Sunday, November 8, 2015

Military history, frozen in time

The Douglas A-1 Skyraider was first test flown during World War II, and remained on active duty until 1972 - a 27 year run.  What makes this run astonishing is that it was a propeller driven anachronism in a jet age.

Image via Wikipedia
Propeller?  Check.  Radial, piston engine?  Check.  Maximum speed a little over 300 MPH?  Check.  Straight wings?  Check.  The design was so outdated that it was called the "Spad", after the World War I fighter plane.

But it was superbly suited to a ground attack role.  It was long range (over 1,300 miles) which gave it a very long loiter time over target.  It had seven hard points on each wing and could carry up to 8,000 lbs of bombs, torpedoes, mines, or rockets (by way of reference, the B-17 Flying Fortress was rated at 8,000 lbs of bombs).  It sported extra armor which made it famous for its toughness and ability to shrug off enemy fire.

And so it kept flying sortie after sortie, because it took decades to come up with a better design to replace it.  It's comparable with the A-10, which the Air Force has wanted to kill for 20 years but which is so superbly adapted to its mission that any replacement would be a step backwards.

And it had enough air-to-air capability to shoot down several MiG-17s over Vietnam.

There is a beauty is a design that is extraordinarily well suited for the intended use, where extreme practicality assumes an esthetic all its own.  The A-1 had that in spades.  Or, well, in spads.

1 comment:

drjim said...

Another genius design from the fertile mind of Ed Heinemann!