburn in Elmet, UK.

The Mk II model was introduced in 1943, and featured strengthened and metal-skinned lower wings to allow the firing of rockets from underneath. Later that year, the Mk III appeared, which featured a large ASV anti-submarine radar unit mounted between the landing gear legs which allowed detection of submarines up to 40 km away. For operation over the cold waters of Canada, the Swordfish Mk IV was fitted with an enclosed cabin.

When production ended in 1944, the Swordfish had had been introduced into a full range of duties for the fleet: Torpedo-bomber, minelayer, convoy escort, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft and training craft. Today, four Swordfish are airworthy — two in Britain and two in Canada. 

Taranto 1940

During the night of 11-12 November, two waves of Swordfish aircraft from the carrier Illustrious had the temerity to attack the Italian Fleet as it lay at anchor in harbour at Taranto, crippling three of its battleships while slightly damaging a heavy cruiser and a destroyer into the bargain. Everyone on the British side was delighted with the results of Operation Judgment, since it appeared to have eased the Allied naval position in the Central Mediterranean, by reducing the risks to their convoy traffic and boosting morale in their own ranks, while complicating the Italian strategic situation and deflating the enemy. Cunningham summed up the cost-benefit analysis of the entire operation perfectly by stating: `As an example of “economy of force” it is probably unsurpassed.’ He was not prone to exaggeration and his enthusiasm for taking the fight to the Italians was infectious.

The first carrier-based aircraft strike against a fleet of warships. Located on Italy’s eastern coast, Taranto was the main Italian naval base in early World War II. The excellent natural harbor comprised two anchorages-Mare Grande and Mare Piccolo. When Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940, its sizeable Mediterranean fleet became a threat to the British, who were fighting alone following the fall of France that May.

The Axis envisioned this fleet controlling the Mediterranean shipping lanes and reducing supplies to British forces in North Africa. Concurrently, the Royal Navy sought to engage and destroy the Italian fleet to limit the resupply of Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Korps. To this end, Admiral Andrew B. Cunningham, commander in chief Mediterranean, sent British ships near the Italian coast to lure (without success) the Italians into a surface engagement.

British intelligence reported that increasing numbers of large ships were congregating at Taranto. Thus, Cunningham ordered his operational commander to plan an airborne carrier attack for 21 October 1940-Trafalgar Day.

Originally, the HMS Eagle and the new HMS Illustrious were to launch the attack. However, a fire aboard Illustrious delayed the operation until 11 November-Armistice Day. Additionally, Eagle suffered bomb damage and was removed from the operation. Some of its aircraft were transferred to Illustrious.

At 8:40 P. M. 11 November, Illustrious launched 12 old and slow Swordfish biplanes of the Nos. 813 and 815 Squadrons 170 miles southeast of Taranto. Fourteen Fulmer and four Sea Gladiator fighters of No. 806 Squadron flew air cover. Two Swordfish carried flares and four carried bombs. This first group arrived over the target at 11:00 P. M. and illuminated the harbor with the flares; the aircraft armed with bombs made a diversionary attack on the cruisers and destroyers.

The last six Swordfish in the first wave, armed with one torpedo each, attacked the six Italian battleships anchored at Mare Grande. A single torpedo put a hole in the Conte di Cavour, which began to sink. A second torpedo tore a hole in the Caio Duilio, which was run aground in shallow water. The first wave lost one plane; the crew survived.

Less than an hour later, as Italian crews were fighting fires and searching for shipmates, a second wave of nine Swordfish from Nos. 819 and 824 Squadrons struck. Five of the planes had torpedoes. This time the Littorio was heavily damaged and also run aground. A second torpedo hit the Cavour, sending it to the bottom in deep water. Numerous lesser ships were also damaged. The second wave lost one plane; both crew members were killed.

In one night, the British had taken a major step in wresting control of the Mediterranean from the Axis. The remainder of the Italian fleet soon withdrew to Naples on the western coast and out of range of British carrier planes. The Cavour took enormous resources to refloat and never returned to service. The other two were refloated in two months, but it took many more months to make them seaworthy. By that time the Italian navy was less of a factor. Cunningham noted that after Taranto the Italian fleet “was still a considerable force” but had been badly hurt.

Although some historians remain unconvinced, there is evidence that Britain’s Taranto air attack inspired Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to launch the 1941 carrier-based air attack on Pearl Harbor. Regardless, at Taranto a single British carrier and 21 antiquated biplanes crippled the Italian fleet in one nighttime raid, proving the vulnerability of surface vessels to aerial assault.

Stringbags versus Bismarck

Bismarck continued making for refuge at Brest, the only choice she now had with reduced speed and heavy fuel loss, but the Royal Navy wasted time searching in the opposite direction on the assumption that she had probably turned back. She was eventually sighted at 1030 on the 26th by a Coastal Command Catalina, which was driven away by heavy AA fire. However, two Swordfish of No. 810 Squadron had been sent up at 0840 by Ark Royal, which was now on the scene, and at 1114 the enemy was sighted again, ‘2H’, piloted by Sub-Lt(A) J. V. Hanley RN with Sub-Lt(A) P. R. Elias RNVR and L/ H. Huxley, being joined seven minutes later by ‘2F’, flown by Lt(A) J. R. . Callander RN with Lt P. E. Schonfeldt RN and L/ R. V. Baker. These two aircraft then maintained contact until relieved by another pair, landing aboard at 1324. This tactic continued until late that night, despite extremely severe weather.

In terrible conditions fourteen Swordfish took off from Ark Royal at 1450 with instructions to attack, though with some doubt at that time as to whether the enemy warship sighted was in fact Bismarck or Prinz Eugen. What occurred next is described in Ark Royal’s subsequent report

‘The weather conditions were particularly bad over the target area when the striking force took off … reliance was therefore placed in the ASV set carried in one of the aircraft which located a ship 20 miles from the position given the leader on taking off. This happened to be the Sheffield who had been sent to shadow the enemy from astern. On getting over the supposed target an attack through the clouds was ordered and before many of the pilots ‘knew what they had done. 11 torpedoes had been dropped at the Sheffield. Fortunately, in one sense, 50 per cent of the Duplex pistols fired prematurely, the remainder were dodged by the Sheffield who increased to high speed.’

The presence of Sheffield was unknown to Ark Royal owing to a delay in the deciphering of a signal, but fortunately the cruiser’s Captain had skilfully succeeded in evading the torpedoes launched by eleven of the aircraft. The mistake having been recognized, a second strike was launched at 1910 with fifteen aircraft comprising four each of Nos 810 and 818 Squadrons and seven of No 820, led by Lt Cdr T. P. Coode RN, the CO of No 818. They formed up in squadrons of two sub-flights each, in line astern, taking departure over the battlecruiser Renown at 1925. The weather had improved somewhat, and 1 1/2 hours later contact was made first with Sheffield to help locate the target, and also to ensure that she herself did not again become the target. The force then climbed to 6,000ft. Conditions near Sheffield were reported as ‘Seven-tenths cloud from 2,000 to 5,000 feet; conditions ideal for torpedo attack’. The force then climbed to 6,000ft but temporarily lost contact with Sheffield while in cloud. Regaining contact at 2035, the crew were told that the enemy was twelve miles away on bearing 110*. Five minutes later they headed for the target in sub-flights in line astern at a ground speed of 110kts, but while the cloudy conditions through which they then climbed greatly assisted surprise, they made it difficult for the sub-flights to keep in contact with each other. Heavy fire was now encountered, forcing some of the aircraft to turn away initially, but all succeeded in dropping their torpedoes.

The final dive and approach began at 2053, and No 1 Sub-Flight was shortly followed by an aircraft of No 3 Sub-Flight which joined them in an attack from the port beam. This aircraft observed a hit two-thirds of the way forward on the enemy vessel. All four aircraft came under intense and accurate AA fire from the moment of first sighting until making their getaway downwind. No 2 Sub-Flight climbed to 9,000ft in cloud but lost contact with No I. Ice began to form on the wings, but the dived down on an ASV bearing. The third aircraft of this sub-flight, ‘2P’, piloted by Sub-Lt(A) A. W. D. Beale RN, completely lost touch in the cloud but returned to Sheffield and obtained a fresh range and bearing, then carried out a solo attack from the port bow under very heavy fire, and he and his crew had the satisfaction of seeing their torpedo hit Bismarck amidships.

Meanwhile No 3 Sub-Flight of two aircraft had gone into cloud, closely followed by No 4. Again, however, contact was lost, but ‘2M’ of No 3 Sub-Flight somehow managed to join up with No 4 Sub-Flight as they dived into a clear patch at 2,000ft, and they circled the enemy astern before diving through a low piece of cloud for a simultaneous attack from the battleship’s port side. As with previous aircraft, they attracted very fierce fire, which continued until they were seven miles away. Aircraft ‘4C’ was hit 175 times, both the pilot and air gunner being wounded though the observer was unscathed.

No 5 Sub-Flight, of two aircraft (‘4K’ and ‘4L’), followed the others into cloud but soon lost them and each other. They continued climbing into cloud until ice started to form at 7,000ft, when they started to descend, but while still in cloud ‘4K’ encountered AA fire. He came out of cloud at 1,000ft, sighted the enemy downwind and went back into cloud to work round to a position on the starboard bow, seeing a torpedo hit the starboard side while doing so. After withdrawing to about five miles, he then came in and dropped his torpedo at a range of just over 1,000yds. Aircraft ‘4L’, having completely lost contact, dived through a gap in the clouds from 7,000ft and, seeing no other Swordfish, made two attempts to close, but he met such intense and concentrated fire that he had no choice but to withdraw, jettisoning his torpedo before returning to the carrier.

Similar conditions were met by No 6  Sub-Flight, which had also returned to Sheffield for a fresh range and bearing: ‘4G’ managed to drop at 2,000yds, but ‘4F’ also had to jettison. Despite damage to many of the aircraft, all returned to the carrier and only two air crew were wounded. Bismarck had been hit aft, and such severe damage was caused to her propellers and rudders that she could only maintain a slow speed and was almost unmanoeuvrable. At 2325 hadowing aircraft reported her turning lowly in circles and. he was subsequently reduced to a burning wreck by gunfire from Royal Navy capital ships. A third air strike took off at 0915 next morning in bad weather. The target was sighted at 1020, but before the crew could launch their missiles they saw torpedoes from the cruiser Dorsetshire hit her and then watched the battle hip capsize to port and founder. The Swordfish jettisoned their own torpedoes and returned to the carrier. Prinz Eugen managed to get through to Brest, where she joined Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and was subsequently subjected to the attentions of RAF Bomber Command.


On 26 May, Swordfish torpedo-bombers from the Ark Royal and Coastal Command’s patrol bomber (PBY) aircraft regained contact with the Bismarck. Late in the day, Swordfish from the Ark Royal attacked, and a lucky torpedo hit jammed the German battleship’s twin rudder system, making her unable to maneuver. With no air cover or help from the U-boats or other ships available, the fatalistic Fleet Commander Admiral Lütjens, remembering the reaction to the scuttling of the Graf Spee and Raeder’s orders to fight to the last shell, radioed the hopelessness of the situation.

At 8:45 A.M. on 27 May, the British battleships King George V and Rodney opened fire. By 10:00, although hit by hundreds of shells, the Bismarck remained afloat. As the heavy cruiser Dorsetshire closed to fire torpedoes, the Germans scuttled their ship. Three torpedoes then struck, and the Bismarck went down. Reports of German submarines in the area halted British efforts to rescue German survivors. Only 110 of the crew of 2,300 survived. Lütjens was not among them.

Nicknames: Stringbag; Blackfish (Blackburn-built Swordfish)

Specifications (Swordfish Mk II):

        Engine: One 750-hp Bristol Pegasus XXX 9-cylinder radial piston engine

        Weight: Empty 4,700 lbs., Max Takeoff 7,510 lbs.

        Wing Span: 45ft. 6in.

        Length: 35ft. 8in.

        Height: 12ft. 4in.


            Maximum Speed: 138 mph

            Ceiling: 10,700 ft.

            Range: 1,030 miles

        Armament: Two 7.7-mm (0.303-inch) Vickers machine guns (one forward-firing and one one in a Fairey High-Speed Mounting in rear cockpit); plus one 1,600-pound torpedo, or 1,500 pounds of depth charges, bombs or mines; or up to eight rockets on underwing racks.

Number Built: 2,391

Early Vietnam Service – F-101 Voodoo

After the end of the Second World War the USAF needed a suitable escort fighter for the long-range bomber fleet of Strategic Air Command. The F-101, developed in the mid-1950s by the McDonnell Aircraft Company from their prototype XF-88 Voodoo, fitted the bill. The maiden flight took place on 29 September 1954, but the official commissioning into the air force was delayed until the spring of 1957.

The F-101 was part of the so-called “Century” series (F-100 to F-110). Its powerful J57 Pratt & Whitney engine with after-burner gave the aircraft a top speed of around 1900 km/hr with a range of 2,900 km, but as these fell short of the required performance parameters it was decided to arm the F-101 fleet with a cannon and nuclear missile and from then on use it as a fighter-bomber. Later NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) also used Voodoo units for interceptor operations and patrol flights over North America. The F-101 served in other roles including as RF-101A photographic reconnaissance with cameras in a modified nose. F-101 reconnaissaince units flew many operations for the Air National Guard during the Cuba crisis and in Viet Nam.

The F-101 was used by the United States Airforce and the Canadian Royal Air Force. The F-101 saw many unique roles in its 20+ year career. Originally designed to be a fighter-bomber, the aircraft quickly moved on into reconnaissance and continued to serve as a “utility infielder” of sorts with interception duties and a training role. Unfortunately, despite some of its advanced capabilities and its speed (for the time), there was a nasty little aerodynamic issue which caused the aircraft had a serious “pitch-up” problem that while improved, was never fully fixed.

Pitch-up is a type of aggravated stall that commonly occurs in aircraft of this wing type. An aircraft can stall at any time if the AOA is exceeded.  In this case though, pitchup could occur and cause stability issues that actually would lead to a stall. The pitch-up was caused by downwash on the stabilizer during high AOA that causes both a pitch up from the downward force and a reduction in the effectiveness of the stabilizer itself.  Essentially, the jet would become unstable.

The pitch-up tendency was actual double wammy against stable flight. If uncorrected, this issue could cause departure from controlled flight. Luckily, the Air Force was aware of these problems and created training videos concerning what needed to be done to correct the issue mid-flight. This video was put together to train pilots how to avoid the envelope where pitch-up was most likely to occur.

Now it’s easy to look back on these early training videos and think how boring it must have been to watch them.  But put yourself in the position of the crew for a moment. Here you were about to fly one of the most advanced fighters of the day and you were being told that if you exceed seemingly normal AOA’s, you could depart controlled flight and not be able to recover.  It would make me pay attention. That’s for sure!

Early Vietnam

By February 1965, provocative Viet Cong attacks on US facilities at Pleiku AB, near Saigon, made the use of escalating reprisal strikes politically inevitable. For USAF RF-101 pilots, this involved one of the most crucial missions of the war – finding the enemy and conveying that information to control centres for it to be converted into targets. The combat environment in which this task was to be performed could hardly have been more challenging.

The Voodoo was one of the first US jet aircraft to participate in the Vietnam War. RF-101As of the 17th TRS had visited the area in 1957-58, and Voodoos were intended to replace the RF-84F Thunderflashes of the 67th TRW’s 15th TRS `Cotton Pickers’ at Kadena and the 45th TRS `Polka Dots’ at Misawa AB on the island of Honshu, Japan, whose aircraft began to arrive in mid-1958. A USAF comparative evaluation showed that the RF-101’s superior speed and the versatility of its camera equipment gave it a major operational advantage over the RF-84F. Nevertheless, the Thunderflash had a useful camera suite and long range, and in late 1962 Thirteenth Air Force asked unsuccessfully for eight to supplement its limited RF-101C numbers. Requests for one or two additional RF-101Cs were also denied, as the other USAF commands hung on to their scarce Voodoos. It was not until 1 April 1963 that two more 45th TRS aircraft joined the Operation Able Mable team in Thailand, bringing its total strength to just six Voodoos.

From March 1960 the 15th TRS was attached to the 18th TFW, which was part of the 313th Air Division, while the 45th TRS was assigned to the 39th Air Division so that the 67th TRW could be deactivated that same year. Their vast operational area of interest covered Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia down as far as South Vietnam, so long high-altitude transit flights were commonplace. Fortunately, the Voodoo’s cockpit was comfortable by fighter standards. Pilots sometimes photographed Soviet bombers, patrol aircraft and intelligence-gathering ships. Very precise navigation was required, assisted by TACAN, an ARA-25 direction finder and an AN/ASN-6 navigation computer, but dependent mainly on piloting skills. In-flight refuelling became essential for most missions, and RF-101Cs were well-equipped for that, having been designed at a time when the USAF was transitioning from drogue-trailing KB-50s and KC-97s to flying boom-equipped KC-135A Stratotankers. An extending refuelling probe could plug into a drogue basket, or a receptacle mid-way along the top of the fuselage could accept a Stratotanker’s boom.

The deployed Voodoos soon suffered from corrosion due to the salt-laden air around their coastal bases and extensive re-skinning was required, both at their airfields and during depot maintenance and modification at Hill AFB, Utah. Like other bare metal-finished aircraft of the time, they were eventually given a protective coat of Air Defense Command Aircraft Gray (FS 16473) paint, before eventually being camouflaged for Vietnam operations. Corrosion, particularly of magnesium components, would continue to plague RF-101Cs located in the humid climate of Thailand and South Vietnam. A new corrosion control facility had to be established at Kadena to tackle these problems as 15th and 45th TRS aircraft rotated through temporary deployments.

Weather was another enemy, but in the form of thick sea fog, tornados and tropical storms, rather than the standard European low visibility. RF-101s from the `Cotton Pickers’ had to seek alternative bases on several occasions due to typhoon warnings, and one aircraft was lost in heavy cloud when the squadron had to divert to Itazuke AB, Japan. Its pilot, Capt Lavender, ejected over the sea and was drowned when his parachute dragged him below the surface of the water.

Increasing tensions in Southeast Asia generated a series of requests for reconnaissance detachments to operate from bases in Thailand and South Vietnam. Initially, the Geneva Conventions’ ban on the use of US jet aircraft in South Vietnam had to be circumvented by training Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) pilots to fly Lockheed RT-33 reconnaissance/ trainers. Also, Project Field Goal (using camera-equipped ex-Philippines Air Force RT-33 53-5347 as a `one-man reconnaissance wing’) at Don Muang, Exercise Air Bull and Project Pipe Stem were short-term commitments leading to the creation of the Able Mable Task Force in 1961. Camera-equipped C-47B 44-76330 of the 315th Air Division also briefly operated out of Udorn RTAFB until it was shot down by Pathet Lao ground fire on 23 March 1961, killing seven of its eight crew (the sole survivor was held as a PoW for 17 months).

The overall aim of these reconnaissance missions was to monitor North Vietnamese military support for communist Pathet Lao forces that were preventing the establishment of a neutral, unified Laos. Four RF-101Cs visited Don Muang for two days in June 1960 to provide reconnaissance for the Thai government and three more deployed to Takhli RTAFB for the first nine days of March 1961 for Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) Exercise Air Bull without significant political fall-out over Geneva Conventions violations, so the plan to train VNAF reconnaissance pilots was quickly dropped.

The first longer-term detachment of four Voodoos to Don Muang was approved by the Thai government in October 1961, and on the 18th of that same month four RF-101Cs and six pilots from the 15th TRS arrived at Tan Son Nhut AB near Saigon, ostensibly for an airshow appearance. The shortage of ground-support facilities and fuel meant that KB-50 tankers had to be used to ground-refuel the Voodoos by attaching their in-flight refuelling baskets to the fighters’ extended refuelling probes. Although the airshow never happened, the RF-101Cs stayed at the base as the Pipe Stem Task Force, with its own support personnel and photo processing cell (PPC) that would soon be flooded with miles of photographs whose main content was top-views of forest. Nevertheless, Pipe Stem Voodoos provided the USA with the first hard evidence in 1962 of North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao activity in northern Laos. The photographs, taken by Capt John Evans, were flown directly to the White House for analysis.

A rationale was devised for the Voodoos to stay in place for a month as the only jet reconnaissance force in the area. The Mekong River had burst its banks on the day the Voodoos arrived, making 320,000 people homeless and causing widespread damage, so the South Vietnamese government requested photo-reconnaissance of the affected areas. These flights commenced on 20 October, followed 24 hours later by the first Pipe Stem sorties. During the latter, Voodoos flew covert reconnaissance missions over the Plain of Jars, the Ho Chi Minh Trail and northern Laos, where Soviet supply aircraft and troops were photographed (with the RF-101C’s 36-inch split vertical cameras) assisting the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces. The photographs provided Washington with the first clear evidence of this intervention. The flights quickly began to attract ground fire as the RF-101C gradually entered into the conflict and the detachment required reinforcement.

Pipe Stem came to an end after 67 useful sorties that demonstrated the effectiveness of tactical reconnaissance by fast jets like the RF-101C. Officially, the International Control Commission (ICC) had allowed it into the area temporarily to photograph flood damage by the Mekong River, and when the floods abated the ICC ordered the detachment back to Kadena on 21 November. Although the jets returned to Okinawa, the ground support equipment (some of it acquired from USAFE units) remained in place for an expanded Able Mable force, with Tan Son Nhut AB later established as Operating Location 2 for the RF-101C’s activities.

On 7 November 1961 a 45-man detachment from the 45th TRS commanded by Maj Ken Harbst and including a PPC run by the 67th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron (RTS) took up residence at crowded Don Muang for Project Able Mable – a 30-day arrangement that would replace the RT-33 Field Goal effort which had ended in mid-May. The PPC was established in an abandoned barracks at the run-down base, water supplies for photo processing were arranged and two A9 processing machines were flown in, although they proved to be so troublesome when used that much of the vast film footage generated by the Voodoos initially had to be hand-processed. Humidity, poor-quality film emulsions and insect invasions all added to the daily workload. Doug Ayers, a 460th TRW film technician, recalled that these local processing problems persisted into the mid-1960s;

`Film damage often happened due to power loss because the diesel fuel was of poor quality and the plumbing lines would get clogged because of a build-up of silver [photographic residue] in them. I figured that this [residue] could exceed 20,000 ounces per month, but I’m not sure if that included the 40,000 lbs [of film stock] a month that was burned as scrap, including about 120 ounces of silver per 1000 lbs of film.’

All the pilots had considerable experience of the Voodoo, most of them having flown it in USAFE. Very different tactics would be needed in Southeast Asia, however. Their medium-altitude RF-101C flights – usually up to three per day – covered the Laotian and South Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh Trail supply routes to Viet Cong insurgents at a tactical radius of up to 500 miles from Don Muang. They were met by truck-mounted quad 0.50-cal or 23 mm automatic fire and accurate, heavy AAA in a few areas such as Tchepone at altitudes up to 40,000 ft. Maj Herbst’s aircraft was hit over South Vietnam, knocking out an engine and wounding the pilot, although he managed to land at Don Muang.

Mission planning was a late-afternoon routine based on orders received from PACAF HQ and requiring the selection of several targets for each RF-101C sortie. Pilots were supposed to perform their missions at 40,000 ft to disguise their presence over a supposedly neutral country, although many flights took place at lower levels, particularly when the unpredictable weather ruled out the use of high-altitude cameras. Lower flights attracted small-arms fire, and several aircraft returned with bullet holes after making photo passes below 1500 ft, prompting a short-lived instruction to use minimum altitudes above 5000 ft. Choke point areas on the trails network were most likely to have AAA defences. In the summer of 1961 Voodoos photographed 23 Soviet-built PT-76 amphibious light tanks moving on the supposedly neutral Plain of Jars.

Most missions were flown over Laos but an increasing number covered targets in northern South Vietnam and (occasionally) Cambodia in a covert programme called French Leave, which often forced pilots at the full extent of their range to divert to Tan Son Nhut for refuelling and processing of their film.

As the Viet Cong insurgency increased throughout 1961, so demands on the Able Mable crews also grew and their 30-day stay was extended, rotating pilots and aircraft at six-week intervals. The combat experience gained at this time by 45th TRS pilots, who were flying up to 20 sorties each during a typical deployment, was invaluable for their widening role in the war. By the time Able Mable over Laos came to an end in December 1962 (much to the displeasure of the USAF) in order to comply with neutrality agreements, the RF-101Cs had flown 720 missions over Laos and South Vietnam. However, President Kennedy subsequently sanctioned further Able Mable flights over South Vietnam.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero (1939)

Popularly known as the ‘Zero’, the Mitsubishi A6M was the world’s most capable carrier-based fighter at the time of its appearance, out-performing all land-based contemporaries. Latterly outclassed, it remained in service until the end of the war. This A6M2 was on strength with the 2nd Sentai, 1st Koku Kentai and was operating from the carrier Hiryu during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. In the course of the battle, the IJN put up large formations of Zero fighters for protection, but these could not prevent the loss of four Japanese carriers by the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The brainchild of prolific designer Jiro Horikoshi, the Mitsubishi A6M (Allied reporting name ‘Zeke’) was schemed as a replacement for the same company’s A5M carrier fighter. A cantilever low-wing monoplane, the A6M1 prototype completed its maiden flight in April 1939 and in this form was powered by a Mitsubishi Zuisei 13 radial engine. In production form, the A6M2 of early 1940 introduced a new Nakajima Sakae 12 powerplant and was armed with a pair of wing-mounted 20mm (0.79in) cannon, plus two machine guns in the nose. The new engine was a result of early testing, in which the A6M1 had demonstrated excellent performance with the exception of maximum speed, which had failed to meet the original specification.

The Japanese attack on Rabaul in January 1942 was typical of the whirlwind successes in which the A6M was pitched in the initial phase of the war in the Pacific. Air power on Rabaul, the key strategic base on the island of New Britain, was provided by Australian Hudson light bombers and Wirraway reconnaissance aircraft, but there was no genuine fighter cover. On 20 January, a force of 120 A6M2s, Aichi D3A1s and Nakajima B5Ns took off from the carriers Zuikaku, Shokaku, Kaga and Akagi, attacking installations at Rabaul. Slicing through gallant opposition put up by the Wirraways, the IJN aircraft paved the way for a task force of 5300 men that landed at Simpson Harbour on 23 January, securing the port and the airfield at Kavieng. After capturing Rabaul, Japan established a major base and proceeded to land on mainland New Guinea, advancing towards Port Moresby and Australia.

As early as 1937 the Imperial Japanese Navy began searching for a craft to replace its A5M carrier-based fighters. That year it issued specifications so stringent that only Mitsubishi was willing to hazard a design. Specifically, the navy wanted a fighter of prodigious range and maneuverability, one able to defeat bigger land-based opponents. A design team headed by Jiro Horikoshi originated a prototype in 1939. The A6M was a study in aerodynamic cleanliness despite its bulky radial engine. It had widetrack undercarriage for easy landing and was heavily armed with two cannons and two machine guns. Tests proved it possessed phenomenal climbing and turning ability, so it entered production in 1940, the Japanese year 5700. Henceforth, the new fighter was known officially as the Type 0, but it passed into history as the Reisen, or Zero.

A small production batch of 30 Zeroes was sent to China in the summer of 1940 for evaluation, and they literally swept the sky of Chinese opposition. The official military designation for the new warplane was Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter and in 1940 initial combat trials were undertaken in China by a preproduction batch. The antiquated Polikarpov fighters flown by the Chinese proved to be no match for the Zero. It was in the course of these operational trials that the Zero recorded its first aerial victory, in September 1940. By the end of that year, the Zero detachment had claimed 59 victories without loss.

Such prowess was duly noted by Claire L. Chennault, future commander of the famed Flying Tigers, but his warnings were ignored. Zeroes subsequently spearheaded the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and over the next six months they ran roughshod over all Allied opposition.

Once entering combat in World War II, the highly agile A6M2 proved itself an immediate success, quickly gaining aerial supremacy during the Imperial Japanese Navy’s campaigns in the East Indies and Southeast Asia. The A6M2 was the IJN’s premier fighter during the raid on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, in which eight Zero fighters were lost from a total of 105 involved in the surprise attack on the U.S. Navy fleet. The A6M remained the service’s pre-eminent fighter in theatre as fighting extended to Malaya, the Philippines and Burma. Along the way, it demonstrated its superiority against lesser Allied types in theatre, including the Brewster Buffalo, Curtiss P-36 and P-40 and Hawker Hurricane fighters. Japan’s leading ace of the Pacific war, Saburo Sakai, flew a Zero, who is believed to have achieved 64 aerial kills.

An improved A6M3 entered service in spring 1942, now powered by a Sakae 21 with two-stage supercharger. Not only supremely manoeuvrable, the Zero was also well equipped for fighting at the extended ranges encountered in the Pacific theatre. The aircraft could carry a fuel tank under the fuselage to increase the endurance of its long-range fighter patrols. Even before the arrival of the powerful Hellcat, however, the A6M had begun to suffer at the hands of the Grumman F4F Wildcat, which, although inferior in terms of performance and agility, was better able to withstand battle damage and possessed heavier-hitting armament, self-sealing tanks and armour protection for the pilot. While the Zero was always fast, it was also underpowered, and as a result the design stressed lightweight construction. This, in turn, led to a fighter that was vulnerable to even machine gun fire, and had little in the way of armour protection.

However, following the Japanese defeat at Midway in June 1942, the fabled fighter lost much of its ascendancy to new Allied fighters and a growing shortage of experienced pilots. New and more powerful versions of the Zero were introduced to stem the tide, but relatively weak construction could not withstand mounting Allied firepower. Furthermore, the additional weight of new weapons and equipment eroded its famous powers of maneuver.

Changing Fortunes

The Battle of Midway of June 1942 represented a watershed for the Zero, and thereafter the Japanese fighter began to be increasingly outclassed by U.S. opposition, in particular the U.S. Navy’s Grumman F6F Hellcat, which proved to be faster than the Zero at all altitudes. While the A6M3 version had helped to offset the appearance of the Wildcat, it could do little in the face of the Hellcat.

In an effort to wring additional performance out of the basic airframe, the IJN introduced the A6M5, with Sakae 21 and an improved exhaust system. This version was actually slower than the A6M2, but enjoyed a superior rate of climb and was faster in the dive. It was also built in greater numbers than any of the other Zero models. As the tide of the war turned against the Japanese, the Zero was also used for kamikaze raids, and in one action, five A6M5s sunk the U.S. Navy carrier St Lo and damaged three others in October 1944.

The last models in the Zero line comprised the A6M6 of late 1944, with a water-methanol boosted Sakae 31, and the A6M7 fighter/dive-bomber of mid-1945 with a rack under the fuselage for the carriage of a single 250kg (551lb) bomb. In total, in excess of 10,000 Zero fighters were completed, including a floatplane version built by Nakajima as the A6M2N (Allied reporting name ‘Rufe’). As such, it was the most prolific Japanese fighter of all time.

Although the A6M’s vulnerability to the Hellcat in particular was clear by the time of the Battles of the Philippines and Leyte Gulf in 1944, the lack of an adequate replacement meant the Zero was forced to soldier on in IJN service until the bitter end.

By 1945 most A6Ms had been converted into kamikazes in a futile attempt to halt the Allied surge toward the homeland. A total of 10,964 were constructed.

The legendary A6M (the dreaded Zero) was the first carrier-based fighter in history to outperform land-based equivalents, and it arrived in greater quantities than any other Japanese aircraft. Despite the Zero’s aura of invincibility, better Allied machines gradually rendered it obsolete.

A6M5c Type 0 Model 52

Considered the most effective variant, the Model 52 was developed to face the powerful American Hellcat and Corsair, superior mostly for engine power and armament. The variant was a modest update of the A6M3 Model 22, with non-folding wing tips and thicker wing skinning to permit faster diving speeds, plus an improved exhaust system. The latter used four ejector exhaust stacks, providing an increment of thrust, projecting along each side of the forward fuselage. The new exhaust system required modified “notched” cowl flaps and small rectangular plates which were riveted to the fuselage, just aft of the exhausts. Two smaller exhaust stacks exited via small cowling flaps immediately forward of and just below each of the wing leading edges. The improved roll-rate of the clipped-wing A6M3 was now built in.

Sub-variants included:

* “A6M5a Model 52a «Kou»,” featuring Type 99-II cannon with belt feed of the Mk 4 instead of drum feed Mk 3 (100 rpg), permitting a bigger ammunition supply (125 rpg)

* “A6M5b Model 52b «Otsu»,” with an armor glass windscreen, a fuel tank fire extinguisher and the 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 97 gun (750 m/s muzzle velocity and 600 m/1,970 ft range) in the left forward fuselage was replaced by a 13.2 mm/.51 in Type 3 Browning-derived gun (790 m/s muzzle velocity and 900 m/2,950 ft range) with 240 rounds. The larger weapon required an enlarged cowling opening, creating a distinctive asymmetric appearance to the top of the cowling.

* “A6M5c Model 52c «Hei»” with more armor plate on the cabin’s windshield (5.5 cm/2.2 in) and behind the pilot’s seat. The wing skinning was further thickened in localised areas to allow for a further increase in dive speed. This version also had a modified armament fit of three 13.2 mm (.51 in) guns (one in the forward fuselage, and one in each wing with a rate of fire of 800 rpm), twin 20 mm Type 99-II guns and an additional fuel tank with a capacity of 367 L (97 US gal), often replaced by a 250 kg bomb.

The A6M5 had a maximum speed of 540 km/h (340 mph) and reached a height of 8,000 m (26,250 ft) in nine minutes, 57 seconds. Other variants were the night fighter A6M5d-S (modified for night combat, armed with one 20 mm Type 99 cannon, inclined back to the pilot’s cockpit) and A6M5-K “Zero-Reisen”(model l22) tandem trainer version, also manufactured by Mitsubishi.

Early War Japanese Air Supremacy – the “Zero”

Douglas AD (BT2D, A-1) Skyraider 1945–1972/5 Part I

Too late for World War II, the Douglas AD series went on to achieve a stunning combat record in both Korea and Vietnam during a career that stretched over two decades. Its story began in September 1943, when BUAER circulated the new requirement for a single-seat bomber-torpedo (BT) aircraft intended to replace SBDs, SB2Cs, and TBMs. Douglas originally submitted a proposal for the XBTD-1, which was basically a rehash of its less than successful XSB2D design; then in June 1944, the company surprised BUAER by asking for cancellation of the BTD program in favor of a totally new concept. Its proposed XBT2D-1 was much closer to BUAER’s bomber-torpedo criteria: a simple design with a tailwheel layout in which weapons were carried on external racks beneath a bottom-mounted wing. For dive-bombing, Douglas introduced a new type of dive brake system consisting of flat panels that extended from the sides and belly of the fuselage. BUAER was sufficiently interested in the new concept to award Douglas a contract for 25 pre-production BT2D-1s, and after the first prototype flew on 15 March 1945, increased the order to 548 production aircraft.

The huge government cutbacks imposed after V-J Day resulted in the BT2D contract being reduced to 277 aircraft, and when the BT designation was changed to A for attack in early 1946, the plane became the AD-1. Service trials were completed in late 1946 and by early 1947, production AD-1s began replacing SB2Cs and TBMs in fleet units. The final 25 aircraft were delivered as AD-1Qs, a specialized ECM sub-variant that featured a separate compartment aft of the pilot for a radar operator. When the AD-1 had been in service less than a year, BUAER selected it as the Fleet’s standard single-seat attack type and made plans to acquire improved versions. Deliveries of 152 AD-2s having the more powerful R-3350-26W engine, stronger wings, a new canopy design, and fully enclosed wheel covers began in mid-1948 and were joined by an additional 21 AD-2Qs and one AD-2QU target tug. During 1948-1949 the Navy took delivery of 127 AD-3s possessing even more airframe strengthening, longer stroke landing gear, and a redesigned tailwheel, plus 15 three-seat night attack AD-3Ns, 31 three-seat early-warning AD-3Ws fitted with belly radomes, and 21 two-seat AD-3Qs.

The AD-4, introduced in 1949 with increased takeoff weight, a stronger tailhook, and a P-1 autopilot, also came in night attack, early-warning, and ECM sub-variants.

BUAER originally anticipated AD production would end in 1950 when the last of 180 AD- 4 variants were delivered, but naval involvement in the Korean War, which began in June 1950, had the unexpected effect of continuing AD production nonstop and led to demand for development of new versions. By the end of 1952, 1,051 AD-4s (all variants) had been delivered, and they were followed by 165 AD-4Bs armed with four 20-mm cannons and also configured to carry a tactical nuclear weapon, the first single-seat naval aircraft to have such capability.

Originally envisaged as a four-seat ASW platform, the AD-5 emerged with a fuselage lengthened by two feet and widened to permit side-by-side seating for a pilot and three crewmembers under an elongated canopy. Fin area was increased and the dive-brakes on the sides of the fuselage were deleted. But even before the first AD-5 flew in August 1951, BUAER changed its mind and earmarked it for production as an attack aircraft. The 212 standard attack versions subsequently built came with conversion kits, which, in addition to its basic attack function, allowed the type to be used either as a transport (12 seats), cargo carrier, ambulance, or target tug. Production AD-5s began entering service in late 1953 and were followed by 218 AD-5W early-warning and 239 AD-5N night/all-weather attack sub-variants, 54 of which were later modified as AD-5Q ECM aircraft.

The refinements of the AD-4B, plus LABS (low-altitude bombing system), new bomb racks, a jettisonable canopy, and a hydraulic tailhook were standardized in the single-seat AD- 6, which flew in 1953 and replaced AD-4s during 1954-1956. After delivery of 713 AD-6s, the final model was the single-seat AD-7, which differed in having a more powerful R-3350-26WB engine, stronger landing gear, and stronger outer wing panels. AD production finally ended in February 1957 when the last of 72 AD-7s rolled off El Segundo’s assembly line.

ADs were destined to remain in active naval service for 22 years-considerably longer than BUAER expected. In late 1946-early 1947, VA-19A, VA-3B, and VA-4B were the first squadrons to receive ADs, and by the eve of the Korean war, the type was equipping sixteen Navy and two Marine attack squadrons. In Korea, ADs operating from both carriers and land bases earned a reputation as the best all-around attack aircraft in the combat zone. Besides flying day attack, night attack, countermeasures, and early-warning missions, it was the only aircraft in the theater capable of delivering 2,000-lb. bombs against hardened targets (like bridges and dams) with dive-bomber precision. After Korea, AD’s carried on as naval aviation’s standard single-seat attack type and reached their peak in the mid-1950s when they equipped 29 Navy and 13 Marine squadrons. Even though a gradual phase-out of the type began in 1956 with the arrival of A4Ds, BUAER still planned to keep its ADs in service until the early 1960s. Moving somewhat faster, the Marine Corps retired its last AD-6 at the end of 1959.

When the tri-service system was adopted in September 1962, those ADs remaining in service were re-designated as follows: AD-5=A-1E; AD-5W= EA-1E; AD-5Q=EA-1E; AD- 5N=A-1G; AD-6=A-1H; and AD-7=A-1J. In 1964, plans to retire the type were postponed by military developments in Southeast Asia, where A-1s subsequently flew hundreds of combat sorties as part of the ongoing carrier task force stationed off the coast of Vietnam. Owing to their slower speed and excellent loiter range, A-1s were considered the best tactical aircraft available for escorting troop-laden helicopters and ground-fire suppression in rescue combat air patrol (RESCAP) operations. Though never intended for air-to-air confrontations, Navy A- 1Hs were in fact credited with the downing of North Vietnamese MiG-17s on two occasions. The type’s active naval career ended in 1968 when the last single-seat combat sortie was flown by an A-1H of VA-25 in February and the final ECM mission by an EA-1E of VAQ-33 in December.

In the early 1960s, as U. S. military involvement in Southeast Asia increased, the USAF found itself without any type of attack aircraft that could be adapted to slow, close-in operations like counter-insurgency (i. e., COIN: suppression and interdiction of guerilla troops and supplies) or RESCAP. Several different types of aircraft, all prop-driven, were evaluated at the Special Warfare Center located at Eglin AFB in Florida, including several ex-Navy A-1 Skyraiders. Once the tests were concluded, USAF officials immediately made plans to acquire 150 surplus wide-body A-1Es from Navy stocks to be overhauled for expected service in Vietnam. Modifications included addition of dual controls and weapons racks not normally carried on Navy E models. Actual combat operations commenced in early 1964 with the 34th Tactical Group based at Ben Hoa AB in South Vietnam. A-1E sorties were initially flown with a Vietnamese observer in the right seat for the purpose of target identification, but for most of its service the type was flown as a single-pilot attack aircraft. As they became available from Navy stocks in the mid and late 1960s, the USAF also began to operate single-seat A-1Hs and Js which became especially well-known for their “Sandy” operations-RESCAPs escorting the “Jolly Greens” (i. e., Sikorsky HH-53 helicopters) deep into North Vietnamese or Laotian airspace to rescue downed American pilots and aircrew. The USAF operated A-1s on Sandy missions up until November 7, 1972, when American involvement in Vietnam was almost at an end.

Skyraiders were probably the most numerically important aircraft to operate with the Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam (VNAF). In fact, the American government began the transfer of surplus Navy AD-6s (A-1Hs) to the VNAF in 1960, and as they became available, more followed. VNAF Skyraider pilots were initially trained by the Navy at NAS Corpus Christi and later by the Air Force at Hurlburt AFB. During the so-called “Vietnamization” of the war between 1969-1972, many Air Force A-1s were simply turned over to the VNAF when U. S. forces left the country. During this time the VNAF reached a peak strength of eight Skyraider squadrons, and they were operated in combat all the way up to the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Although a number of VNAF A-1s are known to have fallen into North Vietnamese hands, no apparent effort was made to put them back into service. Beginning in 1951, the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) began taking delivery of AD-4Ws for use aboard its carriers in the airborne early-warning role. The first 20 aircraft were new, but the remaining 30 of 50 delivered were supplied from U. S. Navy stocks. Known as the Skyraider AEW. 1, the type remained in frontline service with the FAA until replaced by Fairey Gannets in 1962. A number of these aircraft were thereafter converted to target tugs and operated by the Swedish Air Force until the early 1970s. Forty surplus AD-4s were sold to the French Air Force in 1959 and thereafter flew combat in support of French forces in Algeria and Chad (1960) and in French Somaliland and Madagascar (1963). French Skyraiders remained in service in small numbers until the early 1970s, and some of these were turned over to the Cambodian Air Force, where they were briefly used against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops.

Korean War Skyraiders

By 1950, the TBM Avenger torpedo-bomber, SB2C Helldiver dive-bomber and the post-war AM Mauler had been replaced on fleet carriers by a new type in the form of the single-seat Douglas AD (formerly BT2D) Skyraider attack aircraft. A rugged, powerful aeroplane capable of carrying a 10,000-lb ordnance load of bombs, rockets and torpedoes, as well as 20 mm cannon, the AD, or `Able Dog’, as it was often called, prevailed over several competing designs and sidelined the similar AM Mauler to become the standard attack aircraft in the fleet.

More than 865 ADs had been built in four basic versions by the time hostilities broke out in Korea, including a wide range of specialised variants. The AD-1, a production version of the XBT2D-1 prototype, had been superseded by later versions by the time the conflict commenced in June 1950, and none of the 242 built saw combat. The AD-2, of which 156 were built, featuring greater structural strength, greater internal fuel capacity and a revised cockpit, saw extensive combat, however. The 125 AD-3 versions, which featured still more strengthening, a redesigned canopy, improved cooling of the engine and improved landing gear, also helped to equip US Navy attack (VA) squadrons during war deployments to Korea.

The AD-4 version and its sub-variants – the production standard in 1950 – were the most numerous to serve in the Korean War, equipping attack squadrons in 17 of the 25 combat deployments undertaken by Skyraider units. The AD-4 featured an uprated engine, an improved cockpit windscreen, a modified tailhook and a P-1 autopilot. Production totalled 372 examples, of which 63 were modified specifically for service in the harsh Korean winters. Designated AD-4Ls, they boasted anti-icing equipment and de-icer boots on the leading edges of the wings. The AD-4Ls were also fitted with an additional two cannon. When the `Able Dog’ was assigned the role of nuclear strike, 28 AD-4s were structurally strengthened for loft-bombing and designated AD-4Bs. An additional 165 AD-4Bs were built as such at the factory. One attack squadron and one composite (VC) squadron deployed to the Korean war zone with the AD-4B.

The versatility of the TBM was carried over into the AD, as the Skyraider was modified to perform a variety of specialised missions. The aft fuselage of an XBT2D-1 was converted to accommodate an electronic countermeasures (ECM) operator crew station and an access door to produce an XBT2D-1Q prototype. This change was made operational with the creation of 35 AD-1Qs. The modification followed with the production of 21 AD-2Qs, 23 AD-3Qs and 39 AD-4Qs. The AD-2Q, AD-3Q and AD-4Q saw combat over Korea with several attack and fighter AD units, plus VCs -33 and -35. Early Q-models had only an electronic surveillance measures capability, with ECM – jamming – coming later.

Similar in configuration to the Q versions were the night-attack variants, the AD-3N and AD-4N. Unlike the Q, the N featured two crew stations – one for a radar operator – in the aft fuselage, along with two access doors, but left no room for dive brakes. The AD-3N carried the APS-19A radar pod, while AD-4Ns were equipped with wing-mounted APS-31 radar and a searchlight. They also boasted an electronic surveillance measures (ESM) capability similar to the Q. Production of the AD-3N totalled only 15 aircraft, and the type saw combat on just two Korea deployments with VC-3 and VC-35. The AD-4N was much more abundant, with 307 built, of which 37 were modified with the AD-4L’s cold-weather upgrades and extra 20 mm cannon. These became AD-4NLs. Because of the increased demand for straight attack aircraft in Korea, 100 AD-4Ns were stripped of their two aft crew stations, fitted with the extra cannon and given the designation AD-4NA.

Succeeding the TBM-3W in the airborne early warning role were the unarmed AD-3W and AD-4W Skyraiders, modified with a similar belly radome housing an APS-20 search radar. The radar was operated by two crewmen housed in the aft fuselage under a turtleback extension of the cockpit. The W variants were primarily used to warn carrier battle groups of approaching aircraft, although they also performed the anti-submarine search role. The US Navy procured 31 AD-3Ws and 118 AD-4Ws.

The US Navy’s carrier force in June 1950 included only nine carrier air groups (CVGs), just three of which were based in the Pacific. This was principally because the Cold War was in full swing and support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation facing the Soviet Union in Europe was the top priority for US naval forces in early 1950. The US Navy had nine AD attack squadrons in service at the outbreak of the Korean War, one per carrier air wing.

By the end of the Korean War, the US Navy fielded 16 attack and two frontline fighter squadrons equipped with Ads.

Attack squadrons would initially deploy with a single attack version of the AD, but as the war progressed and attrition occurred other models were sent as replacement aircraft. Some VA squadrons flew AD-2/3/4/4Q versions during a single deployment, and AD-4L/NL/NAs entered the mix later in the war. When a carrier departed station for home, it would transfer some aeroplanes to other carriers or to the aircraft replacement pool at Atsugi, Japan. Some AD attack squadrons (typically equipped with 18 aircraft of all types) also included a few Q-models in their line-up. In addition, special mission composite squadrons (VC) for night attack, ESM/ECM and early warning included VC-3, VC-11 and VC-35 in the Pacific Fleet and VC-4, VC-12 and VC-33 in the Atlantic Fleet.

During this period, CVG staffs were also occasionally equipped with one or two ADs, usually including the Q versions. For administrative efficiency, the CVG staff and VC dets were organised into temporary squadrons, with the senior officer of the various VC detachments as the `commanding officer’. Although discontinued in June 1949, the practice of giving these temporary units a designation continued unofficially in some cases. `VC-110′ was such a unit in CVG-11, for example. For the purposes of this book, the dets will be discussed in terms of their parent units.

The numerous Naval Air Reserve Training Units had yet to receive any Skyraiders by June 1950, being equipped instead with AM-1s and TBMs.

Also of note, at the beginning of the Korean War the US Marine Corps did not field any attack squadrons (VMA), nor was it equipped with any Skyraiders. It relied instead on F4U-4/5/5N variants of the Corsair and on nightfighter versions of the F7F Tigercat. Although the Marine Corps was slated to begin receiving W- and Q-models of the AD in 1950, its Skyraiders did not reach Korea until mid-1951.


The units that flew Skyraiders in both the USAF and the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) during the Vietnam War. The 12 squadrons of these two air forces that were equipped with the Douglas aircraft saw extensive combat from 1960 to 1975. And this 15-year period is but five years short of spanning the entire existence of the VNAF. History will show that with the introduction of the AD-6 Skyraider in 1960, the VNAF truly had a capable, albeit demanding, aircraft – demanding in that it required a pilot’s full attention all of the time, whether in the air or on the ground. That it lasted 15 years as the VNAF’s frontline attack aircraft speaks volumes for its capabilities, and those of the men who flew it.

These capabilities, however, did not come without a price. Of the approximately 350 Skyraiders operated by the VNAF, only 70 remained by the end of 1973. And by the time the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) invaded South Vietnam in April 1975, just 40 Skyraiders were left at various VNAF bases for the enemy to use as they saw fit. It was the end of not only the VNAF, but also of the country the Skyraider units had fought so hard to defend.

Nestled inside this 15-year timeframe was the eight-year period that the USAF operated various models of the A-1 Skyraider in Southeast Asia. Commencing operations in-theatre in mid-1964, Skyraiders were the premier close air support (CAS) aircraft for the USAF until the end of 1972. The A-1 also became synonymous with the search and rescue (SAR) mission, and many a downed airman gave thanks when he heard the voice of a `Sandy’ on his survival radio, followed shortly after by the din of the Wright R-3350 radial engine as the Skyraider roared overhead. But make no mistake, the A-1 served well in all of its roles, from Special Forces fort defence to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) support.

All Skyraider pilots gave some, but far too many gave their all. Of the approximately 330 A-1s operated by the USAF in Southeast Asia, nearly 200 were lost. More than 100 USAF Skyraider pilots were either killed in action or listed as missing in action.

Douglas AD (BT2D, A-1) Skyraider 1945–1972/5 Part II

USAF Skyraiders

If you thought that USAF Skyraiders were the same as US Navy Skyraiders except for their exterior colour schemes, you would be wrong. Two A-1Es on loan from the US Navy (BuNos 132417 and 132439) were evaluated by Tactical Air Command’s Special Air Warfare Center (SAWC) at Eglin AFB, Florida, from August 1962 to January 1963. The stated purpose of the test was to `evaluate the A-1E Skyraider for possible use in counterinsurgency warfare, and gauge its maintenance supportability and requirements’.

The conclusions reached were that the A-1E was an aircraft in the operational inventory that could perform many roles peculiar to counterinsurgency warfare, and after completion of minor modifications it would be capable of carrying all conventional ordnance of the 2000-lb or smaller class either then in the inventory or programmed for production.

The following items required modification or new installation:

1. Newest version R-3350 engine (R-3350-26WD)

2. Landing and taxi lights

3. Parking brake

4. Speed-brake well doors (never implemented)

5. N-9 gun camera to replace installed N-6 camera

6. Dual controls to include rudder/wheel brakes and control column with trim controls. Engine controls were listed as not required (a requirement for a throttle was added at a later time)

7. The right-hand side of the glare shield required modification to prevent the blocking of important warning lights from view

8. A pneumatic tailwheel to replace the existing hard solid rubber wheel to allow operations on a variety of runway and parking ramp surfaces.

9. Exterior paint and markings consistent with applicable USAF regulations

10. Aircraft technical order revisions to reflect modifications made

Although these modifications were based solely on the testing of the A-1E aircraft in 1962-63, many of them applied to the other models of Skyraider that would be procured in the future.

The first aircraft delivered to the USAF were A-1Es in mid-1964. After numerous programme changes regarding the distribution of these first machines, 25 went to Tactical Air Command (TAC) to be used for Skyraider upgrade training at Hurlburt Field, Florida. A further 48 USAF A-1Es were at Bien Hoa AB by the end of 1964, by which point eight Skyraiders had been lost with the death of six American pilots and two Vietnamese observers.

In mid-1967 the USAF was able to acquire single-seat A-1H/Js from the US Navy, and these aircraft underwent a similar modification programme to that undertaken with the A-1E, except of course for the changes relating to the second set of flight controls – H- and J-models were single-seat Skyraiders. Once completed, the aircraft were transported by ship to Southeast Asia, arriving at their respective units about a month after the modifications had been completed. These deliveries began in late 1967, and were largely complete by the end of 1968.

The A-1E was a multipurpose version of the Skyraider developed to permit greater versatility either as an attack aircraft or in the utility role. It departed from previous variants in that it had side-by-side seating for two crewmembers. The A-1E was powered by the R-3350-26WA engine and fully equipped to carry bombs, rockets, torpedoes, mines and other stores on external racks. Four M3 20 mm cannons were installed in the wings. The aircraft could also be equipped with auxiliary tanks both internally and externally for long-range operations. For utility purposes, the aircraft could quickly be equipped with seating for passengers, as well as facilities for the carriage of litter patients or provisions.

USAF A-1Es were produced from four different US Navy variants, namely the AD-5, AD-5N, AD-5Q and AD-5W. These A-1Es subsequently proved to be the mainstay of the first group of Skyraiders used by the USAF and, later, by the VNAF. Gone were the bulbous radomes and electronics pods carried on the inner stations of the AD-5Q/W, as well as the opaque rear canopies with a single viewing port on each side. The latter were eventually replaced with the blue plastic enclosures that gave rise to the nickname `blue room’ for the space behind the two front side-by-side seats of the USAF’s A-1Es.

A close variant of the A-1E was the A-1E-5, which differed from the USAF’s standard E-model through its lack of right-seat controls. In order to expedite the delivery of additional A-1Es to Southeast Asia in the 1965-66 timeframe, the installation of right seat controls for these aircraft was not accomplished. By mid-1966 the training of VNAF pilots by USAF units in Southeast Asia had ended, thus removing the need for dual-control A-1Es. However, no E-5s were sent to the `Skyraider school’ at Hurlburt AFB, in Florida, for obvious reasons. Other than by looking at the tail number, there was no easy way an observer could tell the difference between an A-1E and an A-1E-5 from the outside. It would be a gross understatement to say that no self-respecting Skyraider pilot wanted to be in the right seat of an A-1E-5 in combat!

There were three A-1E-5s assigned to the 1st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) when I arrived at Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB) in October 1971. There was a check-out programme in the 1st SOS at this time that required all new pilots to first ride in the right seat of the E or E-5, then get in the left seat for a few more flights with an IP (instructor pilot), before going solo in either the E-, H- or J-model Skyraider. The IPs hated to be in the right seat of the E-5, but there they were.

The USAF’s A-1G closely resembled the E-model, being formerly designated the AD-5N in US Navy service. This aircraft was designed as the three-seat night-attack variant of the AD-5, and for all intents and purposes the A-1G was different from the E-model only in ways we pilots could not detect. Without looking up the serial number or searching through the aircraft’s maintenance paperwork, there really was no way of telling a USAF A-1E from an A-1G.

Because of what became termed the `USAF A-1E standard’, many US Navy-designated A-1Gs became Air Force A-1Es. A `standard A-1E’ was produced when all the USAF-stipulated modifications had been made prior to an aircraft seeing frontline service. Some A-1Gs were only partially modified due their urgent requirement as attrition replacements in Southeast Asia, which in turn meant that they kept their US Navy designations.

In August 1965, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces made the decision to camouflage all USAF aircraft in Southeast Asia. This of course affected all Skyraiders then in-theatre, plus those undergoing modification for shipment to Southeast Asia. A goal was set to complete the camouflage of all Skyraiders in South Vietnam by the end of 1966. The result was a profound change in the appearance of all aircraft in-theatre. This camouflage scheme would become standard for all tactical combat aircraft in the USAF well into the 1980s.

As with most piston-engined aircraft designed and built prior to 1960, the Skyraider had no means for the pilot to escape should the need arise when operating at low altitudes – essentially below 2000 ft. With the A-1 typically operating well below the recommended safe bailout altitude of 2000 ft while performing its mission, the only choice available for most pilots was to crash-land the aircraft if they could. Many could not, however, and the loss rate for aircraft and pilots proved to be unacceptably high as a result.

In an effort to improve a pilot’s chances of survival, the USAF contracted Stanley Aviation Corporation in 1965 to develop an automated escape system for the Skyraider. The company’s answer was the extraction seat. The seat would remain in the aircraft, and the pilot would be pulled out in a standing position, attached to a rocket-propelled tether. By 20 April 1967, the task of installing the Yankee Extraction System in all USAF A-1Es in Southeast Asia had been completed.

It did not take long for the newly installed system to prove its worth, for on 21 May 1967 Maj James Holler’s Skyraider (133855) of the 1st Air Commando Squadron (ACS) was hit by ground fire shortly after departing Pleiku AB. Holler was about 1000 ft above the ground when he activated the extraction system, and although he subsequently landed on rocky ground and broke both ankles, this was the first successful use of the Yankee Extraction System. Shortly thereafter, on 11 June, Majs James Rauch and Robert Russell became the second and third satisfied customers of the Stanley Aviation product when their Skyraider (132408) experienced a loss of power during their air strike in northern Laos (possibly due to battle damage). Forced to extract about 1500 ft above the ground, both men landed safely and were rescued by a USAF Jolly Green HH-3 helicopter.

However, it should be noted that there were subsequently some problems with the Yankee system, which had many safety features that required `man-in-the-loop’ inspection and preparation. Some easy-to-miss items in the checklist were predictably overlooked, with disastrous results. Following each failure, there were modifications made to either procedures or equipment, or perhaps both. There is no way of knowing how many lives could have been saved if the Yankee Extraction System had been fitted in the A-1 from the very beginning, but certainly it would have been a significant number.

VNAF Skyraiders

The VNAF was provided with 25 AD-6 Skyraiders in 1960 to replace its ageing F8F Bearcats through the Military Assistance Program. The first of these aircraft arrived in Saigon on 24 September 1960, and after processing and flight testing they were flown from Tan Son Nhut AB to Bien Hoa AB to enter service with the VNAF. Over the next six years, further deliveries added a sufficient number of A-1s to allow the equipment of four additional squadrons. By January 1966 the VNAF had 146 Skyraiders assigned to it.

As far as is known, the only modifications made to Skyraiders transferred to the VNAF from the US Navy were the removal of all equipment associated with the delivery of nuclear weapons and the tailhook. The earliest A-1H Skyraiders even kept the US Navy paint scheme, but with US markings replaced by those of the VNAF. In one of the many ironies of the Vietnam War, the first USAF A-1Es based at Bien Hoa bore VNAF markings from June 1964 until February 1965 in an effort to mask the presence of American combat aircraft in South Vietnam. Many photographs exist of these early USAF Skyraiders incorrectly identified as belonging to the VNAF in various books, magazines and journals.

A significant change to the appearance of VNAF Skyraiders (and all their aircraft for that matter) occurred with the introduction of camouflage paint in 1966. From the very start, VNAF Skyraider markings had been flamboyant and eye-catching, and the addition of camouflage did not change this. During this period A-1s exhibited a mixture of flamboyance and stealth – a seeming contradictory combination for a combat aircraft. However, during the later stages of the war, VNAF Skyraiders were much more subdued in their overall appearance.

In 1967, Stanley Aviation Corporation’s Yankee Extraction System was installed in all VNAF Skyraiders. This system functioned by means of an extraction rocket similar in principle to the drogue gun system on a normal ejection seat. Once the catapult charge fired, the spin-stabilised rocket was fired when the pendant lines reached full stretch. Actuation of the system was effected after the canopy had been jettisoned. The rocket was then erected by means of a pyrotechnic piston and lever under the erector/launcher. The rocket launched from the rear wall of the cockpit, and by means of a pair of Perlon pendants (rope-like straps), the pilot was pulled up and out of the cockpit. His parachute was rigged with an automatic opening system which activated after the rocket pendants separated from the parachute risers. The system included a set of rails to allow the seat back to rise up, while the seat pan was articulated to assist in the positioning of the pilot to the vertical as the rocket extracted him from the cockpit.

By the late 1960s losses and ongoing conversion of some VNAF A-1 units to the A-37 Dragonfly meant that there were just 69 operational Skyraiders available to oppose the surprise communist Tet Offensive of January 1968. USAF Skyraiders began to be transferred to the VNAF through MAP at around this time too, these aircraft being configured slightly differently to the Skyraiders procured directly from the US Navy – the USAF A-1s were still fitted with tailhooks, for example.

In total, the VNAF operated 329 Skyraiders, of which 240 came from the US Navy and the remaining 89 from the USAF as MAP transfers (most of the latter were supplied between 1970 and 1972). According to one account, the VNAF lost a total of 242 Skyraiders either in combat or to non-combat related accidents. However, it could be said that in the end all the Skyraiders supplied to the VNAF were lost since the air force ceased to exist following the fall of Saigon at the end of April 1975.

One of nine pre-production A2D-1s over southern California in 1953, the only turboprop-powered attack type ever seriously considered by the Navy. Only five of the pre-production aircraft were actually flown.

Douglas A2D Skyshark 1950–1954

Power plant: One 5,035-shp Allison XT40-A-2 double turboprop engine driving a six-bladed Aeroproducts contra-rotating, constant-speed propeller. Armament: Four fixed forward-firing 20-millimeter cannons and up to 5,500-lbs. of mixed ordnance carried externally. Performance: Max. speed 501-mph at 25,000 ft.; cruise 276-mph; ceiling 48,100 ft.; range 637 mi. loaded. Weights: 12,944-lbs. empty, 18,720-lbs. loaded. Dimensions: Span 50 ft., length 41 ft. 3 in., wing area 400 sq. ft.

The A2D was the only type of turboprop-powered attack aircraft to receive serious consideration for production by the Navy. The project was originally begun by BUAER in 1947 as an effort to adapt Douglas’s proven AD design to turboprop power, and two prototypes were ordered under the designation XA2D-1. But as development progressed, the design bore little similarity to the AD other than a superficial resemblance. A completely new fuselage was created around the complex XT40 powerplant and drive system, which comprised two T38 engines connected via drive shafts to a common transmission. In the case of a shutdown, each engine could operate independently and drive one or both propellers. The wing was also new, having a thinner-section airfoil and large wing root extensions. On paper, the XA2D-1’s projected performance was so promising that BUAER ordered 10 pre-production models, and soon followed with an order for 339 production A2D-1s on three separate contracts.

The first flight of the XA2D-1 was made on May 26, 1950 from Edwards Air Base. Early testing immediately revealed severe problems with the double engine and drive system. And to make matters worse, the prototype crashed in mid-December 1950 due to engine failure, killing the Navy test pilot. When testing resumed after the second XA2D-1 flew in April 1952, problems with the T40 engines and drive system continued, and shortly thereafter, BUAER cancelled the contract on all but 10 pre-production examples. The first pre-production A2D-1 flew in June 1953 and nine more were completed, but the last four were never flown. A Douglas test pilot safely ejected from the second pre-production A2D-1 in August 1954 following a gearbox failure. No further development was undertaken after 1954.

Technical Specification

Aircraft: Douglas A-1H


Type: attack

Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Co.

Engine: Wright R-3350-26WA, radial, 18 cyl., air cooled

Power: 2738hp

Wingspan: 50ft (15.24m)

Length: 39ft 2in (11.83m)

Height: 15ft 8in (4.77m)

Wing area: 400.33sq ft (37.19m²)

Max take-off weight: 25,000 lb (11,340 kg)

Empty weight: 11,968 lb (5,429 kg)

Max speed: 322mph at 18,000ft (518km/h at 5,846m)

Service ceiling: 28,510ft (8,690m)

Range: 1,142mi (1,840km)

Crew: 1

Load-armament: 4x20mm cannon; 7,960 lb (3,630 kg)

The S-500 Prometheus

The S-500 Prometheus is touted as being capable of intercepting stealth warplanes.

Air defence missile battery: Image for illustration.

S-400 air defence system in Syria

Russian S-500 air defence system (ADS) the future development of the popular S-400 will enter serial production next year following its recent successful test in the “hot and dusty” conditions of Syria.

Dubbed “Prometheus” the S-500 is considered a major advancement of not only the S-400 but also other ADS in the World such as the US Patriot. Its stand-out feature is that it integrates the radar feeds of low and high level defence systems through a single command and control system; tracks, prioritizes and defeats simultaneous threats such as ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft and drones.

Russian daily, Izvestia reported yesterday quoting MoD sources that the most important elements of the Russian S-500 have been tested in Syria in which certain problems were identified and quickly eliminated.

Citing the reasons for selecting Syria as a location for qualification trials of the S-500, an unnamed source told the Russian daily, “Syria is well suited for such trials – it is always hot there, a lot of dust. In addition, the radar has to work around the clock – the situation in the republic is turbulent and anti-aircraft gunners must constantly maintain a radar field.”

A possible reason for the Syrian test could be the availability of multiple “targets.” Aircraft and drones operated by Syrian, Israeli, US, Turkish and Iranian air forces not to mention drones by terrorist groups operate over the Syrian skies giving the Russians an opportunity to test the S-500 against multiple threats and varying scenarios.

The key differentiator of the S-500 “Prometheus” system over the S-400 is a combat control point (PBU) with an automatic control system (ACS). All information from the radars of not only the S-500, but also third-party radars, anti-aircraft systems and higher air defense command posts are assimilated into the PBU which then operates automatically to select and defeat the threat.

The S-500 includes a radar detection system (RLC), which is responsible for the long-distance search and identification of ballistic and aerodynamic targets.  In addition, a multi-functional “backlight” radar guides anti-aircraft missiles to low flying targets.

A long-range high-altitude radar detector has been developed which allows the command center to most accurately set the coordinates and flight path of ballistic and aerodynamic targets. This radar is capable of finding missiles, aircraft, helicopters and small drones at any altitude. This radar works both for the S-400 and S-500.

“The high-altitude radar and the PBU allow building reliable air defense without external sources of information,” an expert told Izvestia. “A high-altitude detector helps track targets in real-time. The PBU then distributes them between the air defense systems of a particular area.

Serial production of the S-500 will begin in the second half of 2020. Training of specialist officers for Prometheus began in 2017 at the Military Academy of the Military Space Defense in Tver. They are preparing combat crews for new anti-aircraft systems and systems.


As the chief designer of the Almaz-Antey Concern, Pavel Sozinov, noted, the air defense system is designed to intercept targets at unimaginable distances – several hundred kilometers from the Earth.

“Interception in the upper atmosphere is real. It is hundreds of kilometers from the Earth. It is a system that solves a whole range of tasks of both air defense and missile defense. Today we are testing the elements of the system with the maximum cost savings for testing,” Sozinov said in an interview.

Ahead of the planet

The promising complex was studied by the commercial director of the Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine, military expert Alexei Leonkov. On the radio of Sputnik, he noted that the S-500 is unique and universal.

“There are no analogues. Even the closest competitors – the Americans – have two separate complexes. This is the Patriot complex, which works to certain heights, and the THAAD missile defense complex, which works only for ballistic purposes. And we get a universal complex that can work and on-air targets at long ranges, and on high-altitude targets – at high altitudes, “said Alexei Leonkov.

Recall, recently in the USA they lamented that they do not have complexes capable of intercepting targets in the upper atmosphere.

Earlier, Pravda.Ru wrote about the timing of receipt of the S-500 in the arsenal of the Russian army.

The day is not far off when the first samples of the new brainchild of the Almaz-Antey concern, the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system, will enter the arsenal of the Russian army. At the same time, tests are ongoing of another modern S-350 Vityaz complex, which will replace the S-300PS air defense system.

This is described in a material published by the American publication The National Interest, observer Dave Majumdar, quoting the commander of the air defense forces of the Russian Air Force, Lieutenant General Viktor Gumenny: “We expect that the first samples of the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system will be delivered to the troops soon”.

The new complex, which will occupy the upper tier of the echeloned unified air defense system of Russia, will be able to fight targets at altitudes of about 200 kilometers. This means that the S-500 will be able to hit the approaching supersonic aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles of the enemy at a distance of 640 kilometers. The first regiment of new anti-aircraft missile systems will defend Moscow and the central part of Russia.

It is expected that the S-500 will be able to detect and simultaneously hit up to 10 warheads of ballistic missiles flying at speeds up to seven kilometers per second. In addition, this system is equipped with interceptor missiles with an active homing radar, which resembles the THAAD system (a missile defense system for mobile ground-based for high-altitude atmospheric interception of medium-range missiles), Lockheed Martin.

Like all modern Russian air defense systems, the S-500 must be highly mobile and have a whole network of radars providing interception and guidance at a target over long distances. It will use the 91N6A (M) combat control radar, a modified 96L6-CPU target radar and target radar, as well as new multi-mode 76T6 and 77T6 anti-missile radars, as reported by the Missile Threat publication of the George Marshall and Clermont Institutes.

Arado Ar 234 bomber/recce

In was decided in May of 1944 that the experienced Maj. Robert Kowalewski’s KG 76 would be the first Luftwaffe unit to receive the jet-powered Ar 234 bomber now starting to come out of the Arado factory. The only operation of the 234 in the summer of 1944 was as a high-performance camera carrying reconnaissance aircraft. Flying as Kommando Sperling the Staffel-sized unit demonstrated the dramatic capabilities of the B-series aircraft in several spectacular reconnaissance missions over the Allied invaders in August and later in the fall. After months of complete inability to gather aerial reconnaissance Kommando Sperling gave the Luftwaffe ability to scout Allied rear positions freely at will. The plane was a tremendous success.

But the III/KG 76 under Hptm. Dieter Lukesch would be the first unit to be equipped with the revolutionary bomber. Lukesch first flew the plane in July; it was love at first sight. It was very fast, easy to control and with the bubble glass nose possessed excellent visibility. On August 26th the first two bombers were delivered to the unit. Conversion training from their Ju-88A4s beginning almost immediately near Magdeburg. All the pilots chosen had extensive experience and Lukesch found that training went smoothly, although some had trouble with horizontal stability since the pilot was so far forward that there were no engines or wings to look at to help keep one’s bearings.

Helmut Rast was one of the chosen pilots. Rast had been a 19-year old student at Munich Technical School when the war broke out and soon became a flight instructor. However, he was bored with student flying and in 1943 obtained a transfer to the Luftwaffe’s major proving center at Rechlin as a test pilot. There he tested the very latest products of German genius, many of which were extremely dangerous in the test phase. But his personal favorite was the new Arado 234B the “Blitz” then in preparation for its assignment to the Luftwaffe as a reconnaissance aircraft. Rast found the jet a thing of beauty. The bubble-nosed bird handled smoothly and was exceptionally fast. Rast’s reputation flying the 234 rose quickly, being enlisted to conduct a mock combat with a Fw-190A, at the time one of the leading German piston powered aircraft. Rast’s 234 easily outpaced the Focke Wulf in level flight and was faster in climb and descent. One performance limitation was the 234’s turning radius which was very wide relative to the piston-powered fighter. But the major weakness was acceleration; the throttles of the Junkers Jumo 004Bs could not be changed rapidly during takeoff and landings. Vulnerable to attack, the low speed on approach or takeoff could not be changed quickly enough to execute defensive maneuver. Regardless, Rast’s superiors were greatly impressed by his mock combat. He was promoted to Unterfeldwebel and was eagerly assigned to the post of the first combat unit to use the 234, III Gruppe of KG 76. At Burg the pilots trained in earnest with their new craft.

There were problems with the bird, however, which had not really completed flight testing. “Hardly any aircraft arrived without defects,” and Lukesch remembered they “were caused by hasty completion and shortage of skilled labor at the factories.” Training continued throughout the fall, hampered by the slowly accumulating number of aircraft and a variety of accidents associated with the new type.

Two methods of aiming the 3,000 lb bomb load were developed. The first was to drop the bombs during a shallow dive with special periscope sight and a trajectory calculator; the second involved putting the jet on automatic pilot at high altitude and then using the Lotke 7K bombsight to release the bombs automatically after the target was centered in the crosshairs. This advanced technique had considerable safety advantages since high-speed, high-altitude flight could be maintained where the Ar 234 was nearly invulnerable to slower Allied fighters. However, Lukesch felt the method impractical since the Allies quickly learned to attempt attacks on the speedy jets from above with the faster piston types particularly the Tempests, and having one’s hands on the control and able to see behind the aircraft was vital to survive such assaults. Installation of the technically advanced autopilot also slowed the delivery of the aircraft to the unit and it was the end of October before III/KG 76 had 44 Ar 234s available.

Training conversion continued in earnest for the fledgling jet unit in November, although plagued by accidents. Some problems, such as getting used to the tricycle landing gear, were due to differences with the Ju-88, but a variety of troubles arose from the machines themselves. One unexpected problem was that the two Jumo 004 engines were too powerful for their own good and an unladen Ar 234 could easily approach the speed of sound where Chuck Yeager’s demon lived. A good example is the experience of Uffz. Ludwig Rieffel who was hurt when he mysteriously lost control of his Ar 234 near Burg on November 19th:

“The effects of nearing the sound barrier were virtually unknown to us at this time, the high speed of the aircraft sometimes surprising its victims. Rieffel was practicing a gliding attack when he experienced a reversal of the controls at Mach 1. He bailed out successfully, but the shock of the parachute opening at that speed ripped three of its sections from top to bottom. A freshly plowed field prevented him from being seriously injured. This happened later to Oblt. Heinkebut he was unable to escape from the aircraft which crashed into the ground in a vertical dive”

At the end of November KG 76 was reaching its operational strength with 68 Ar 234s on hand. On December 1st, the famous bomber ace and veteran of some 620 operational sorties, Maj. Hans-Georg Bätcher, took command of III/KG 76 to take the jet bombers into action. With so many bomber units now disbanded, Bätcher had the pick of the German bomber pilots. Pilots with the unit included Hptm. Diether Lukesch, holder of the Ritterkreuz with Oak Leaves and veteran of some 372 missions, as well as Hptm. Josef Regler, a veteran with 279 operational sorties under his belt. Unlike the fighter pilots, where the attrition and demand for pilots often meant low skill levels, the pilots with the Gruppe all had extensive flying experience.

Regardless of the minor danger posed by these small groups of German planes, the Allies had a phobia about them and kept their bases at Achmer, Hesepe and Rheine under constant surveillance. Only the profusion of 20mm flak around the bases and a standing guard of German piston-powered planes allowed the jets to get off the ground or land without being shot down during the vulnerable portion of their flight. Still the German bases harboring the jets received much unwelcome attention. A carpet-bombing raid on the Rheine base on November 13th killed many members of KG 51.

The Arado Ar 234 Blitz (Lightning) was the Luftwaffe’s second operational jet, the other being the Messerschmitt Me 262, and it was the first operational jet bomber and long-range, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Problems with engine development and landing gear configuration design, along with fuel and material shortages, delayed production until late in World War II, and too few became operational to change the war’s final outcome. Approximately 234 B and C variants were completed at Lönnewitz from December 1944 to early 1945.


Initial development began with Arado Flugzeugwerke engineers Walter Blume and Hans Rebeski submitting a technical proposal to the German Air Ministry. The proposal was accepted and a design team was established, led by T. Rüdiger Kosin. The aircraft was unlike any under development by the Allied Powers at the time and featured a slender fuselage, and high-wing design, with two Junkers Jumo 109-0004 turbojets housed in nacelles under the wings; these features gave it a maximum top speed of 456 miles per hour (735 kilometers per hour), outperforming any conventional radial or inline fighter. Another unusual design feature was the cockpit, which was located in the nose with a large glazed canopy affording the crew a wide viewing area. With a required combat range of some 1,300 miles (807 kilometers), the designers had to include internal tanks behind the cockpit.

The designers initially could not solve how to fit conventional landing gear due the Ar 234’s high-wing design. During takeoff, the early prototypes—Ar 234V-1 to V-5 (Ar 234A series)—employed a reusable tricycle trolley that was jettisoned upon becoming airborne, while landing skis fitted to the aft fuselage and wings were lowered for landing. The first prototype was completed and flight-tested in June 1943, followed by two more in September; the prototypes were initially ready by the end of 1941, but engine development and production became problematic, thus delaying testing and production by two years.

The Jumo 109-0004 powered both the Ar 234 and the Me 262; because the Me 262 took precedence, supplying the engines in adequate numbers was impossible. The powerplant also required a rebuild after only ten operational hours and was known for flameouts. Prototypes Ar 234V-6 to V-8 retained the carriage ski configuration but were powered by lower-thrust BMW 1009-003-A1 engines as an alternative to the -0004. Those three aircraft went into the development of the Ar 234C, in which fewer than half of the 14 produced were fitted with engines before the war ended.

A redesign requested by the Air Ministry consisted of enlarging the mid-fuselage, along with removal of a fuel tank to accommodate a tricycle landing gear, and installation of a recessed bomb bay in the fuselage and a periscopic optical sight above the cockpit for rearward viewing. The pilot-bombardier during a bomb run switched on the Patin PDS autopilot and then swung the control column away to use the Lotfe 7K bombsight. A maximum external and internal bomb load capacity of over 3,300 pounds (1,497 kilograms) reduced the maximum speed to 415 miles per hour (668 kilometers per hour). The three prototypes built in this fashion were designated Ar 234V-9 to V-11 (Ar 234B series) with the first test flight occurring in March 1944. Production units were designated Ar 234B.

Several of the trolley and ski prototypes and B-1 and B-2 airframes were modified as recon platforms, with the rear fuselage housing two to three vertical and oblique cameras: the Reihenbilder (Rb) 50/30, Rb 75/30, Rb 20/30 series. Two recon variants in development, consisting of the Ar 234C-1 and the two-man Ar 234D, were not completed.

Erich Sommer.


V-5 and V-7 prototypes, equipped with rocket-assisted takeoff (RATO) were sent to I./Versuchsverband Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe in July 1944 for operational evaluation. The first reconnaissance mission was conducted of the Allied landing areas in Normandy by Erich Summer, piloting the V-5 prototype on 2 August 1944. For this mission, two Rb50/30 cameras were mounted on the back of the fuselage, inclined at twelve degrees on either side of the aircraft, allowing photographs to be taken in a 10km band around the trajectory of the aircraft. On the same day, the plane was joined by the other prototype and between them they carried out other similar missions over the following three weeks. In September, the two planes were withdrawn from operations and replaced by the first Ar 234Bs. From October, this aircraft would perform its reconnaissance role, even flying over England in order to determine whether or not a new invasion was being prepared for the Netherland’s coast. It was only on 21 November that a training escort of P-51Bs saw the Luftwaffe’s jet aeroplane for the first time. Realising they’d been seen, the Arados were able to evade the Mustangs, thanks to their quicker speeds and ability to fly at greater altitude.

Special Unit Sonderkommando (SdKdo) Götz operated four Ar 234B-1s near Rheine in Westphalia, Germany, and ran reconnaissance missions over Allied-held territory and the British Isles beginning in October 1944. SdKdo Hecht and Sperling were activated in November 1944 but deactivated and replaced by I./Fernaufklärungsgruppe (FAGr) in January 1945. SdKdo Summer operated three Ar 234B1s at Udine in northern Italy, while I./FAGr 123, based in Germany and Norway, and I./FAGr 33 flew missions over Germany and Denmark.