Douglas A-1 Skyraider
The Douglas Skyraider is an American single-seat attack aircraft that was in service between the late 1940s and early 1980s, boasting a remarkably long and successful career in the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and foreign military services.
The Douglas Skyraider was designed by Ed Heinemann of the Douglas Aircraft Company towards the end of the Second World War, with the aim of meeting US demands for a carrier-based, single-seat, long-range and high-performance dive-torpedo bomber. The Douglas Skyraider was renowned for its low-speed manoeuvrability and its aptitude for carrying a large amount of ordinance over an extensive combat distance. Whilst its design and production did not allow for use during the Second World War, the Douglas Skyraider became the backbone of US efforts in the Korean War (1950-1953) and in the Vietnam War (1955-1975). By the end of the Douglas Skyraider’s production life, seven versions were manufactured, with a total of 3,180 aircraft built.
The wreck of a Douglas A-1 Skyraider is located off the southern coast of Malta, resting upright on the seabed at a depth of 96m. This particular aircraft can be identified as the Douglas A-1 Skyraider, serial code 09236, that was piloted by Lt Robert HL Reeb. This Skyraider was one of four aircraft tasked with mail duties between the Ħal Far airfield and the aircraft carrier USS Midway. The aircraft carrier was commissioned a week after the end of the Second World War, and was the largest ship in the world until 1955. In October 1947, the USS Midway was on her first annual deployment with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. In December 1947, Lt Reeb’s Skyraider suffered a total engine failure, only minutes after taking off from Ħal Far, and attempts at restarting the engine were not successful. The aircraft struck the sea at an angle with wheels and flaps up and at a speed of 75 to 90 knots. The pilot left the cockpit and used the emergency dinghy. The Skyraider remained afloat for approximately a minute and half, before sinking beneath the surface. Lt Reeb was rescued by a Sikorsky HO35 Dragonfly Helicopter, dispatched from the USS Midway, and also the first documented helicopter rescue in the Mediterranean.
The Douglas A-1 Skyraider can be considered a propeller-driven anachronism in the jet age, applauded for its reliability and excellence in ground-attack warfare. The Skyraider was actually the last propeller-driven aircraft purchased by the United States Navy. At it’s time, it was the world’s most powerful and largest propeller-driven single-seat combat aircraft. The four-bladed constant-speed propeller had a diameter of 4.12 metres.
The cockpit of the Skyraider was said to allow an excellent field of view, sliding back to open, with no ejection seat. One of the main features of the cockpit is its armour plating, providing protection to the pilot and allowing the aircraft to take hits and keep flying.