A-3 / EA-3B Skywarrior
The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior, a twin-engined, swept-wing jet aircraft, was the largest airplane ever designed to operate from an aircraft carrier. The A-3 was designed to carry a nuclear weapon, but spent most of its service life as an electronics platform and as a tanker. It was also much used as an electronic warfare vehicle, and by the USAF as the B-66. The ELINT version is known as the EA-3, the tanker version as the KA-3, and a radar test bed as the NRA-3B. The RA-3B featured a pressurized reconnaissance module in the area occupied by the bomb bay of the standard A-3B. Retired from service in 1992, the Whale is still flying missions for Hughes Aircraft, which has a fleet of over a dozen A-3s used for various tests of missile systems and other classified projects.
The introduction of nuclear bombs into the U.S. arsenal of weapons opened new possibilities to Naval Aviation. Carrier based aircraft could achieve a true strategic strike capability in addition to their mobile tactical role. Due to the size of the early A-bombs, a large plane was needed to carry them. Early experimental work was done with prop-driven planes and the first heavy attack squadrons were equipped with the AJ Savage. But as jet engine technology improved, a design for a large twin-jet attack bomber was developed. Douglas was awarded a contract in 1949 to build the XA3D-1 prototype, which first flew in October 1952. Re-engined with J-57s, the first deliveries of these Skywarriors were to VAH-1 in March 1956. The following year, the first A3D-2s (A-3B) went to VAH-2. The A3D-2 featured more powerful engines, inflight refueling system and a modified bomb bay to accommodate a wider range of weapons.
The primary mission of the A3D-1 airplane was the attack and destruction of enemy ground and surface targets. The airplane has a conventional swept-wing structure. Two turbo-jet engines are enclosed in under-wing nacelles. Provisions are made for a three-man crew; a pilot, a bomber-assistant pilot, and a gunner-navigator. The tricycle landing gear, arresting gear, wing-fold and tail-fold mechanisms, single-lotted wing flap, speed brakes, and power mechanisms for rudder, elevator and ailerons are operated by hydraulic power. The horizontal stabilizer is adjustable for trim in flight. Leading edge slats are actuated automatically by aerodynamic loads. Anti-skid braking is provided. The JATO installation accommodates twelve 4500-pound-thrust bottles. In-flight refueling provisions are provided. A landing deceleration chute is provided. The A-3's tail had to be folded down to get the plane in the hangar deck.
The crew in the bomber version consisted of a pilot (left front seat), a bombardier/navigator (front right), and a third-crew/ECM operator (rear facing behind the pilot). The aircraft's large bomb-bay could carry heavy ordinance, a tanker refueling package, mines, and nuclear weapons. Missions were flown at altitudes ranging from 500 to 40,000 feet depending on the delivery mode. Ordinance was released at high altitude in level flight and by "lay down, pop up, or loft" maneuvers at low level.
Reconnaissance versions were produced to equip two heavy photographic squadrons (VAPs 61 and 62). These were modified to pressurize the entire fuselage and accommodate two reconnaissance specialist crewmen and up to 12 oblique and/or vertical cameras. This model was designated the A3D-2P (RA-3B). In 1956 the new carrier-capable A3D-1Q Skywarrior came into service. This model added four electronic specialists to the flight crew and an assortment of radar and other electronic detection equipment. This variant went to VQs 1 and 2. The A3D-1Q was replaced by the A3D-2Q and was subsequently redesignated the EA-3B Skywarrior. A radar/navigation training version, A3D-2T (TA-3B) was also produced which had space for six students.
Redesignated in the early sixties to the A-3 series, the existing versions of the A-3B (now RA, EA, and TA) were joined by the widely used KA tankers and ERA and EKA multipurpose versions, as well as one VA for special mission support. In these roles, the Skywarriors supported the Southeast Asia combat action of the next decade, as well as serving Navy mission needs elsewhere in the world.
Flying out of NS Rota, Spain, the last EA-3B's in service were retired from the U.S. Navy 01 October 1991. The ES-3A, a signal intelligence modification of the S-3 Viking anti-submarine aircraft. It replaced the EA-3B, a veteran of over 40 years fleet service.
A3D / A-3
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