Douglas A-3 Skywarrior

TypeStrategic bomber
Country of originUnited States
ManufacturerDouglas Aircraft Company
First flight28 October 1952
Numbers built282
Unit costsData is not available
Max speedMaximum speed: 530 knots (610 mph, 982 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,050 m)
Cruise speed: 452 knots (520 mph, 837 km/h)
Max rangeRange: 1,826 nmi (2,100 mi, 3,380 km)
Service ceiling: 41,000 ft (12,495 m)
DimensionsLength: 76 ft 4 in (23.27 m)
Wingspan: 72 ft 6 in (22.10 m)
Height: 22 ft 9½ in (6.95 m)
Wing area: 812 ft² (75.4 m²)
WeightEmpty weight: 39,409 lb (17,876 kg)
Loaded weight: 70,000 lb (31,750 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 82,000 lb (37,195 kg)
Powerplant2 x Pratt & Whitney J57-P-10 turbojet, 10,500 lbf (46.7 kN) dry (12,400 lbf (55.3 kN with water injection)) each
ArmamentGuns: 2x 20 mm (0.79 in) M3L cannon in the tail turret

12,800 pounds (5,800 kg) of free-fall bombs or mines, including any combination of
12x 500 pounds (230 kg) Mark 82 bombs or
6x 1,000 pounds (450 kg) Mark 83 bombs or
8x 1,600 pounds (730 kg) armor-piercing bombs or
4x 2,000 pounds (910 kg) bombs
1x free-fall nuclear weapon
OperatorsUnited States (Retired)

The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior was a tactical air reconnaissance, an electronic warfare, and a high capacity aerial refueling tanker, which was designed and developed by Douglas Aircraft Company in 1950s. The aircraft was initially designed as a strategic bomber to serve with the United States Navy but later the tasks for A-3 were changed. It was also known as the heaviest aircraft to operate from an aircraft carrier and it was one of the longest serving carrier-based military jet aircraft in history.

The U.S. Navy used the Skywarriors heavily for performing bombing and mine-laying role throughout Vietnam War for around two years. Later, the Skywarriors were operated to conduct photographic reconnaissance, electronic warfare and air tanker roles.

During the war, some variants were created for multi-mission tanker such as the EKA-3B and EKA-3B tankers.  An electronic warfare variant was also developed so the EKA-3B could also jam enemy’s radar before refueling tactical aircraft.

The Development of A-3 Skywarrior

The development of A-3 Skywarrior was actually commenced in the early stage of the World War II. The U.S. Navy desired a jet-poweredcarrier-based aircraft. After the war, the U.S. Navy also wanted a strategic bomber to operate from its aircraft carriers.

A requirement for developing a long-range, carrier-based attack aircraft that could bring a 10,000 lb (4,536 kg) bomb load or a nuclear weapon was issued in January 1948. Douglas Aircraft Company won the contract in September 1949 resulting in the development of the A-3 Skywarrior. The first prototype, designated XA3D-1 took its maiden flight on 28 October 1952.

However, since there were some problems with the design, mostly on the original engines, the introduction of the Skywarrior was delayed until 1956. The Skywarrior was alos called The Whale referring to its cumbersome size and without a doubt, the A-3 was the largest and heaviest aircraft designed to operate from an aircraft carrier. The production lasted until 1962.

The Design of A-3 Skywarrior

The A-3 Skywarrior was a twin-engined strategic bomber featured a 36° degree swept wing which could be folded outboard of the engines and its stabilizers could be hinged to starboard. The aircraft was powered by two Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engines. The engines located under wing nacelles. The aircraft featured conventional semi-monocoque fuselage. The aircraft’s large internal fuel tanks allowed the plane to have a long-range.

The A-3 was manned by three crews: pilot, bombardier/navigator (BN) and crewman/navigator (also called third crewman). The third crewman also took the task as a gunner for the twin tail-mounted 20mm cannons.

The electronic-counter measures variant could accommodate seven crews: a pilot, co-pilot and navigator plus four electronic systems operators sitting in the former bomb bay in the large fuselage.

Unfortunately, the Skywarrior had no ejection seat for its crew as an effort to reduce its weight. No wonder the aircraft was also jokingly designated A3D means All Three Dead.

The Variants of A-3 Skywarrior

Following are some variants of Skywarrior:

  • XA3D-1: Two prototypes with Westinghouse J40 turbojets, no cannon in tail turret.
  • YA3D-1 (YA-3A): One pre-production prototype with Pratt & Whitney J57 engines.
  • A3D-1 (A-3A): 49 initial production versions, serving extensively in developmental role in carrier service.
  • A3D-1P (RA-3A): One A3D-1 converted as a prototype for the A3D-2P with camera pack in the weapon bay.
  • A3D-1Q (EA-3A): Five A3D-1s changed for the electronic reconnaissance (ELINT) role, with ECM equipment and four operators in weapons bay.
  • A3D-2 (A-3B): Definitive production bomber version, with stronger airframe, more powerful engines.
  • A3D-2P (RA-3B): 30 photo-reconnaissance aircraft with weapons bay package for up to 12 cameras plus photoflash bombs.
  • A3D-2Q (EA-3B): 24 electronic warfare versions with pressurized compartment in former weapon bay for one Electronic Warfare Officer and three ESM operators, various sensors. This was the longest serving version of the “Whale” and the most widely known throughout the fleet.
  • A3D-2T (TA-3B): 12 bomber-trainer versions. Five later converted as VIP transports (two redesignated UTA-3B).
  • KA-3B: 85 A-3B bombers refitted in 1967 for the tanker role with probe-and-drogue system in place of bombing equipment.
  • EKA-3B: 34 KA-3B tankers refitted for dual Electronic countermeasures (ECM)/tanker role, with electronic warfare equipment and tail fairing in place of rear turret.
  • ERA-3B: Eight RA-3Bs converted as electronic aggressor aircraft mainly for war-at sea exercises with ECM in new extended tail cone.
  • NRA-3B: Six RA-3Bs converted for various non-combat test purposes.
  • VA-3B: Two EA-3B converted as VIP transports.

Douglas A-3 Skywarrior videos

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