A-1E Skyraider

The A-1 Skyraider originated as a carrier-based torpedo and dive bomber. As the XBT2D-1, it first flew March 18, 1945, and deliveries as the AD-1 to the Navy began in November 1946. In 1962 the Skyraider became the A-1.

The Skyraider was the first single-seat torpedo/dive bomber to serve with the Navy. Its success in both Korea and Vietnam seriously raised the question in 1966 of reopening production, which ended in 1957.

Douglas Aircraft built 3,180 Skyraiders for the Navy. They were single-engine, low-wing monoplanes with a maximum speed of 318 mph, an initial climb rate of 2,300 feet per minute and a service ceiling of 32,000 feet. The aircraft had a wingspan of 50 feet 9 inches, a length of 38 feet 10 inches, and a height of 15 feet 8.25 inches. It weighed 12,313 pounds empty and 25,000 pounds loaded. Armament consisted of four wing-mounted 20mm cannons and an additional weapons load of 7,000 pounds, which could be varied among bombs, gun pods, napalm canisters and up to 12 rockets.

From 1950 to 1953 in the Korean War and from 1962 to 1975 in Vietnam, the "Sandy," as it was called, served as a mainstay workhorse due to its payload, range and durability. The Air Force acquired it's a-1s from the Navy for counterinsurgency duty in Southeast Asia. In addition to the Air Force, the Navy and South Vietnamese flew them in combat. Two Navy Skyraiders even combined to shoot down a Russian built MiG jet fighter. However, the primary mission of the A-1 was close air support for ground troops because of its heavy ordnance load and accuracy.

In April 1963, the Air Force announced the assignment of two A-1E squadrons to the 1st Air Commando Wing at Hurlburt Field after July 1. These 50 aircraft also increased air commando manning by approximately 300. By 1964, Hurlburt focused primarily on "pipeline" aircrew training for personnel going to Southeast Asia. To facilitate that training, dual-control Skyraiders arrived in significant numbers. They provided better and safer training than did the single-control models. Air commando A-1E commitments worldwide included 50 A-1Es at Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. These were assigned to Pacific Air Forces rather than to the 1st ACW, but the wing trained the crews. In 1966, training of Vietnamese A-1E pilots began at Hurlburt Field due to the disadvantages of training in Vietnam. By June 20, 35 pilots had reported for this training.

On June 24, 1965, shortly before noon, two A-1Es collided north of Crestview, Fla., killing both crews. These four fatalities were the only wing aircrew losses in the first half of that year. Considering the hazards in flying aircraft of that age and especially the aging A-1E, the 10,000-hour milestone of accident-free flying reached by the 4407th Combat Crew Training Squadron in 1969 was a singular accomplishment and believed to be a record for this aircraft. It was then 24 years since the Skyraider first flew and 12 years since production ended. However, on June 17, 1970, "the law of averages" caught up with the 4407th when one of its aircrews made a precautionary landing after smelling fuel in the cockpit. Before the airmen could escape, the aircraft exploded on the runway.

On Aug. 6, 1970, Col. William A. Jones III, a former student pilot of the 4407th CCTS was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously for a mission in an A-1 in North Vietnam Sept. 1, 1968. A second Medal of Honor was awarded to Col. Bernard F. Fisher when he executed a dramatic rescue under fire on March 10, 1966 in Vietnam in an A-1. Colonel Fisher came to Hurlburt June 23, 1972 to dedicate the A-1E in the Air Park.

As American participation in the war in Vietnam declined, more and more aircraft were transferred to the Vietnamese in the hope they would be able to prosecute the war successfully on their own. In 1972 as part of that "Vietnamizatin," all nine A-1Es of the 4407th CCTS were transferred to the Vietnamese air force and the A-1E training program at Hurlburt ended.

The A-1E on display was delivered to the Navy Oct. 25, 1954, and saw flight operations at El Segundo, Calif. with both Navy and Marine squadrons. After storage at Litchfield Park, Ariz., it was transferred to the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, Calif. During testing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., maintenance personnel determined it had been overstressed and was no longer safe to fly. Since all A-1 aircraft at Hurlburt Field had been given to the Vietnamese Air Force, the USAF Museum took control of this aircraft and permitted it to be displayed at Hurlburt Field. It was dropped from the Navy inventory in 1971 and installed and dedicated at Hurlburt Field on May 30, 1972.

In 2005, the 16th Equipment Maintenance Squadron's (now 1st Special Operations Equipment Maintenance Squadron) Fabrication Flight repainted the A-1E Skyraider. The updated black/gray paint scheme is the type of scheme Major Fisher's Skyraider was painted when he flew his Medal of Honor mission while assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron.

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