The "Whale": The A-3 Skywarrior (Dec 1964)

The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior entered service with the US Navy in March 1956 and was originally designated the A3D and was known to many as the ‘Whale’ due to its size. It was also referred to as ‘All Three Dead’ which derived from its original designation and was so called due to its lack of ejection seats, a nickname that was unfortunately all too apt on many occasions. The Skywarrior was built in two basic models (the A-3A and A-3B) but nine more sub-variants were either built or converted from the original models. The aircraft was originally designed as a carrier-borne nuclear strike aircraft but also served in the roles of conventional bomber, photographic and electronic reconnaissance, tanker, electric counter-measures, radar/navigation trainer, and VIP transport. The Skywarrior served throughout the war in Southeast Asia during which 20 aircraft were lost, consisting of six A-3B bombers, five RA-3B reconnaissance aircraft, five KA-3B tankers, and four EKA-3B tanker/EW aircraft. The Skywarrior was rarely used as a bomber after 1967 but the tankers flew throughout the war and saved many aircraft, some returning with damage, which would otherwise have run out of fuel and crashed into the sea. The multi-mission EKA-3B aircraft retained the tanker capability but were also used in the stand-off jamming role to help protect the strike force during attacks on targets in North Vietnam. The Navy retired its last Skywarriors in September 1991, it 35-year long career testimony to its ruggedness and usefulness.