22 August 2007

An Airplane's History

One of the big missions for the US Navy post World War 2 was the delievery of nuclear weapons. For a while the US Air Force had a monoply on this mission for the better part of five to six years. The US Navy had a few aborted attempts before the introduction of an airplane that would spend the next 4o years in the service of the United States doing either its primary mission or a few additional missions that was added on to the aircraft later on in its life. What was this aircraft? It was the A-3 Skywarrior designed and built by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. It was designed by the famous Ed Heinemann. The Skywarrior's mission was to fly off the deck of an US Navy aircraft carrier and delivery a nuclear weapon against an important theater or strategic target. The plane carried a crew of three and could lift up to 12,000 bombs up to a range of 1325 miles. The only down side was the aircraft was built before the introduction of ejection seats. So one of the nicknames the plane earned related to its designation of A3D was jokingly called All Three Dead. The plane was pretty heavy and was flown off both the modern super carriers of the USS Forrestall class but also a pair or more were fitted able to fly off the older World War 2 Essex class aircraft carriers as well. The A-3A and improved model A-3B were onboard US Navy Aircraft carriers during the Suez Crisis, Tawian Crisis, Lebanon Crisis, and the Hungary Revoultion. There was a few squadrons that tried to use the A-3B over North Vietnam against some of the harden targets such as the infamous Dragon's Jaw Bridge or Thanh Hoa Bridge. The lost rate was pretty high at it was reasoned not to risk the Skywarriors over Vietnam in the bomber role.

The plane was replaced by the North American Aviation A-5 Vigilante in the early 60's. With the advent of a successful ballistic missile in 1960 for use on a submarine, the US Navy moved out of the stratgetic bomber role by 1964. However, it still retained the A-3 Skywarrior as a bomber in both the nuclear and conventional role. The aircraft was also modified to be both an electronic reconnasice aircraft and to be a photo recon aircraft. Such as the example to the left. As the picture on the left shows it could carry a number of cameras and with its great speed out run most of the fighters at the time. One of the more interesting items with the RA-3B Skywarrior is that it use to carry flash bombs that were incredabile bright. There were stories of these recon birds dropping these flash bombs at night and some ground observing reporting that the plane had blown up in the air. It was retired from the photo recon role with the introduction of the RA-5C.

Yet another mission assigned to this aircraft was the in-flight refueling mission and the aircraft was redesignated from A-3 to KA-3B. Here a hose and drogue unit was attached to the plane via an airstreamed fairing. There were plenty of stories through out the Vietnam conflict where the KA-3B crews might take themselves and thier tanker tracks closer to the feet wet points to help those aircraft that were damaged make it home or at least make the swim that much shorter.

One of the other mission and the mission that the aircraft would have from the time it quit trying to deliver a nuclear weapon till it was retired shortly after Desert Storm ended was as an electronic bird. It was either an electronic intelligence bird or as an electronic countermeasures bird. It served in this role from early 60's till 1992. This plane flew through out the Cold War and up thorugh its end preforming in front line service in one way or another.
The Skywarrior is still flying too. After a number of them were retired by the US Navy, Raytheon bought about 8 or 9 of them and are using them as flying test beds for new electronic systems or as range instrumentation birds during tests. I have seen one or two flying when I have gone down to NAS Point Mugu, CA for a missile shot with my squadron. Amazing that a plane introduced in the late 50's is still flying today.
If you want to see some more information about the this aircraft please go and check out this link here, A-3 Skywarrior Association.

Digging around I found a couple of videos shot of Skywarrior in action with either VQ-1 out of Guam or VQ-2 out of Rota Spain. You all might enjoy watching them as well.

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