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Douglas Aircraft Company’s last and hottest — the F4D Skyray

28 March 2012

Douglas Aircraft Company’s last and hottest — the F4D Skyray

The Skyray is the last Douglas Aircraft Co. design produced before its merger with McDonnell to become McDonnell-Douglas — later merging with Boeing to become, well, Boeing. Douglas’s last design was a show stopper, setting absolute speed records (1953) as well as time to altitude records (1958). Extraordinarily impressive since these records were set by an aircraft which was carrier launched — the absolute speed record was 752.943 mph (1204.71kph). Not surprisingly, the F4D Skyray was the first U.S. Navy aircraft which could surpass Mach 1 in level flight. Not often are aircraft named for how they appear but the curved delta wing of the F4D strongly recalls the graceful form of Nature’s manta ray.

The U.S. Navy desired an interceptor to guard the fleet against high altitude Soviet heavy bombers and announced this in 1947. The request for proposal stated a capability to attain an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,150m) in five minutes from the alarm. That fast, that high, that quick — who had designed an interceptor that could do such a thing? Alexander Lippisch, the designer of the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet. Using the work of Lippisch as a basis Douglas’s famous designer Edward Heinemann led the work, which was such a large evolutionary step in aviation he was awarded the Collier Trophy for it in 1953.

Once at altitude on a combat mission a Skyray pilot could employ 4 x 20mm internal cannon or up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder externally mounted missiles. Aircraft came to be more and more expensive with the passage of time so they had to become capable of performing more than one mission — this trend helped to speed the Skyray’s retirement as it was an aircraft built for a single purpose, get to altitude quickly, so it served just eight years (1956–1964).

The F4D Skyray photographed below is in the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Douglas F4D Skyray in the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum — photo by Joseph May

The Skyrays’ cockpit, designed for interceptor’s need for speed — photo by Joseph May

The Skyray looks even more ray-like with the wing tips folding up and parallel with the vertical stabilizer — photo by Joseph May

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National Naval Aviation Museum has this fact sheet on the Douglas F4D Skyray

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