The Douglas A-1 Skyraider played an important part in the Southeast Asia War. Its ability to carry an immense amount of weapons and stay over the battlefield for extended periods of time made it a powerful weapon. This aircraft provided close air support to ground forces, attacked enemy supply lines, and protected helicopters rescuing airmen downed in enemy territory.
Designed during World War II for the U.S. Navy, the Skyraiders almost disappeared before they had the opportunity to excel over Southeast Asia. In the high-speed, jet-age world of the late 1950s, the Skyraider seemed to be a relic of an earlier time. It had performed well during the Korean War, but the Navy had decided to replace it with jet aircraft. However, Skyraiders proved well suited for fighting against the guerrilla-style war waged by communists in Southeast Asia.
The "Spad" Arrives
In the early 1960s, the United States provided South Vietnam with increased military assistance and training to resist communist forces, and the U.S. gave Skyraiders to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). In 1961, U.S. Air Force instructors started training VNAF pilots at Bien Hoa Air Base with Skyraiders in VNAF markings and their tail hooks removed. Gradually, the USAF instructors started flying combat missions with the VNAF pilots over South Vietnam. Redesignated the A-1 in 1962, the old Skyraider soon got the nickname "Spad" -- referring to the French fighter used in World War I.
U.S. Air Force Skyraiders
The first U.S. Air Force Skyraiders, two-seat A-1Es, arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base in May 1964. They were assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron (later the 1st Special Operations Squadron), which operated under the call sign Hobo. Other USAF squadrons flew Skyraiders from bases in South Vietnam and Thailand under the call signs Spad, Firefly and Zorro. Wherever they went, the Skyraiders provided critical close air support to ground forces and other operations, such as defoliant spraying or supporting the insertion and extraction of special operations teams inside enemy held territory along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Sandy to the Rescue
Air Force Skyraiders in Southeast Asia are probably best remembered for their support of search and air rescue missions. Operating under the call sign Sandy, the A-1's ability to fly over a downed Airman for an extended period complemented its massive firepower. Whereas jet aircraft often had to leave an area for refueling or rearming, the Sandies provided nearly continuous suppressing fire until helicopters could extract downed Airmen.
The A-1E on display (S/N 52-132649) is the airplane flown by Maj. Bernard Fisher on March 10, 1966, when he rescued a fellow pilot shot down over South Vietnam. For this deed, Fisher received the Medal of Honor. The airplane, severely damaged in further combat in South Vietnam, came to the museum in 1968 for preservation.
Armament: Four 20mm cannons and a wide assortment of bombs, rockets, mines, grenades, flares and gun pods
Maximum speed: 325 mph
Range: 1,500 miles
Weight: 24,872 lbs. maximum
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