Grumman S-2 Tracker Airplane Videos and Airplane Pictures

Grumman S-2 Tracker Video - Documentary Clip

More Grumman S-2 Tracker Videos 1 2 3 - Grumman S-2 Tracker Pictures

Grumman S-2 Tracker Video - Firing rockets (HVAR)

Grumman S-2 Tracker Aircraft Information

Warbird Picture - An S-2E ready for launching from the USS Bennington (CVS-20)Picture: An S-2E ready for launching from the USS Bennington (CVS-20)

Role - ASW aircraft
Manufacturer - Grumman
First flight - 4 December 1952
Introduced - February 1954
Retired - 1976, USN
Status - active with Argentine Navy
Primary users - US Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Australian Navy, Argentine Navy, Republic of China Navy
Number built - 1,284
Variants - C-1 Trader, E-1 Tracer

The Grumman S-2 Tracker (previously S2F) was the first purpose-built, single airframe anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft to enter service with the US Navy.

Its predecessor, the AF-2 Guardian was the first purpose-built aircraft system for ASW, using two airframes, one with the detection gear, and the other with the weapons.

Design and development

Canadian Forces CP-121 Tracker from VU-33 folds its wings while taxiing at CFB Moose Jaw in 1982Picture: Canadian Forces CP-121 Tracker from VU-33 folds its wings while taxiing at CFB Moose Jaw in 1982

Grumman's design (model G-89) was for a large high-wing monoplane with twin Wright Cyclone radial engines. Both the two prototypes XS2F-1 and 15 production aircraft, S2F-1 were ordered at the same time, on 30 June 1950. First flight was 4 December 1952, and production aircraft entered service, with VS-26, in February 1954.

Follow-on versions included the WF Tracer and TF Trader, which became the E-1 Tracer and C-1 Trader in the tri-service designation standardization of 1962. The S-2 carried the nickname "Stoof" (S-two-F) throughout its military career; and the E-1 Tracer variant with the large overhead radome was called the "stoof with a roof.".[1]

Grumman produced 1,185 Trackers. Another 99 aircraft carrying the CS2F designation were manufactured in Canada under license by de Havilland Canada. U.S.-built versions of the Tracker were sold to various nations, including Australia, Japan and Taiwan.
Operational history

The Tracker was eventually superseded for U.S. military use by the S-3 Viking — the last USN Tracker squadron (VS-37 with S-2G models) was disestablished in 1976, but a number live on as firefighting aircraft. Trackers continued to provide excellent service with the naval forces of other countries for years after the U.S. discontinued them. For example, the Royal Australian Navy continued to use Trackers as front line ASW assets until the mid 1980s.


Argentine S-2T Turbo TrackerPicture: Argentine S-2T Turbo Tracker

The Argentine Navy received its first S-2A models on the 1960s and later the improved S-2E. They were embarked on the ARA 25 de Mayo aircraft carrier and used in the COD, Maritime Patrol and ASW roles. In the 1990s, six remaining airframes where refurbished by Israel Aerospace Industries with turboprop engines as S-2T Turbo Trackers. With the retirement of Argentina's only aircraft carrier, the Trackers are annually deployed on board Brazilian Navy NAe São Paulo during joint exercises ARAEX and TEMPEREX.[2]


The Royal Australian Navy operated two Squadrons of S-2E and S-2G variants from 1967 until 1984. VS-816 front line squadron, although based at Nowra, frequently embarked the Majestic class aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, as part of the 21st Carrier Air Group whenever that ship was deployed. VC-851 training squadron was based at NAS Nowra, HMAS Albatross.

CDF S-2F3AT Turbine Tracker landing at Fox Field, Lancaster, California, while fighting the North FirePicture: CDF S-2F3AT Turbine Tracker landing at Fox Field, Lancaster, California, while fighting the North Fire

During about 20 years of operation of the Tracker, the RAN lost only one S-2 during aircraft operations due to an accident at sea. However, in the mid 1970s a deliberately lit fire in a hangar at Nowra destroyed or badly damaged a large proportion of the RAN's complement of Trackers. These were subsequently replaced with ex-USN aircraft. The replacement aircraft were all S-2Gs, including the original aircraft modified by the USN to that status. This saw the introduction of AQA-7 acoustic gear into RAN service and all RAN operational Trackers were subsequently modified to this standard. The AQA-7 significantly enhanced the RAN's ASW capability.


CDF S-2T on the Sawtooth Complex fire, 2006Picture: CDF S-2T on the Sawtooth Complex fire, 2006

In 1954, de Havilland Canada entered into a contract to build Trackers under license to replace the outmoded TBM-3E Avengers being used by the Royal Canadian Navy. A total of 99 Canadian-built Trackers would enter service starting in 1956. From 1957 onwards, these aircraft operated from the newly-deployed aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure and various shore bases. In order to fit aboard Bonaventure, the Canadian Trackers had their length reduced from the standard S2F length of 43 ft, 6 in (13.26 m) to an even 42 feet (12.80 m), and due to the reduced yaw moment of the shorter fuselage, an additional hydraulic booster was added in the tail assembly to reduce rudder effort in the case of an engine-out situation.[3] In 1960, 17 active-duty CS2F-1 aircraft were transferred to the Royal Netherlands Navy. In 1964, a pair of CS2F-1 aircraft were stripped of armament and ASW electronics, converted to transports, and subsequently used for carrier onboard delivery. The CS2F-1, -2, and -3 were redesignated as the CP-121 Mk.1, Mk. 2, and Mk. 3 respectively following the unification of Canadian forces in 1968.

After Bonaventure was decommissioned in 1970, all remaining Canadian Trackers were transferred to shore bases. This limited their usefulness for ASW patrols, and between 1974 and 1981, all but 20 were gradually placed in storage and the remainder were stripped of their ASW gear. The remaining active-duty Trackers served until 1990 doing fisheries protection and maritime patrol duties. A handful of Trackers were kept in flying condition until the late 1990s but were no longer used for active service.[4][5]

A single Grumman-built S2F-1, serial number X-500, was sold to the RCN before Canadian production commenced. It was initially used for quality control purposes during Canadian production, and was later given a new RCN serial number, upgraded to CS2F-1 standards, and used to train RCN ground and maintenance personnel. This aircraft was placed in storage in 1972 and was undergoing restoration in March 2008.


Argentine Tracker operating from NAe São PauloPicture: Argentine Tracker operating from NAe São Paulo

Northrop Grumman received a contract for the conversion of 32 S-2T Trackers (from 25 S-2Es and 7 S-2Gs) in service with the Republic of China Air Force in late 1980s. Only 27 were ultimately converted due to a shortage of parts supplied by Northrop Grumman resulting in the use of remaining conversion kits as spare parts. The 27 S-2Ts were transferred to the ROC Navy Aviation Command on 1 July 1999 and while the ROCN continues to operate the type, less than half of the fleet is in operational condition, will be replaced by 12 rebuilt P-3C from US Navy.

The conversion involved: 2 Garret/Honeywell TPE-331-15AW turboprop engines, each rated at 1,227 kW (1,645 shp), with four-blade propellers. The upgrade also included new mission equipment of AN/AQS-92F digital sonobuoy processor, A/NARR-84 99-channel sonobuoy receiver, Litton AN/APS-504 radar, AN/ASQ-504 MAD and AN/AAS-40 FLIR. The new turboprop engines resulted in a payload increase of 500 kg. Usually carries depth charges, Mk. 44, and Mk 46 lightweight ASW homing torpedoes.
Civilian use

View from an Australian Tracker on final approach to Australian aircraft carrier HMAS MelbournePicture: View from an Australian Tracker on final approach to Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne

In the late 1980s and early 90s Conair Aviation of Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada took possession of retired U.S. and Canadian Trackers and converted them into Firecats, with a retardant tank replacing the torpedo bay. The Firecats were made in two variants, a piston engine Firecat and a turboprop-powered Turbo Firecat.


Two prototype anti-submarine warfare aircraft powered by 1,450 hp R-1820-76WA engines.
Designation of the first 15 production aircraft used for development, redesignated YS-2A in 1962.

Picture: Canadian-made CS2F-2 Tracker

Canadian-made CS2F-2 TrackerS2F-1
Initial production variant with two 1,525 hp R-1820-82WA engines, re-designated S-2A in 1962, 740 built.
Trainer conversion of S2F-1, redesignated TS-2A in 1962.
Utility conversion of S2F-1, redesignated US-2A in 1962.
S2F-1 conversion with Julie/Jezebel detection equipment, redesignated S-2B in 1962. Survivors converted to US-2B after removal of ASW gear.
S2F-1S fitted with updated Julie/Jezebel equipment, redesignated S-2F in 1962.

Dutch Grumman S-2 TrackerPicture: Dutch Grumman S-2 Tracker

As S2F-1 with asymmetrical (port-side) extension of bomb bay, slightly enlarged tail surfaces, 77 built, most redesignated S-2C in 1962.
Photo reconnaissance conversion of S2F-2, redesignated RS-2C in 1962.
Utility conversion of S2F-2/S-2C, redesignated US-2C in 1962. Some were used as target tugs.
Enlarged forward fuselage, enlarged tail surfaces, additional fuel capacity, and enlarged engine nacelles bays for 32 sonobouoys, redesignated S-2D in 1962, 100 built.
As S2F-3 but with Julie/Jezebel equipment, redesignated S-2E in 1962, 252 built.
YS2F-1 redesignated in 1962.
S2F-1 redesignated in 1962.

Picture: Peruvian Navy S-2E Trackers

Peruvian Navy S-2E TrackersTS-2A
S2F-1T training version redesignated in 1962 and 207 conversion from S-2A.
S-2A converted as light transports/target tugs, 51 conversions.
S2F-1S redesignated in 1962.
Utility and target tug conversions of S-2A and S-2B, Most S-2Bs were converted and 66 S-2As.
S2F-2 redesignated in 1962.
S2F-2P photo-reconnaissance version redesignated in 1962.
S2F-2U utility version redesignated in 1962.
S2F-3 redesignated in 1962.
Proposed self-contained night attack aircraft to be developed under Operation Shed Light; none produced.
Electronic trainer conversion of the S-2D.
Utility conversion of the S-2D.
S2F-3S redesignated in 1962.
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force S2F-1 at Kanoya Air BaseS-2F
S2F-1S1 redesignated in 1962.

Picture: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force S2F-1 at Kanoya Air Base

Transport conversion of S-2F.
S-2E conversions with updated electronics.
Initial production run of anti-submarine warfare aircraft for Canada based on S2F-1. 42 built by De Havilland Canada.[4]
Improved version of CS2F-1 with Litton Industries tactical navigation equipment. 57 built by De Havilland Canada.[4]
New designation given to 43 CS2F-2 aircraft upgraded with additional electronics.
US Navy S-2 Tracker on the port catapult of USS Lexington awaiting of take-off, 22 January 1963CP-121
New designation given to all CS2F-1, -2, and -3 aircraft following unification of Canadian military in 1968.

Picture: US Navy S-2 Tracker on the port catapult of USS Lexington awaiting of take-off, 22 January 1963

Military S-2T Turbo Tracker For Taiwan
27 out of 32 upgraded S-2E and S-2G turboprop engines conversion by Northrop Grumman in 1990s for then Taiwan/ROC Air Force, now operates by Taiwan/ROC Navy aviation.
S-2T Turbo Tracker
Civil conversion
Civil firefighter conversion.
Civil conversion.
Marsh S-2F3AT Turbo Tracker
Australian Tracker 845 "in the chocks" prepares to launch from HMAS Melbourne, 1979Turboprop conversion, powered by two Garrett TPE331 engines;[6] 22 operated by the CDF

Picture: Australian Tracker 845 "in the chocks" prepares to launch from HMAS Melbourne, 1979

Conair Firecat or Turbo Firecat
Civil conversion as a single-seat firefighting aircraft.

- For the crew trainer/transport version based on the Tracker refer to C-1 Trader
- For the Airborne Early Warning version based on the Trader refer to E-1 Tracer


Military Operators


- Argentine Navy

Tracker 848 about to take the wire aboard HMAS Melbourne, 1980Australia

Picture: Tracker 848 about to take the wire aboard HMAS Melbourne, 1980

- Royal Australian Navy


- Brazilian Air Force used Trackers on behalf of the navy until their retirement. They operated from the aircraft carrier NAeL Minas Gerais.


- Royal Canadian Navy
- Canadian Forces


- Italian Air Force


- Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force received 50 S2F-1 in 1957 from US, and operated until 1984. After received,6 S2F-1 are remodeled 4 S2F-U and 2 S2F-C. S2F-1 is nicknamed Aotaka(????, Blue Hawk). A S2F-1 is displayed in Kanoya Air Base,Kanoya, Kagoshima.

South Korea

- Republic of Korea Navy


- Royal Netherlands Navy received in 1960 17 CS2F-1 aircraft formerly used by the Royal Canadian Navy. These aircraft were operated from land bases as well as from the light carrier Karel Doorman until a fire in 1968 took that ship out of Dutch service.


- Peruvian Navy operated with S-2E and S-2G from 1975 until 1989, they were assigned to Naval Aviation Squadron N°12 (Escuadron Aeronaval N°12). A total of 12 S-2E were bought from the US Navy in 1975 and 4 S-2G in 1983.

Republic of China (Taiwan)

- Republic of China Navy Taiwan currently operates 26 S-2T, not all operational (upgrade from S-2E and S-2G, will be replaced by 12 rebuilt P-3C Orions from US Navy).


- Air Division of the Royal Thai Navy


- Turkish Navy Aerial Wing

United States

- United States Navy operated their Trackers between 1954 and 1976.
- United States Marine Corps operated some Trackers.


- Uruguayan Navy received the first three S-2A Trackers on 10 April 1965 to the Capitan Curbelo Navy Base. On 15 September 1982 one S-2G arrived. On 2 February 1983, another two S-2Gs arrived. By September 2004 the remaining Uruguayan Trackers were not in flight condition.


- Venezuelan Navy

Civil Operators

Many retired Trackers were sold to private owners for fire-fighting duties. Some were rebuilt and re-engined with turboprop engines.


- Conair Group Inc. received TS-2A/Conair Firecat (G-89).
- Saskatchewan Environment received TS-2A/Conair Firecat (G-89).

French Sécurité Civile S-2FT Tracker used for fire-fighting dutiesFrance

Picture: French Sécurité Civile S-2FT Tracker used for fire-fighting duties

- Sécurité Civile received US-2A/Conair Turbo Firecat (G-89).


- KLM - Royal Dutch Airlines operated S-2 Tracker (G-89/G-121/S2F) - ex-Dutch Navy Tracker was used by KLM to train their mechanics.

United States

- California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection received S-2F3AT Turbo Tracker (G-121)
- Hemet Valley Flying Service received TS-2A(FF) Tracker (G-89)
- Marsh Aviation received S-2A(FF) Tracker (G-89)
- Sis-Q Flying Service received TS-2A Tracker (G-89/S2F-1T)
- Aero Union, in addition to being an operator, Aero Union devekioed the prototype S-2 tankers for the State of California in 1973. [7]

Specifications (S-2F)

General characteristics

- Crew: four (two pilots, two detection systems operators)
- Length: 43 ft 6 in (13.26 m)
- Wingspan: 72 ft 7 in (22.12 m)
- Height: 17 ft 6 in (5.33 m)
- Wing area: 485 ft² (45.06 m²)
- Empty weight: 18,315 lb (8,310 kg)
- Loaded weight: 23,435 lb (10,630 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 26,147 lb (11,860 kg)
- Powerplant: 2x Wright R-1820-82WA radial engines, 1,525 hp (kW) each


- Maximum speed: 280 mph (450 km/h) at sea level
- Cruise speed: 150 mph (240 km/h)
- Range: 1,350 mi (2,170 km) or 9 hours endurance
- Service ceiling: 22,000 ft (6,700 m)


- 2x homing torpedoes (Mk. 41, Mk. 43, or Mk. 34), depth charges (Mk. 54), or mines in the bomb bay
- 6x underwing hardpoints for torpedoes, depth charges, or rockets

Related development

- C-1 Trader
- E-1 Tracer

Comparable aircraft

- AF Guardian
- Fairey Gannet
- Breguet Alizé
- S-3 Viking

Aircraft on Display

- S2-E Tracker, s/n 151627, on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown (CV-10) at the Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston, SC.
- CP-121 Tracker, s/n 121176, Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum


1. O'Rourke, G.G., CAPT USN. "Of Hosenoses, Stoofs, and Lefthanded Spads". United States Naval Institute Proceedings, July 1968.
2. Pictorial and historical data (Spanish)
3. McQuarrie 1990, p. 121.
4. a b c "Grumman Tracker." Shearwater Aviation Museum. Retrieved: 27 March 2008.
5. a b Tate, Colonel D.H. "Grumman CS2F / CP-121 Tracker." Canada Aviation Museum Aircraft. Retrieved: 22 March 2009.
6. FAA registry entry showing manufacturer, model and engine type


- Hotson, Fred W. The de Havilland Canada Story. Toronto: CANAV Books, 1983. ISBN 0-07-549483-3.
- McQuarrie, John. Canadian Wings. Toronto: McGraw Hill Ryerson, 1990. ISBN 0-07-551010-3.
- Winchester, Jim (ed.). "Grumman S-2E/F/G/UP Tracker." Modern Military Aircraft (Aviation Factfile). Rochester, Kent, UK: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-640-5.


Role - Attack aircraft
Manufacturer - Douglas Aircraft Company
Designed by - Ed Heinemann
First flight - 18 March 1945
Introduced - 1950s
Retired - 1970s
Primary users - United States Navy
United States Air Force
Produced - 1945–1957
Number built - 3,180
Variants - A2D Skyshark

The Douglas A-1 (formerly AD) Skyraider was an American single-seat attack aircraft that saw service between the 1950s and early 1970s. It was a propeller-driven anachronism in the jet age, and was nicknamed "Spad", after a World War I fighter.[1] However, the Skyraider had a remarkably long and successful career and inspired a straight-winged, slow-flying, jet-powered successor, the A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog).

It was operated by the United States Navy (USN), the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and the United States Air Force (USAF), and also saw service with the British Royal Navy, the French Air Force, and the Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam (VNAF), among others.

Design and development

The piston-engined A-1 was designed during World War II to meet requirements for a carrier-based, single-seat, long-range, high performance dive/torpedo bomber, and was a follow-on to earlier dive bombers and torpedo bombers used by the Navy such as the Helldiver and Avenger. Designed by Ed Heinemann of the Douglas Aircraft Company, prototypes were ordered on 6 July 1944 as the XBT2D-1. The XBT2D-1 made its first flight on 18 March 1945 and in April 1945, the USN began evaluation of the aircraft at the Naval Air Test Center (NATC).[2] In December 1946, after a designation change to AD-1, delivery of the first production aircraft to a fleet squadron was made to VA-19A.[3]

The AD-1 was built at Douglas' El Segundo plant in Southern California. In his memoir The Lonely Sky, test pilot Bill Bridgeman describes the routine yet sometimes hazardous work of certifying AD-1s fresh off the assembly line (quoting a production rate of two aircraft per day) for delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1949 and 1950.[4]

The low-wing monoplane design started with a Wright R-3350 radial engine, later upgraded several times. Its distinctive feature was large straight wings with seven hard points apiece. These gave the aircraft excellent low-speed maneuverability, and enabled it to carry a tremendous amount of ordnance over a considerable combat radius and loiter time for its size, comparable to much heavier subsonic or supersonic jets. The aircraft was optimized for the ground-attack mission and was armored against ground fire in key locations. This was unlike faster fighters adapted to carry bombs such as the F4U Corsair or P-51 Mustang, which would be retired by U.S. forces long before the 1960s.

Navy A-1s were initially painted dark blue, but during the 1950s following the Korean War, the color scheme was changed to gray and white. Initially using the gray and white Navy pattern, by 1967 the USAF began to paint its Skyraiders in a camouflaged pattern using two shades of green, and one of tan.

Used by the USN over Korea and Vietnam, the A-1 was a primary close air support aircraft for the USAF and VNAF during the Vietnam War. The A-1 was famous for being able to take hits and keep flying. Battle damage images from the Korean and Vietnam wars speak for themselves. There was added armor plating around the cockpit area for added pilot protection. It was replaced in the early 1970s by the A-4 Skyhawk as the Navy's primary light attack plane.

Operational history

Korean War

Though the Skyraider was produced too late to take part in World War II, it became the backbone of United States Navy aircraft carrier and United States Marine Corps (USMC) strike aircraft sorties in the Korean War, with the first ADs going into action from the USS Valley Forge with VA-55 on 3 July 1950.[5] Its weapons load and 10-hour flying time far surpassed the jets that were available at the time.[6] On 2 May 1951, Skyraiders made the only aerial torpedo attack of the war—successfully hitting the Communist-controlled Hwacheon Dam.[7] On 16 June 1953, a USMC AD-4 from VMC-1 piloted by Major George H. Linnemeier and CWO Vernon S. Kramer shot down a Soviet-built Polikarpov Po-2 biplane, the only documented Skyraider air victory of the war.[8] AD-3N and -4N aircraft carrying bombs and flares flew night-attack sorties, and radar-equipped ADs carried out radar-jamming missions from carriers and land bases.[6] During the Korean War (1950–1953) A-1 Skyraiders were flown only by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, and were normally painted in dark navy blue. A total of 101 Navy and Marine AD Skyraiders were lost in combat during the Korean War, and 27 were lost to operational causes, for a total loss of 128 Skyraiders in the Korean War.
Communist China

On 26 July 1954, two Douglas Skyraiders from the aircraft carriers USS Philippine Sea and Hornet successfully shot down two PLAAF La-7s off the coast of Hainan Island while searching for survivors after the shooting down of a Cathay Pacific Skymaster airliner 3 days previously, also by La-7s.[9]


The Skyraider in Vietnam pioneered the concept of tough, survivable Counterinsurgency (COIN) aircraft with long loiter times and large ordnance loads. The Douglas Skyraider was arguably the best tactical and close air support/strike (CAS) aircraft the U.S. had in Vietnam. Its heavy weapons load and long loiter time made it a favorite of those on the ground in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

In the beginning, the A-1E had dual controls, because pilots were deemed advisors and Vietnamese pilots ostensibly were performing the combat duties. When USAF took an active role, the Skyraider was flown as a single-seater.

The USAF lost 201 Skyraiders to all causes in Southeast Asia, while the Navy lost 65 to all causes. Of the 266 lost A-1s, five were shot down by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Three Skyraiders were lost in air to air combat, two of them shot down by North Vietnamese MiG-17s. The first was lost on 29 April 1966, and the second almost a year later on 19 April 1967. Both were from the 602d Air Commando Squadron. The third Skyraider lost to a jet aircraft during the war was from US Navy Squadron VA-35, and was downed by a Chinese Mig-19 on 14 February 1968. The Skyraider pilot, Lieutenant (j.g.) Joseph P. Dunn, USN, had flown too close to the Communist Chinese held island of Hainan, and had been intercepted. Lieutenant Dunn's A-1 Skyraider was the last U.S. Navy A-1 lost in the war, and he did not survive.


During the 1950s, the Skyraider was the premier carrier based fighter bomber, with 29 USN and 13 USMC squadrons flying the aircraft.[10] The US Marine Corps began a gradual phase-out of its Skyraiders in 1956 and retired the last examples by the end of 1960.[11] The early 1960s also saw the USN phasing out its Skyraiders, replacing them with A-4 Skyhawks and A-6 Intruders. The Navy began to transfer some of these aircraft to the USAF for special operations beginning in 1962. But the war in Vietnam intervened to push the Skyraider back into front-line service with the Navy, and beginning in August, 1964, Navy Skyraiders were used to bomb North Vietnam and later to provide close air support in the South. During the war, U.S. Navy Skyraiders shot down two North Vietnamese Air Force MiG-17 jet fighters: On 20 June 1965, LT Clinton B. Johnson and LTJG Charles W. Hartman III from VFA-25 shared a MiG-17 air to air victory.[12] On 9 October 1966 LTJG William T. Patton[13] of Attack Squadron 176 (VA-176), engaged a MiG-17 with his four 20mm cannons, striking the aircraft in the tail end. Patton followed the MiG through a cloud and upon exiting the cloud observed the MiG pilot descending in his parachute.[8][14] The Navy continued to fly Skyraiders until the end of 1968, gradually transferring most of them to the USAF and VNAF. Following the U.S. withdrawal of its military forces from South Vietnam in 1972, all remaining A-1s, including those based in the U.S., were transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force.[15].

In 1965, to highlight the dropping of the six millionth pound of ordnance; Navy Commander Clarence J. Stoddard, flying an A-1H, dropped a special, one-time only, object in addition to his other munitions – a toilet.[16]


In 1963, USAF modified 150 Skyraiders into A-1Es for use by the 1st Air Commando Wing. USAF units began flying the Skyraider in Vietnam in 1964 and by the end of 1972, the last of the A-1s of the 1st Special Operations Squadron were turned over to the VNAF. In those eight years of operations, the Air Force used the Skyraider for a variety of missions. There were A-1 squadrons which flew exclusively at night to interdict truck traffic along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Other squadrons were supporting General Vang Pao and his loyalists in Laos. Army special operations were also supported by A-1s on priority missions.

The common bond between all A-1 squadrons was SAR , They were also used to perform one of the Skyraider's most famous roles: the "Sandy" helicopter escort on combat rescues.[17] USAF Major Bernard F. Fisher piloted an A-1E on the 10 March 1966 mission for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing Major "Jump" Myers at A Shau Special Forces Camp.[18] USAF Colonel William A. Jones, III piloted an A-1H on the September 1, 1968 mission for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. In that mission, despite damage to his aircraft and suffering serious burns, he returned to his base and reported the position of a downed US airman.[18]

The Skyraider had all the necessary assets; speed, ordnance carrying capability, communications, and the ability to withstand punishment. Since the A-1 was frequently operated near its maximum gross weight, its speed capability was not fast. There was a standing joke among Spad drivers. There was only one speed you had to remember- 120 knots. You took off at 120 knots, cruised at 120 knots, and landed at 120 knots. Weapons deliveries were planned at higher airspeeds, maybe as high as 250 knots, but after third or fourth pass, 120 knots worked for weapons delivery too.

The Sandy SAR load was perfect. It had ordnance such as CBU-25, HE 2.75 " rockets, and 20 mm to kill trucks and other light skinned vehicles. It had the highly accurate, high rate of fire SUU-11 mini-gun pod with 7.62 mm ammo. And it had specialized SAR ordnance such as the M-47 smoke bomb, CBU-22, and WP rockets.

The A-1 had three different radio capabilities. The UHF radio was used to communicate with the survivor and strike aircraft that had only UHF. The UHF also had an ADF (automatic direction finder) capability that was used to help pinpoint the location of the survivor on the ground. Additionally, the UHF Guard receiver had to be left on to avoid missing the inevitable bandit calls from the various GCI agencies covering the area. The VHF-AM radio was used to coordinate with command and control agencies, primarily King, the HC-130 that also served as an airborne tanker for the HH-53 Super Jolly Green rescue helicopters. Finally, the VHF-FM radio was used by the Sandys for inter-flight communications. It was quite normal for all three radios to be in use at the same time. It was normally the wingman's job to handle the coordination with King while Sandy Lead worked with the survivor.

With the total remaining A-1 assets in 1971-1972 residing in one operational USAF squadron, the SAR effort got first priority for several reasons. First and foremost, the absence of a viable and capable SAR force would have had a negative impact on the rest of the air operations in SEA. The prospect of getting shot down with no possibility of rescue was not a happy one. Certainly, the SAR force was not as robust with 20 A-1s as it was in the earlier days of the war when there were over 100 Skyraiders spread out over a half dozen squadrons. But the capability was there. One need look no further than the pickup of Capt Roger Locher near Yen Bai Airfield northwest of Hanoi to see this was true. A story on this mission was written in the August 1997 issue of Flight Magazine. The SAR for Bowleg 02 was another example of being able to go onto Hanoi's doorstep to retrieve downed aircrews. Another factor was the impact these SARs had on the enemy. Certainly, we did not get every downed airmen back home safely, but we got our fair share.

Another high priority mission during this final chapter in the Skyraider's SEA war experience was the support given to Gen Vang Pao in Laos. He had his headquarters at Long Tien with a landing strip (LS 20A) nearby. High to the north and east of LS20A was a large ridge of mountains called Skyline Ridge. These "Barrel Roll" missions were never dull, always unpredictable, and usually dangerous. The bulk of these missions were flown to northern Laos which was comprised of mountainous areas with limestone karst pinnacles and terrain elevations of at least 4,000 ft. There was seasonal drama here when the communist forces would wait for the rainy season to invade when US air power would be hampered by low ceilings and poor visibility. The A-1 was well suited to work this area including the infamous PDJ (Plaine des Jarres). This was a relatively level plateau in northern Laos that was about 15 nautical miles across from south to north, and 20 nautical miles wide from east to west.

Still another high priority mission for the 1st SOS in the final year was support of "special operations" in Laos. These were protecting the insertion and extraction of special teams in the border area. These missions could either be boring as hell or so busy that you wished you had another set of hands.

South Vietnamese Air Force

The A-1 Skyraider was the close air support workhorse of the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) for much of the Vietnam War. The US Navy began to transfer some of its Skyraiders to the VNAF in September 1960, replacing the VNAF’s older Grumman F8F Bearcats. By 1962 the VNAF had 22 of the aircraft in its inventory[19], and by 1968, an additional 131 aircraft had been received. Initially Navy aviators and crews were responsible for training their Vietnamese counterparts on the aircraft, but over time, responsibility was gradually transferred to the USAF.

The initial trainees were selected from among VNAF Bearcat pilots who had accumulated 800 to 1200 hours flying time. They were trained at Corpus Christi, Texas., and then sent to LeMoore, California for further training. Navy pilots and crews in Vietnam checked out the Skyraiders that were being transferred to the VNAF, and conducted courses for VNAF ground crews.[20]

Over the course of the war, the VNAF acquired a total of 308 Skyraiders, and was operating six A-1 squadrons by the end of 1965. These were reduced during the period of Vietnamization from 1968 to 1972, as the U.S. began to supply the South Vietnamese with more modern close air support aircraft, such as the A-37 and F-5, and at the beginning of 1968, only three of its squadrons were flying A-1s.[21]

As the U.S. ended its direct involvement in the war, it transferred the remainder of its Skyraiders to the South Vietnamese, and by 1973, all remaining Skyraiders in U.S. inventories had been turned over to the VNAF.[22] Unlike their American counterparts, whose combat tours were generally limited to 12 months, individual Vietnamese Skyraider pilots ran up many thousands of combat hours in the A-1, and many senior VNAF pilots were extremely skilled in the operation of the aircraft.[23]

French use

The French Air Force bought 20 ex-USN AD-4s as well as 88 ex-USN AD-4Ns and 5 ex-USN AD-4NAs with the former three-seaters modified as single-seat aircraft with removal of the radar equipment and the two operator stations from the rear fuselage. The AD-4N/NAs were initially acquired in 1956 to replace aging P-47 Thunderbolts in Algeria.[24] The Skyraiders were first ordered in 1956 and the first was handed over to the French Air Force on 6 February 1958 after being overhauled and fitted with some French equipment by Sud-Aviation. The aircraft were used until the end of the Algerian war. The aircraft were used by the 20e Escadre de Chasse (EC 1/20 "Aures Nementcha," EC 2/20 "Ouarsenis" and EC 3/20 "Oranie") and EC 21 in the close air support role armed with rockets, bombs and napalm.

The Skyraiders had only a short career in Algeria. But they nonetheless proved to be the most successful of all the ad hoc COIN aircraft deployed by the French. The Skyraider remained in limited French service until the 1970s.[24] They were heavily involved in the civil war in Chad, at first with the Armée de l'Air, and later with a nominally independent local air force staffed by French mercenaries. The aircraft also operated under the French flag in Djibouti and on the island of Madagascar. When France at last relinquished the Skyraiders it passed the survivors on to client states, including Gabon, Chad, Cambodia and the Central African Republic.[25](several aircraft from Gabon and Chad have been recovered recently by French warbird enthusiasts and entered on the French civil register).

The French frequently used the aft station to carry maintenance personnel, spare parts and supplies to forward bases. In Chad they even used the aft station for a "bombardier" and his "special stores" – empty beer bottles – as these were considered as non-lethal weapons, thus not breaking the government-imposed rules of engagement, during operations against Libyan-supported rebels in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


In addition to serving during Korea and Vietnam as an attack aircraft, the Skyraider was modified into a carrier-based airborne early warning aircraft, replacing the Grumman TBM-3W Avenger. It served in this function in the USN and Royal Navy, being replaced by the E-1 Tracer and Fairey Gannet respectively in those services.[6]


Production ended in 1957 with a total of 3,180 built. However, in 1962 the existing Skyraiders were redesignated A-1D through A-1J and later used by both the USAF and the Navy in the Vietnam War. Some of the 3,180 Skyraiders built were still in combat service in 1979.

The Skyraider went through seven versions, starting with the AD-1, then AD-2 and AD-3 with various minor improvements, then the AD-4 with a more powerful R-3350-26WA engine. The AD-5 was significantly widened, allowing two crew to sit side-by-side (this was not the first multiple-crew variant, the AD-1Q being a two-seater and the AD-3N a three-seater); it also came in a four-seat night-attack version, the AD-5N. The AD-6 was an improved AD-4B with improved low-level bombing equipment, and the final production version AD-7 was upgraded to a R-3350-26WB engine.

- XBT2D-1: Single-seat dive-bomber, torpedo-bomber prototype for the U.S. Navy.
- XBT2D-1N: Three-seat night attack prototypes, only three aircraft built.
- XBT2D-1P: Photographic reconnaissance prototype, only one built.
- XBT2D-1Q: Two-seat electronics countermeasures prototype. One aircraft only.
- BT2D-2 (XAD-2): Upgraded attack aircraft, one prototype only.
- AD-1: The first production model, 242 built.
- AD-1Q: Two-seat electronic countermeasures version of the AD-1, 35 built.
- AD-1U: AD-1 with radar countermeasures and tow target equipment, no armament and no water injection equipment.
- XAD-1W: Three-seat airborne early warning prototype. AD-3W prototype, one aircraft only.
- AD-2: Improved model, powered by 2,700 hp (2,000 kW) Wright R-3350-26W engine, 156 built.
- AD-2D: Unofficial designation for AD-2s used as remote-control aircraft, to collect and gather radioactive material in the air after nuclear tests.
- AD-2Q: Two-seat electronics countermeasures version of the AD-2, 21 built.
- AD-2QU: AD-2 with radar countermeasures and target towing equipment, no armament and no water injection equipment, one aircraft only.
- XAD-2: Similar to XBT2D-1 except engine, increased fuel capacity.
- AD-3: Proposed turboprop version, initial designation of A2D Skyshark.
- AD-3: Stronger fuselage, improved landing gear, new canopy design, 125 built.
- AD-3S: Anti-submarine warfare model, only two prototypes were built.
- AD-3N: Three-seat night attack version, 15 built.
- AD-3Q: Electronics countermeasures version, countermeasures equipment relocated for better crew comfort. 23 built.
- AD-3QU: Target towing aircraft, but most were delivered as the AD-3Q.
- AD-3W: Airborne early warning version, 31 built.
- XAD-3E: AD-3W modified for ASW with Aeroproducts propellor
- AD-4: Strengthened landing gear, improved radar, G-2 compass, anti-G suit provisions, four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and 14 Aero rocket launchers, capable of carrying up to 50 lb (23 kg) of bombs. 372 built.
- AD-4B: Specialized version designed to carry nuclear weapons, also armed with four 20 mm cannon. 165 built plus 28 conversions.
- AD-4L: Equipped for winter operations in Korea, 63 conversions.
- AD-4N: Three-seat night attack version, 307 built.
- AD-4NA: Designation of 100 AD-4Ns without their night-attack equipment, but fitted with four 20 mm (0.79 in) cannon, for service in Korea as ground-attack aircraft.
- AD-4NL: version of the AD-4N, 36 conversions.
- AD-4Q: Two-seat electronic countermeasures version of the AD-4, 39 built.
- AD-4W: Three-seat airborne early warning version, 168 built.
- Skyraider AEW. Mk 1: 50 AD-4Ws transferred to the Royal Navy.
- A-1E (AD-5): Side by side seating for pilot and co-pilot, without dive brakes, 212 built.
- A-1G (AD-5N) - Four-seat night attack version, with radar countermeasures, 239 built.
- EA-1F (AD-5Q) - Four-seat electronics countermeasures version, 54 conversions.
- AD-5S: One prototype to test Magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) anti-submarine equipment.
- EA-1E (AD-5W): Three-seat airborne early warning version.
- A-1H (AD-6) - Single-seat attack aircraft with three dive brakes, centerline station stressed for 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) of ordnances, 30 in (760 mm) in diameter, combination 14/30 in (360/760 mm) bomb ejector and low/high altitude bomb director, 713 built.
- A-1J (AD-7): The final production model, powered by a R3350-26WB engine, with structural improvements to increase wing fatigue life, 72 built.
- UA-1E: Utility version of the AD-5.


- Cambodia
- Central African Republic
- Chad
- France
- Gabon
- South Vietnam
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Vietnam


- A-1E (AF Serial No. 52-132649) is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft was originally a US Navy aircraft assigned Bureau Number (BuNo) 132649. Transferred to USAF, it was flown by Major Bernard Francis Fisher on 10 March 1966 when he rescued a fellow pilot shot down over South Vietnam in the midst of enemy troops, a deed for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The aircraft was severely damaged in combat in South Vietnam and was returned in 1967 for preservation by the Air Force Museum.[26] It is the only surviving Air Force Medal of Honor Aircraft.

- An A-1H, BuNo 135300, is on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, Florida. This aircraft is painted in the markings of attack squadron VA-25.

- An AD-1, BuNo 126882, is visiting the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, TX. This aircraft is painted in Vietnam colors and is in flying condition. The aircraft survived Hurricane Ike without damage as it was flown out before the storm.

- A vintage Skyraider owned by aircraft collector Claude Hendrickson, III, of Alabama was seized by U.S. officials in May 2009 shortly after the aircraft was imported from France. Officials indicate that Hendrickson had failed to execute certain paperwork during its importation and the Skyraider is currently impounded. [27]

- An airworthy AD-4N resides at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Valle, Arizona.

- An airworthy AD-4, Mark unknown, is owned by "The Fighter Factory" in Virginia Beach, VA. This was a "hanger queen" that went unflyable while assigned to NAS Atlanta around 1958 when NAS Atlanta was flying 4NAs and 5Qs. It was donated as PDK about 1959, to DeKalb County for static display when the field reverted to civilian control, sold and refurbished to flying status by the new owners, and later acquired by the current owner. The video is of a flight at the current location.[28]

- The AD-4N Skyraider, BuNo 127007, is on display in the hangar deck of the USS Yorktown (CV-10) at the Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, SC. It wears the markings of attack squadron VA-65, CVG-2, aboard Yorktown, 1953-54.

Popular culture

The A-1 Skyraider received various nicknames including: "Spad" and "Super Spad" (derived from the aircraft's AD designation, its relative longevity in service and an allusion to the "Spad" aircraft of World War I), "Able Dog" (phonetic AD), "the Destroyer", "Hobo" (radio call sign of the USAF 1st Air Commando/1st Special Operations Squadron), "Firefly" (a call sign of the 602nd ACS/SOS), "Zorro" (the call sign of the 22nd SOS), "The Big Gun," "Old Faithful," "Old Miscellaneous," "Fat Face" (AD-5/A-1E version, side-by-side seating), "Guppy" (AD-5W version), "Q-Bird" (AD-1Q/AD-5Q versions), "Flying Dumptruck" (A-1E), "Sandy" (the 602nd ACS/SOS call sign for Combat Search And Rescue helicopter escort), and "Crazy Water Buffalo" (South Vietnamese nickname).

While the Skyraider is not as iconic as some other aircraft, it has been featured in some Vietnam-era films such as The Green Berets (1968), Flight of the Intruder (1991) flying as Sandy escort, and in We Were Soldiers (2002) in the ground support role. The Skyraider also played a computer-generated role in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn (2007), retelling the story of Navy LT Dieter Dengler's escape from a prison camp in Laos. Dengler was shot down on his very first combat mission, and was captured by Pathet Lao troops after crash-landing.[29] Skyraiders were also featured in the classic Korean war movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1953). A formation of U.S. Navy A-1s stood in for U.S. Army Air Force P-47s in the 1962 film The Longest Day.

Specifications (A-1H Skyraider)

General characteristics

- Crew: One
- Length: 38 ft 10 in (11.84 m)
- Wingspan: 50 ft 0¼ in (15.25 m)
- Height: 15 ft 8¼ in (4.78 m)
- Wing area: 400.3 ft² (37.19 m²)
- Empty weight: 11,968 lb (5,429 kg)
- Loaded weight: 18,106 lb (8,213 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 25,000 lb (11,340 kg)
- Powerplant: 1x Wright R-3350-26WA radial engine, 2,700 hp (2,000 kW)


- Maximum speed: 322 mph (280 kn, 518 km/h) at 18,000 ft (5,500 m)
- Cruise speed: 198 mph (172 kn, 319 km/h)
- Range: 1,316 mi (1,144 nmi, 2,115 km)
- Service ceiling: 28,500 ft (8,685 m)
- Rate of climb: 2,850 ft/min (14.5 m/s)
- Wing loading: 45 lb/ft² (220 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (250 W/kg)


- Guns: 4 x 20 mm (0.79 in) M2 cannon
- Other: Up to 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) of ordnance on 15 external hardpoints including bombs, torpedoes, mine dispensers, unguided rockets, or gun pods

See also

- Ilyushin Il-10
- A-10 Thunderbolt II

Related development

- A2D Skyshark

Comparable aircraft

- A-4 Skyhawk
- A-37 Dragonfly
- T-28 Trojan
- Westland Wyvern
- AM Mauler



1. Burgess and Rausa 2009, p. 7.
2. Swanborough and Bowers 1976, p. 176.
3. Swanborough and Bowers 1976, p. 177.
4. Bridgeman and Hazard 1955, pp. 38–40.
5. Mersky 1983, p. 144.
6. a b c Johnson, E.R. "Able Dog." Aviation History, September 2008.
7. Faltum 1996, pp. 125–126.
8. a b Grossnick and Armstrong 1997
9. Air Clash off Hainan - South China Morning Post, 27 July 1954.
10. Johnson, E.R. "Able Dog: Was the AD Skyraider the Best Attack Bomber Ever Built?" Retrieved: 28 September 2009.
11. Skyraider retirement
12. Clinton Johnson. Skyraider vs Mig-17
13. Burgess and Rausa 2009, p. 67 (photo).
14. McCarthy 2009, p. 43.
15. "Rescue in Vietnam." National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 30 December 2007.
16. USS Midway
17. "Douglas A-1H and A-1J", National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 30 December 2007.
18. a b "Medal of Honor Citations: Vietnam War Medal of Honor Recipients (A-L)." U.S. Army Center of Military History, 16 July 2007. Retrieved: 23 December 2007.
19. Chinnery 1997, p. 95.
20. Denehan 1997, pp. 10–11.
21. Denehan 2007
22. NASM
23. Chinnery 1997, p. 96.
24. a b Francillion 1979, p. 403.
25. Francillion 1979, pp. 403–404.
26. United States Air Force Museum 1975
27. Birmingham News
28. "The Fighter Factory" AD-4.
29. Dengler, Escape from Laos
30. Francillion 1979, p. 405.


- Burgess, Richard R. and Rosario M. Rausa. US Navy A-1 Skyraider Units of the Vietnam War (Osprey #77). London: Osprey Publishing Limited, 2009. ISBN 978-1-84603-410-7.
- Bridgeman, William and Jacqueline Hazard. The Lonely Sky. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1955. ISBN 978-0-8107-9011-7.
- Chinnery, Philip D. Air Commando: Inside The Air Force Special Operations Command. London: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1997. ISBN 978-0312958817.
- Denehan, William, Major, USAF. From Crickets To Dragonflies: Training And Equipping The South Vietnamese Air Force 1955-1972. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air Command and Staff College, Air University, 1997.
- Dengler, Dieter. Escape from Laos. New York: Presidio Press, 1979. ISBN 0-89141-076-7.
- Drury, Richard S. My Secret War. Fallbrook, CA: Aero Publishing Inc., 1979. ISBN 978-0816868414.
- Faltum, Andrew. The Essex Aircraft Carriers. Baltimore, Maryland: The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1996. ISBN 1-877853-26-7.
- Francillion, René J. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920. London: Putnam, 1979. ISBN 0-370-00050-1.
- Grossnick, Roy A. and William J. Armstrong. United States Naval Aviation, 1910–1995. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Historical Center, 1997. ISBN 0-16-049124-X.
- Hobson, Chris. Vietnam Air Losses, USAF/USN/USMC, Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2001. ISBN 1-85780-115-6.
- McCarthy, Donald J. Jr. MiG Killers: A Chronology of US Air Victories in Vietnam 1965-1973. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-58007-136-9.
- Mersky, Peter B. U.S. Marine Corps Aviation: 1912 to the Present. Annapolis, Maryland: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1983. ISBN 0-933852-39-8.
- Model Airplane News, September 2008, Volume 136, Number 9; Cover and p. 38.
- Swanborough, Gordon and Peter M. Bowers. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. London: Putnam, Second edition 1976. ISBN 0-370-10054-9.
- United States Air Force Museum Guidebook. Wright-Patterson AFB Ohio: Air Force Museum Association, 1975.


Role - Fixed-wing gunship
Manufacturer - Douglas Aircraft Company
Introduced - 1965
Status - In service in Colombia
Primary users - United States Air Force
Vietnam Air Force
Royal Lao Air Force
Colombian Air Force
Number built - 53
Developed from - C-47 Skytrain

The Douglas AC-47 Spooky (also nicknamed "Puff, the Magic Dragon") was the first in a series of gunships developed by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. It was felt that more firepower than could be provided by light and medium ground-attack aircraft was needed in some situations when ground forces called for close air support.

Design and development

The AC-47 was a United States Air Force C-47 Skytrain (the military version of the DC-3) that had been modified by mounting three 7.62mm General Electric miniguns to fire through two rear window openings and the side cargo door, all on the left (pilot's) side of the aircraft. Other armament configurations could also be found on similar C-47 based aircraft around the world. The guns were actuated by a control on the pilot's yoke, where he could control the guns either individually or together, though gunners were also among the crew to assist with gun failures and similar issues. Its primary function was close air support for ground troops. It could orbit the target for hours providing suppressing fire. Coverage given by a Spooky was over an elliptical area approximately 52 yd (47.5 m) in diameter, placing a round every 2.4 yd (2.2 m) during a 3-second burst.

The plane carried 24,000 rounds of minigun ammunition and flares, which it could drop to light up the battleground.


The aircraft was vulnerable to ground fire due to the age of its airframe. Further gunship designs, the AC-119 gunship and the AC-130 gunship, were developed based on newer cargo airframes.

When the AC-47 was introduced there were no preceding designs to gauge how successful the concept would be. The USAF found itself in a precarious situation when requests for additional gunships began to come in. It simply did not have enough miniguns to fit additional aircraft after the first two conversions. The next four aircraft were equipped with ten .30 caliber AN/M2 machine guns. It was quickly discovered, however, that these weapons, using ammunition stocks from WWII and Korea, jammed easily, produced large amounts of gases from firing, and, even in ten-gun groups, could only provide the density of fire of a single minigun. All four of these aircraft were retrofitted to the standard armament configuration when additional miniguns arrived.

The AC-47 initially used SUU-11/A gun pods that were installed on locally fabricated mounts for the gunship application. Emerson Electric eventually developed the MXU-470/A to replace the gun pods, which were also used on subsequent gunships.

Operational history

United States Air Force

In August 1964, years of fixed wing gunship experimentation reached a new peak with Project Tailchaser under the direction of Capt. John C. Simons. This test involved the conversion of a single Convair C-131B to be capable of firing a single GAU-2/A Minigun at a downward angle out of the left side of the aircraft. It was discovered that even using crude grease pencil crosshairs it was very easy for a pilot flying in a pylon turn to hit a stationary area target with relative accuracy. Testing was conducted at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, by the Armament Development and Test Center (ADTC), but after initial testing was suspended by lack of funding. In 1964 Capt. Ron W. Terry returned from temporary duty in Vietnam as part of an Air Force Systems Command team reviewing all aspects of air operations in counter-insurgency warfare, where he had noted the usefulness of C-47s and C-123s orbiting as flare ships during night attacks on fortified hamlets. He received permission to conduct a live-fire test using the C-131 and revived the side-firing gunship program.

By October, a C-47D was provided by Capt. Terry's team under Project Gunship and converted to a similar standard as the Project Tailchaser aircraft, armed with three Miniguns. These were initially mounted on locally fabricated mounts, which essentially strapped gun pods intended for fixed wing aircraft (SUU-11/A) onto a mount allowing them to be fired remotely out the port side. Captain Terry and a testing team arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, on 2 December 1964, with equipment needed to modify two C-47s. The first test aircraft (43-48579, a C-47B-5-DK mail courier converted to C-47D standard by removal of its superchargers) was ready by 11 December, the second by 15 December, and both were allocated to the 1st Air Commando Squadron for combat testing. The newly-dubbed "FC-47" often operated under the radio call sign "Puff". Its primary mission involved protecting villages, hamlets and personnel from mass attacks by VC guerrilla units.

Puff's first significant success occurred on the night of 23-24 December 1964. An FC-47 arrived over the Special Forces outpost at Tranh Yend in the Mekong Delta just 37 minutes after an air support request, fired 4,500 rounds of ammunition, and broke the Viet Cong attack. The FC-47 was then called to support a second outpost at Trung Hung, about 20 miles away. The aircraft again blunted the VC attack, forcing a retreat. Between 15 and 26 December the FC-47s flew 16 combat sorties, all successful. On 8 February 1965, an FC-47 flying over the Bong Son area of Vietnam’s Central Highlands demonstrated its capabilities in the process of blunting a Vietcong offensive. For over four hours, it fired 20,500 rounds into a Viet Cong hilltop position, killing an estimated 300 Vietcong troops.

So successful were the early gunship trials that the second aircraft was returned to the United States early in 1965 to provide crew training. In July 1965, Headquarters USAF ordered TAC to establish an AC-47 squadron. By November 1965, a total of 5 aircraft were operating with the 4th Air Commando Squadron, activated in August as the first operational unit, and by the end of 1965, a total of 26 had been converted. Training Detachment 8, 1st Air Commando Wing, was subsequently established at Forbes AFB, Kansas. In Operation Big Shoot, the 4th ACS in Vietnam grew to 20 AC-47s (16 aircraft plus four reserves for attrition).

The 4th ACS deployed to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam, on 14 November 1965. Now using the call sign "Spooky", each of its three 7.62 mm miniguns could selectively fire either 50 or 100 rounds per second. Cruising in an overhead left-hand orbit at 120 knots air speed at an altitude of 3,000 feet, the gunship could put a high explosive or glowing red incendiary bullet into every square yard of a football field-sized target in three seconds. And, as long as its 45-flare and 24,000-round basic load of ammunition held out, it could do this intermittently while loitering over the target for hours.

In May 1966, the squadron moved north to Nha Trang Air Base to join the newly-activated 14th Air Commando Wing. The 3rd Air Commando Squadron was activated at Nha Trang on 5 April 1968 as a second AC-47 squadron, with both squadrons redesignated special operations squadrons on 1 August 1968. Flights of both squadrons were stationed at bases throughout South Vietnam, and one flight of the 4th SOS served at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base with the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. The superb work of the two AC-47 squadrons, each with 16 AC-47s flown by aircrews younger than the aircraft they flew, was undoubtedly a key contributor to the award of the Presidential Unit Citation to the 14th Air Commando Wing in June 1968.
MXU-470/A Minigun modules in an AC-47.

One of the most publicized battles of the Vietnam War was the siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968, known as "Operation Niagra." More than 24,000 tactical and 2700 B-52 strike dropped 110,000 tons of ordnance in attacks that averaged over 300 sorties per day. During the two and one-half months of combat in that tiny area, fighters were in the air day and night. At night, AC-47 gunships kept up a constant chatter of fire against enemy troops. During darkness, AC-47 gunships provided illumination against enemy troops.

The AC-47D gunship should not be confused with a small number of C-47s which were fitted with electronic equipment in the 1950s. Prior to 1962, these aircraft were designated AC-47D. When a new designation system was adopted in 1962, these became EC-47Ds. The original gunships had been designated FC-47D by the United States Air Force, but with protests from fighter pilots, this designation was changed to AC-47D during 1965. Of the 53 aircraft converted to AC-47 configuration, 41 served in Vietnam and 19 were lost to all causes, 12 in combat.[1] Combat reports indicate that no village or hamlet under Spooky Squadron protection were ever lost, and there are a plethora of reports from civilians and military personnel about AC-47s coming to the rescue and saving their very lives.

As the United States began Project Gunship II and Project Gunship III, many of the remaining AC-47Ds were transferred to the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF), the Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF), and to Cambodia, after Prince Sihanouk was deposed in a coup by General Lon Nol.

A1C John L. Levitow, an AC-47 loadmaster with the 3rd SOS, received the Medal of Honor for saving his aircraft, Spooky 71, from destruction on 24 February 1969 during a fire support mission at Long Binh. The plane was struck by an 82mm mortar round that inflicted 3,500 shrapnel holes, wounding Levitow 40 times, but he used his body to jettison an ignited magnesium flare, allowing the AC-47 to successfully return to base.

Other air forces

Retrofitted AC-47s are still in use in Colombia, where they are known by civilians as Avion fantasma (ghost planes). They are successfully operated by the local airforce in COIN operations in conjunction with AH-60 Arpia helicopters (an armed variant of the UH-60) and A-37 Dragonflys against local illegal armed groups. These are most likely the five BT-67s purchased by Colombia with .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns (of unknown type) slaved to a Forward Looking Infrared (or FLIR) system.[2] The BT-67 is a variant of the C-47/DC-3 made by the Basler Corporation of Oshkosh, WI. These "Turbo Dakotas" feature Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67R turboprops, driving five-bladed Hartzell propellers, along with essentially overhauling the basic airframe.

In late 1984–85, the United States supplied two AC-47 gunships to the El Salvador Air Force (FAS) and trained aircrews to operate the system. The AC-47 gunship carried three .50-caliber machine guns and could loiter and provide heavy firepower for army operations. As the FAS had long operated C-47s, it was easy for the United States to train pilots and crew to operate the aircraft as a weapons platform. By all accounts, the AC-47 soon became probably the most effective weapon in the FAS arsenal.

Variants of the AC-47 based on various iterations of the airframe including the BT-67, have been used by Laos, Cambodia, South Africa, El Salvadorand Rhodesia, to name just a few, and with a variety of weapons configurations including Gatling guns of numerous types, various medium and heavy machine guns, and larger autocannon (South African "Dragon Daks" were known to fit 20 mm cannons).


Current Operators


- Colombian Air Force

El Salvador

- Air Force of El Salvador

Former Operators


- Royal Cambodian Air Force


- Royal Lao Air Force


- Rhodesian Air Force operated locally built gunship modification of C-47 aircraft.

South Africa

- South African Air Force

South Vietnam

- Vietnam Air Force

United States

- United States Air Force


- Royal Thai Air Force

Specifications (AC-47)

General characteristics

- Crew: 8: pilot, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, loadmaster, 2 gunners and a South Vietnamese observer
- Length: 64 ft 5 in (19.6 m)
- Wingspan: 95 ft 0 in (28.9 m)
- Height: 16 ft 11 in (5.2 m)
- Wing area: 987 ft² (91.7 m²)
- Empty weight: 18,080 lb (8,200 kg)
- Loaded weight: 33,000 lb (14,900 kg)
- Powerplant: 2x Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW) each


- Maximum speed: 200 kn (230 mph, 375 km/h)
- Cruise speed: 150 kn (175 mph, 280 km/h)
- Range: 1,890 nmi (2,175 mi, 3,500 km)
- Service ceiling: 24,450 ft (7,450 m)
- Rate of climb: ft/min (m/s)
- Wing loading: 33.4 lb/ft² (162.5 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (240 W/kg)


- Guns:
- 3x 7.62 mm General Electric GAU-2/M134 miniguns, 2,000 rpg or
- 10x .30 in Browning AN/M2 machine guns
- 48 x Mk 24 flares

In popular culture

German Thrash metal band Sodom's 1989 album Agent Orange, revolving largely around Vietnam War themes, features a track named "Magic Dragon". The album's cover art drawing also depicts the gunner of an AC-47 in action.

The development and early deployment of the AC-47 is the subject of The Gooney Bird by William C. Anderson. Anderson went to Viet Nam to research this novel, which features a fiction story written around a number of historical facts.

In the film The Green Berets an AC-47 strike enables the American and South Vietnamese forces to retake their firebase, after losing it in an all-night battle.

Related development

- C-47 Skytrain
- Douglas DC-3

Comparable aircraft

- AC-119 gunship
- Lockheed AC-130


1. Hobson, Chris. Vietnam Air Losses, USAF/USN/USMC, Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia 1961-1973. 2001. ISBN 1-85780-1156
2. [ Colombia: Seguridad & Defensa


Role - Seaplane fighter
Manufacturer - Convair
First flight - 14 January 1953
Retired - 1957
Status - Cancelled, museum storage
Primary user - United States Navy
Number built - 5

The Convair F2Y Sea Dart was a unique American seaplane fighter aircraft that rode on twin hydro-skis for takeoff. It only flew as a prototype, and never entered production, but it is still the only seaplane to exceed the speed of sound.


The Sea Dart began as Convair's entry to a 1948 U.S. Navy contest for a supersonic interceptor aircraft. There was at the time much skepticism about operating supersonic aircraft from aircraft carrier decks, which explains why the U.S. Navy ordered so many subsonic fighters at that time. The worry had some foundation, since many supersonic designs of the time required long takeoff rolls and had high approach speeds, and were not very stable or easy to control - all factors that were troublesome on a carrier.

Convair's proposal gained an order for two prototypes in late 1951. Twelve production aircraft were ordered before a prototype had even flown. No armament was ever fitted to any Sea Dart built, but the plan was to arm the production aircraft with four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and a battery of folding-fin unguided rockets.[1] Four of this order were redesignated as service test vehicles, and an additional eight production aircraft were soon ordered as well.


The aircraft was to be a delta-winged fighter with a watertight hull with twin retractable hydro-skis for takeoff and landing. When stationary or moving slowly in the water, the Sea Dart floated with the trailing edge of the wings touching the water. The skis were not extended until the aircraft reached about 10 mph (16 km/h) during its takeoff run.

Power was to be a pair of afterburning Westinghouse XJ46-WE-02 turbojets, fed from intakes mounted high above the wings to avoid ingesting spray. These engines were not ready for the prototypes and twin Westinghouse J34-WE-32 engines of just over half the power were installed.

Ski configurations

The sole remaining prototype was fitted with an experimental single-ski configuration which proved to be more successful, while the second service test aircraft trialled (unsuccessfully) a new twin-ski design. Testing with several other experimental ski configurations continued with the prototype through 1957, after which it was placed into storage.

The US was not the only country to consider the hydroski. The Saunders-Roe company of the United Kingdom, who had already built an experimental flying-boat jet fighter, tendered a design for a ski equipped fighter but little came of it.

Submarine carriage

In the 1950s, the US Navy considered the internal arrangements of a submarine that could carry three of these aircraft. Stored in pressure chambers that would not protrude from the hull, they would be raised by a portside elevator just abaft the conning tower (or sail) and set to take off on their own on a smooth sea but catapulted aft in a higher sea. The program only reached the "writing on a napkin" stage, for two problems were not addressed: the hole for the elevator would have seriously weakened the hull and the load of a laden elevator would also be difficult to transmit to the hull structure.[2]

Operational history

The aircraft were built in Convair's San Diego facility at Lindbergh Field and was taken to San Diego Bay for testing. On 14 January 1953, the aircraft with E. D. "Sam" Shannon at the controls, inadvertently made its first short flight during what was supposed to be a fast taxi run; its official maiden flight was on 9 April.
An XF2Y-1 in flight.

The underpowered engines made the fighter sluggish, and the hydro-skis were not as successful as hoped; they created violent vibration during takeoff and landing, despite the shock-absorbing oleo legs they were extended on. Work on the skis and oleo legs improved this situation somewhat, but they could not cure the sluggish performance. The Sea Dart proved incapable of supersonic speed in level flight with the J34 engines; not helping was its pre-area rule shape, which meant higher transonic drag.

The second prototype was cancelled, so the first service test aircraft was next to build and fly. This one was fitted with the J46 engines, which performed below specification. However, speeds in excess of Mach 1 were attained in a shallow dive with this aircraft, making it the only supersonic seaplane to date. This aircraft disintegrated in mid-air during a demonstration to Navy officials and the press, killing Convair test pilot, Charles E. Richbourg.

Even before that, the Navy had been losing interest (problems with supersonic fighters on carrier decks having been overcome) and the crash relegated the Sea Dart program to experimental status. All production aircraft were cancelled, though the remaining three service test examples were completed. The two final prototypes never flew.


Oddly, even though it was long out of service by that time, the Sea Dart was assigned the designation F-7 under the 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system.


United States

- United States Navy


All four remaining Sea Darts survive to this day. The prototype is awaiting restoration for the Smithsonian Institution, and is in bad shape. The others are at the San Diego Aerospace Museum, the Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and at the Lakeland, Florida airport.
Specifications (F2Y-1)

General characteristics

- Crew: 1
- Length: 52 ft 7 in (16 m)
- Wingspan: 33 ft 8 in (10.3 m)
- Height: 16 ft 2 in (4.9 m)
- Wing area: 568 ft² (53 m²)
- Empty weight: 12,625 lb (5,730 kg)
- Loaded weight: 16,500 lb (7,480 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 21,500 lb (9,750 kg)
- Powerplant: 2x Westinghouse J46-WE-2 {testbed: J43-WE-32 w/ 3,400 lbf each.[3]} turbojets, 6,100.[4] lbf (27 kN) each

Performance (estimated[5])

- Maximum speed: 825 mph (1,325 km/h)
- Range: 513 mi (446 nm, 826 km)
- Service ceiling: 54,800 ft (16,700 m)
- Rate of climb: 17,100 ft/min (86.7 m/s)
- Wing loading: 29.0 lb/ft² (142 kg/m²)
- Thrust/weight: 1.45Armament (planned)

- Guns: 4 x 20 mm (0.79 in) cannon
- Rockets: Unguided rockets
- Missiles: 2 x air-to-air missiles

Related development

- Convair XF-92

Comparable aircraft

- Saunders-Roe SR.A/1


1. Winchester 2005, p. 105.
2. Friedman, Norman. U.S. Submarines Since 1945: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. ISBN 1-55750-263-3.
3. Jones 1975, p. 320.
4. Jones 1975, p. 321.
5. Winchester 2005, p. 104.


- Jones, Lloyd S. U.S. Fighters: Army-Air Force 1925 to 1980s. Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers Inc., 1975. ISBN 0-8168-9200-0.
- Winchester, Jim. The World's Worst Aircraft: From Pioneering Failures to Multimillion Dollar Disasters. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2005. ISBN 1-904687-34-2.

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Source: WikiPedia

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