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Skyknight #12-7/8

8 March 2020

Douglas F3D-2 Skyknight (1 of less than 300 made) on the flight line of the National Naval Aviation Museum—©2019 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

Undeservedly unknown and not built en masse this is the Navy’s first jet night fighter and served from 1951 to 1970. Flown extensively by the USMC in the Korean War the aircraft enabled pilots to shoot down a number of aircraft, as well as escort nocturnal USAF B-29 missions, though it didn’t get the F-86 Sabre’s same fame. Later it was flown in the Vietnam War as an electric war platform paving the way for the EA-6 Intruder.

Additionally, the Skyknight was salient in the development of the AIM-7 Sparrow (radar guided air-to-air missile) as radars aboard aircraft and missiles began to coevolve. The side-by-side seating of the pilot and radar operator was a natural design feature since the fuselage had to be wide and roomy for the radar systems back in the day (aircraft design began in 1945). Radar systems of the time were vacuum tube based requiring a high maintenance schedule and the low slung pair of Westinghouse J-34 turbojet engines were likely FOD collectors. Although not speedy it could outturn the newly arrived and paradigm setting MiG-15 and the nose mounted 4 x 20mm cannon could halt those flights abruptly.

This Douglas F3D-2 Skyknight was flown by an aircraft commander not wanting to needlessly tempt fate—©2019 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

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