World War II Skyraider ĎJack Of All Tradesí
Story By SP4 David C. Drew
IN AN AGE of jet propelled machinery, an airplane called the A-1 Skyraider could be imagined as one of the fastest of the new jets.
However, the Skyraider is far from a supersonic plane of the sixties. The A-1 is an old propeller driven fighter that was first flown by the U.S. Navy in 1945 and used for electronic surveillance and reconnaissance.
Based at the Pleiku Air Base, the 6th Special Operations Squadron (6th SOS) Is the only American-manned Skyraider squadron stationed in Vietnam. The Ivymen of the 4th Division can be thankful that the Central Highlands is the "Home of the Spads".
The A-1 Skyraider appeared in Vietnam in the Spring of 1964 and moved Into Pleiku in 1966. Their duty since arrival has been to fly every conceivable mission, day and night air strikes for interdiction and close support; leaflet drops for the psychological warfare effort, air cover for helicopter assaults and rescue operations; forward air controlling; escort for defoliation and road convoys and limited aerial resupply.
Go Wherever Needed
Although the 6th SOSís area of responsibility is concentrated in the II Corps area and its main support is for The 4th Division, they have been sent wherever needed and have worked missions in every corps in Vietnam.
The Skyraider has been referred to as slow, ugly, hot and uncomfortable and is usually covered with oil and dirt; they are nevertheless, versatile and effective.
Because of its lower speed, a maximum of 400 knots, the aircraft has lower flying capabilities which allows it pinpoint accuracy in delivering its ordnance in jungle terrain. Its big 2700 horsepower engine, the same engine that powered B-29s, enables the machine to carry heavy ordnance. and fly combat configurations for a longer period
of time. This Is a valuable asset to the ground unit which often needs close air support for a considerable length of time.
A large percentage of Skyraider pilots are older, more experienced flyers with backgrounds and experience in jets, bombers and cargo planes.
The majority of the Skyraiderís missions are flown in support of ground troops. In these operations there are two ways in which the planes can be called into action.
A normal mission is a preplanned strike set up in conjunction with the 4th Division for action in pre-selected areas. These areas are picked by the Famous Fourth on advance information they receive in relation to the operations they have planned.
Estimates Air Support
The 4th Division estimates the air support needed, notifies the 7th Air Force which channels the information to the 6th SOS. The pilots are then given a ground briefing as to the unit in the field, time for the strike, the target to be hit and ordnance required.
The second type of mission comes under an alert commitment when a unit in the field calls for air support. As soon as the 6th SOS is notified, the planes are scrambled into the air within 15 minutes. Skyraider missions are always flown in pairs and four aircraft are on alert at all times.
Maintenance hasnít been a problem for the squadron. The highly skilled crews keep the planes in highly operational condition. The planes are used often and hard, but respond well under the strain.
Eighteen Skyraiders make up the 6th Squadron, manned by 220 airmen. The unit has 24 front line pilots who fly the missions in support of 4th Division soldiers.