During the Korean War, Skyraiders served in Navy and Marine squadrons. The ability of the Skyraider to take off with extremely heavy ordnance loads, coupled with its deadly accuracy in dive bomb delivery and its rugged construction, including armor plate on the AD-4s made it a much admired and effective weapons system. Accolades from combat crews such as "the best and most effective close-support aircraft in the world" and the "the most versatile, single-engine aircraft ever to go into service" were common.
In 1962 the Air Force acquired 150 A-1Es (AD-5) and A-1Js (AD-7) for their own use. These aircraft proved invaluable as fire suppression escorts for the famed "Jolly Green Giant" H-53 helicopters that affected numerous heroic rescues of downed aircrews. In addition to its fire suppression role, the A-1s were often called on to aid in the defense of threatened outposts. Because of its ability to go in "low and slow", a dangerous maneuver requiring cast iron courage from the aircrews, the A-1 was unequalled at the tasks to which it was assigned.
In 1943 the U. S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics decided to abandon the long-standing policy of procuring multi-seat aircraft as dive-bombers and torpedo-bombers and to combine the two missions into a single type of single-piloted aircraft. In response to solicitations for a design that met Navy requirements, Douglas developed the BTD-1, but it never became operational. In late 1943 the Navy then placed orders for prototypes of the Curtiss XBTC-1, the Kaiser-Fleetwing SBTK-1, and the Martin XBTM-1, all of which were single-piloted aircraft capable of dive bombing and torpedo delivery.
In early July 1944, the Douglas Company submitted a proposal for a design that was created in a Washington hotel room by a team that included the Chief Engineer, Ed Heineman, Chief designer Leo Devlin, and Chief Aerodynamicist Gene Root. Bureau of Aeronautics representatives were so impressed by the design that they awarded Douglas a contract provided the Douglas could guarantee to deliver prototypes at the same time as those ordered 6 months previously.
On March 18, 1945, almost four months ahead of schedule, the first XBT2D-1 made its first flight and on April 7 the aircraft was transferred to the Navy Proving Ground at Patuxent River, Maryland. The test pilots found the aircraft to be superior to any dive-bomber evaluated.
On May 5, 1945 the aircraft was ordered into production. Because the Navy had overhauled its aircraft designation system, it was designated as the AD-1 and named the Skyraider. Subsequently 3,180 Skyraiders were built in eight major models and 37 versions over a span of 12 years, ending in September of 1957.
The eight major models were the XBT2D, and AD-1s, through 7s. Each of the models was delivered in several modifications. As a consequence the AD served in its original role as a dive-bomber and as an Electronic Warfare Sensor Platform, as an Early Warning Radar System, as a target-towing vehicle, as a search and rescue aircraft, and as a nuclear delivery system. Initially placed into service with the U. S. Navy, it served in the U. S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Air Force, the Vietnamese Air Force, the French Air Force, the Air Arm of the British Royal Navy, the Kingdom of Cambodia, Chad, and the Central African Republic.
Shortly after the first AD-1s were ordered, the VJ Day accord was signed ending the Second World War and AD production was severely curtailed. However, the aircraft did remain in production and new models were developed to improve on the capabilities of the AD-1 and to take advantage of the development of the R-3350 engine that led to ever more horsepower available. By 1950 the AD-4 was in production. More AD-4s were built (372) than any other model. On May 21, 1953, and AD-4B operating from Naval Air Station Dallas set a new weight-lifting record 6,791 kg. (14,941lb.) that exceeded the aircraft empty weight of 5,363 kg (11,798 lb.).
During the Korean War, Skyraiders serving in Navy and Marine squadrons were instrumental in conducting close air support missions by the marines and interdiction of North Korean resupply efforts of the North Korean Army. The ability of the Skyraider to take off with extremely heavy ordnance loads, coupled with its deadly accuracy in dive bomb delivery and its rugged construction, including armor plate on the AD-4s made it a much admired and effective weapons system. Accolades from combat crews such as "the best and most effective close-support aircraft in the world" and the "the most versatile, single-engine aircraft ever to go into service" were common. The latter comment referred to the AD-5 that was a radical departure from previous and subsequent models. It featured a wide fuselage with side-by-side seating and room for additional crewmembers behind the pilots resulted in an extremely versatile combat aircraft since there was room for system operators for several missions, including electronic countermeasures and early warning.
By 1964 the U. S. Marines had long since converted all of their tactical squadrons to the A-4 Skyhawk. The Navy continued to operate Skyraiders that, in 1962 as a result of Department of Defense overhaul of aircraft designations, were now designated as A-1s. The AD-5s became A-1Es, the AD-6s became A-1Hs, and the AD-7s became A-1Js. While serving in Navy Attack Squadron 145 (VA-145), aboard the USS Constellation, A-1Hs (AD-6) participated in Operation Pierce Arrow, the retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam for the attack on the USS Turner Joy and USS Maddox in the Tonkin Gulf. In the course of this operation the first U.S. Navy pilot to be killed in the Vietnam War was shot down. Lt. Alvarez, also an A-1H pilot, was shot down and captured. He is considered to be the longest-serving prisoner of war from the Vietnam War. The NASM A-1 was a part of the operation and was flown during operation Pierce Arrow by Commander Samuel Caterlin, USN, Operations Officer of VA-145.
Earlier in 1960, the Vietnamese Air force (VNAF) began operating A-1Es and A-1Hs, supplied by the U. S. Navy. Ultimately the responsibility to support and train the VNAF was transferred to the U. S. Air Force. In 1962 the Air Force acquired 150 A-1Es (AD-5) and A-1Js (AD-7) for their own use. These aircraft proved invaluable as fire suppression escorts for the famed "Jolly Green Giant" H-53 helicopters that affected numerous heroic rescues of downed aircrews. During the Vietnam War it was a tradition that no crew member of any "Jolly Green" or the crews of the fire suppression aircraft would ever be allowed to spend their own money in any bar when aircrews of other aircraft, regardless of service, were present. On March 10, 1966, Major Bernard F. Fisher, USAF landed his A-1E (AD-5) on the airstrip at A Shau to rescue a downed pilot. In the course of the action Maj. Fisher landed under withering fire, taxied the length of the debris-strewn runway, was hit over nineteen times and affected the rescue of the downed pilot. For his heroism, Maj. Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In addition to its fire suppression role, the A-1s were often called on to aid in the defense of threatened outposts. Because of its ability to go in "low and slow", a dangerous maneuver requiring cast iron courage from the aircrews, the A-1 was unequalled at the tasks to which it was assigned.
By 1973, all of the A-1s were turned over to the VNAF. Shortly thereafter, on April 30, 1975 the South Vietnamese surrendered and most of the remaining A-1s were destroyed, thereby ending the combat career of this remarkable aircraft. Four of them, however, were flown out of Vietnam to Royal Takhli Air Force Base in Thailand. From there Mr. David C. Tallichet, President of Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation (Yesterday's Air Force), located them. Through a bewildering series of negotiations he was able to get agreement from the U. S. Air Force and the Government of Thailand to take possession of the fourA-1s and transport them to Long Beach, California where his organization restored them to a flying condition. On May 2, 1982, A-1H (AD-6) Bu. No. 135332 was transferred to the National Air and Space museum in exchange for a C-123K S/N 54-683 that had been acquired from the U. S. Air Force. Mr. Tallichet flew the aircraft from Long Beach, California to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland from April 30 to May 2, 1982.