F4D-1 Douglas Skyray

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Douglas Skyray
The first new prototype to appear after the outbreak of war in Korea was the XF4D-1 Skyray, a single-engine, single-place interceptor ordered December 16, 1948, after Douglas engineers led by Ed Heinemann had developed a delta wing design influenced by Dr. Lippisch’s investigations in Germany. DOUGLAS XF4D-l

First flight tested on January 21, 1951, at Edwards AFB, both prototypes were temporarily powered by a 5,000-pound thrust Allison J35-A-17 until the first Westinghouse XJ40-WE-6s became available in July 1952. The unusual aircraft shape required such a long testing cycle that carrier qualification trials were not attempted on the Coral Sea until October 1953.

An XJ-40-WE-8 of 16,000-pounds thrust with afterburner enabled the stripped second prototype flown by LCDR James Verdin to establish a 753-mph record on October 3, 1953; the first time an aircraft designed for carriers held the world’s speed record.

Because of production difficulties suffered by Westinghouse’s power plant, the Navy decided in July 1953 to install Pratt & Whitney J57s in production Skyrays. Robert Rahn flew the first F4D-1 June 5, 1954, with a J57-P-2, later replaced by the J57-P-8. Armament included four 20-mm M-12 guns with 70 rounds each in the wings, four heat-seeking Sidewinders, or a volley of 56 2.75-inch rockets from four pods. Armor consisted of a single 60-pound plate in front of the pilot.


A clean F4D-1 set a climb record of 39,370 feet in 111 seconds and 49,212 feet in 156 seconds, but since a clean Skyray had only one hour of flight, takeoffs were usually made with two 300-gallon drop tanks. Modifications gradually increased combat weight from 19,100 pounds in 1956 to 22,008 in 1958. Production of 419 Skyrays was completed at El Segundo on December 22, 1958.


Douglas Skyrays were first delivered on April 16, 1956, to an operational squadron, VC-3, later redesignated VF(AW)-3. Stationed at San Diego from 1958 to 1963, VF(AW)-3 was the only Navy squadron attached to the Air Defense Command. On practice intercepts, its F4D-ls carried an electronic navigation store on a central pylon, a pair of 12 2.75-inch rocket packs, two 300-gallon drop tanks, and two Sidewinder missiles on the outer pylons.

The next unit to get F4D-ls was VMF(AW)-115, which flew them longer than any other unit. This Marine squadron’s experience included crisis deployments to Taiwan (1958) and Guantanamo Bay (1962), as well as carrier service, like most Navy Skyray squadrons. Their last F4D-ls (called F-6As since 1962), retired February 29, 1964, leaving a reputation for fast climb, high ceiling, speed, and a good APQ-50A radar, but also as a difficult plane to fly.

The F4D-2N had the same Lippisch-inspired wing plan, but was designed for supersonic speeds with a thinner wing, longer fuselage, and more fuel. Two ordered October 16, 1953, and nine added March 11, 1955, were redesignated F5D-1 Skylancers before the first flight April 21, 1956. Pilot Robert Rahn reached supersonic speed using the same J57-P-8 as on an F4D. DOUGLAS F5D-1

Two active-homing Douglas Sparrow II (AAM-N-3) missiles under the wings, guided by APQ-64 radar and Aero X24A fire control, were the planned armament. An internal armament bay could add 72 two-inch rockets or four 20 mm guns.

Production versions with General Electric J79 engines were expected to reach a supersonic 1,098 mph, but the X24A system was unready and the F5D-ls program was canceled in November 1956 after only four were completed. All went to NACA at Moffett Field. Instead, Vought’s F8U-1 Crusader was favored for the Navy fighter squadrons.

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