When I found out that the Archemaede of The Hoggit Community were working on bringing the A-1 Skyraider, I got to thinking about the time I first saw one.While the war raged in Vietnam, I was a kid in what they now, called middle-school today. As a consequence, the war was pretty far away because I was only 13 while I saw coverage on the news, , and since I was a kid in school, actually going to war was the farthest thing from my mind. Nevertheless, I was fairly interested in following what was going on over there. Why? Two words. Military Planes. I was always interested in them. That is ,after I stopped being afraid of them. My mom told me when I was around three, I would, as she put it, ‘scream my head off, when one flew overhead until it, was gone. Since I don’t rightly remember that, I’ll have to take her word for it.
The Indianapolis Star, the local newspaper always featured fairly in depth stories and analysis about the conflict, but it was the photos of Vought F-8 Crusaders, Mc Donnell F-4 Phantoms, Douglas A4 Skyhawks , North American RA-5C Vigilante(beauty!) F-4D Skyrays Who remembers those?) amid the seeming chaos of a modern carrier deck, that really grabbed my attention. All those sleek shapes being pushed around, loading bombs and Zuni rockets, loaded missiles on the wings of dangerous looking but still lovely machines. Then there were the propeller driven planes. All were recips then. , Grumman E-1B Tracer, Grumman S-2 Tracker. I had some idea what they did. The there was that ‘other propeller-driven plane’. The one they called Skyraider, and unlike the others, it had only one seat. Like a fighter, but sure it was too slow and frankly, seemed ‘old fashioned’. What the heck was it for? Well, if I had seen ‘The Flying Leathernecks’, with John Wayne, Id know the answer.
Close Air Support was something I began to understand the basic principles a little better later, after I did see it, and also the Bridges at Toko Ri with William Holden and Grace Kelly,(Boy howdy, she was some ‘doll!’) , as I got closer to ‘draft’ age, I learned to appreciate the concept, even more. That last scene, with William Holden as ‘Lt. Brubaker and Mickey Rooney as ‘Forney’, in that ditch surrounded, by hostile troops armed only with a sidearm and a rifle, between them. So long as the ‘Spads’ were around, they survived; as soon as they departed the area, the two aviators were lost. Just say for me it was lesson learned.
The first movie, though, The Flying leathernecks, was made in the context of WW2 in the Pacific, where the speed differences between fighters and fighter-bombers, or torpedo bombers, for that matter, was virtually non-existent. Indeed the Grumman F-6F was competent as an air to air and air to ground role, as was the Vought F-4U Corsair, but bigger more capable, if less fast, carrier based fighter-bombers were on the drawing boards. Two manufacturers, one Martin Aircraft of Baltimore, Maryland and Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, Ca, both submitted proposals and a decision was made to develop prototypes of both: enter the Douglas AD-1 Skyraider and the Martin AM-1 Mauler. Both were huge, but Mauler was bigger, it’s cowling sleek with a broad spinner and cross-section, up front, similar to the P-47; she was nicknamed, Able Mable, unfortunately, she did not quite live up her name soon enough because she was more complex and development delays, delayed entry into service in until 1948, and only in small numbers in reserve units. therefore the navy therefore had little choice and selected to the smaller, simpler, Douglas plane
That turned out to be decision that was ‘spot on’, because , while too late for WW2, it wasn’t long before war broke in on the Korean Peninsula and between 1950 to 1953, U.S. ground troops quickly identified a role to help the plane to earn it’s ‘combat wings’, in a place some called, Hell on Earth’. For some it was ‘The ‘Forgotten War’, but not by those that served there. the Skyraider, operated only by the U.S. Navy and the Marines at the time flew a lot of missions and lost some 101 to combat loses and 27 to operational losses. Those were primarily due to the excessive torque, from that powerful Wright R3550-26WA radial engine up front; poor pilot technique, that would cause the plane to violently snap-roll into the carrier deck .
The Douglas Skyraider was fairly versatile, making the only torpedo attack of the war against the Hwacheon Dam under North Korean control at the time, and in an engagement, historically referred to as the Cathay Pacific VR-HEU Incident, where two Skyraiders , from the U.S.S. Philippine Sea and the U.S.S Hornet, while searching for survivors of that downed flight, encountered and shot down two Chinese La-9s, returning safely to their repective boats. Not bad for a ‘ground pounder. ‘ When a truce was declared 1953, one would have assumed that with the advent of jet powered Naval attack aircraft, becoming increasingly utilized throughout the war, by both the Navy and the Air Force, that it’s operational career might have ended right then and there.
Largely unforeseen forces were at work that would change that, however,when again, the U.S. and a number of Pacific nation allies of the U.S. found themselves in a gradually escalating conflict in southeast asia, that was rapidly heating up as the operational tempo of combat increased. The Gulf of Tonken incident, in which by the way, two Skyraiders, were lost while fly as part of a strike package in retaliation, was about when the war got my attention as newspaper headlines announced sharp increases in troop levels amid the ‘air war’, as the media called it. The Skyraider’s , now refurred to by her crews as ‘Spads’,days may have been numbered by mid 1965, but it still managed to distinguish itself when two of the prop-driven planes shot down two North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF) Mig-17s ; one on 20 June, 1965 , that victory was shared by two pilots; Lt. Clinton B. Johnson and Lt.jg. Charles J. Hartman III of VA-25 and the second on 9 October, by Lt. jg. William T. Patton , VA-176. A very surprising outcome.
There is one story I almost forgot to mention, which sounds like something right out a of script from the movie, Iron Eagle. The story of Bernerd F. ‘Bernie’ Fisher, and Air Force A1H pilot, assigned to the 1st Commando Squadron at Pleiku air Base, South Vietnam. on 10 Mar. 1966, Fisher was part of a two-ship Spad element, supporting troops in contact with enemy forces in the A Shau Valley when his friend and wingman, Maj. D.W. ‘Jump’ Meyers was hit by hostile fire and was forced to make a ‘belly’ landing on CIPG airstrip and took cover behind an embankment while Fisher orbiting over head, directed the rescue effort to retrieve is buddy. Unfortunately, the helicopters tasked to go in and get him, were deemed by Fisher to be too far away, to do any good and that Meyers, was at serious risk of having hi s position overrun and risk capture. Fisher decided in a heartbeat to land his two-seat A-1E on the strip, 2500 ft, by the way, and “get him the hell out of there”, and landed while other Skyraiders laid down a carpet of whithering cannon fire, and did just that. Fisher, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and while some scuttlebutt, was ‘Brass’ wasn’t exactly thrilled about the action initially, once word got out the press they gave him a medal instead. Now I don’t know if that part is true or not, but Fisher was also awarded the Silver Star, the day before as part of the same battle. Damn; that guy just wouldn’t stay down.
Establishing itself as a superb air to ground platform, early in the war for the Navy; how USAF, ended up with the what would become the A-1, is a something of a round about story. As naval A-1s were replaced by the Vought (LTV) A -7A Corsair, and the Grumman A-6 Intruder, the Navy started releasing it’s A-1 Skyraiders from service, and in 1972, they were passed initially to the VNAF, but it wasn’t long before the Air Force , (with not so subtle prodding from the Army, who was threatening to take on the fixed wing Close Air Support role, themselves), eventually recognized a need for a not-so-fast, platform, and started acquiring some of those ex-navy A-1s for themselves and nicknamed them “Sandys”, where they flew helicopter escort missions and established some of the baseline requirements that would ultimately lead to the A-10 ‘Warthog’. Throughout the remainder of the war the venerable Douglas Skyraider no doubt, saved untold lives whether they be downed comrades or guys on the ground, and served in a number roles, from FAC, CSAR,ECM, even PsycOps. You name it, they just about did it, or dropped it. On one mission, they even dropped a toilet, obviously a statement of some sort.(Click on any photo to see proof).
There are a bunch of guys out there who owe their lives to this plane, and the men who flew them. The heart of this relic of the past, still beats today at airshows around the world. We should enjoy them while they last.