Douglas F3D / F-10 Skyknight Carrier-Borne Night-Fighter Aircraft
The Douglas F3D Skyknight became the world's first jet-powered, carrier-based dedicated night-fighter in service.
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The Douglas Skyknight was a dedicated carrier-based night fighter serving with the United States Navy (USN) and Marine Corps (USMC) from 1951 to 1970. The series became the world's first jet-powered carrier-based night-fighter to enter operational service and achieved aviation history's first jet-versus-jet nighttime kill during the Korean War when an F3D Skyknight downed a North Korean Yak-15 in 1952. The Skyknight series was one of the few American aircraft to see combat service in both the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1955-1975) (arguably the most famous of these being the Douglas Skyraider).
The Skyknight was developed from the ground up as a night-fighter intended for after-hours and low-light level work from Untied States carriers. As such, she was designed around a suite of then-advanced radar arrays which worked in conjunction to produce a viable - though maintenance intensive - night-fighting platform. The USN placed a requirement for such an aircraft in 1946 - the final year of World War 2 when jet power was still in its relative infancy - which resulted with the XF3D-1 prototype under the design direction of Ed Heinemann - designer of the famous Douglas A-4 Skyhawk of Vietnam War fame and director of the ubiquitous General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon multirole platform. The USN requirement included a maximum speed of 500 miles per hour, an operational radius of 500 miles and an operational altitude of 40,000 feet.
The Douglas submission - which bested the Grumman design (this to become the F9F Panther in its own right) - was a rather unconventional two-seat, twin-engine aircraft with straight wings. The utilization of two radar facilities for tracking and engagement of hostiles promoted a wider-than-normal nosecone which allowed for side-by-side cockpit seating of the two pilots and a rather overall squat fuselage design (earning the aircraft the unflattering nickname of "Willie the Whale"). The radar warning receiver (RWR)was added in a rear-facing mounting to the base of the empennage. An escape "tunnel" through the rear of the airframe did away with costly and complicated ejection seats, allowing the pilots an escape route to parachute out from. The required thrust and range was countered by installation of 2 x Westinghouse J34 turbojet engines fitted low at center with aspiration through the front of the integrated nacelles and exhaust under the base of the empennage. The wings were mid-mounted straight monoplanes which provided the necessary control flight control at altitude. Armament - intended to bring down large bomber-type aircraft under the cover of darkness - consisted of 4 x 20mm Hispano-Suiza M2 cannons, these fitted under the forward fuselage.
As a "bomber destroyer", the XF3D-1 could rely on "stealth" through darkness, its cannon armament and its radar suite to accomplish the role. It was not entirely intended as a direct dogfighting champion in the same mold as the more famous North American F-86 Sabre with its high performance, sleek line design and swept-back wings. The XF3D-1 could, therefore, be given a modest powerplant and straight wing appendages resulting in a more relaxed design.
The XF3D-1 was readied in early 1948 and achieved fist flight on March 23rd of that year (three prototypes were eventually completed). The USN saw what it liked and contracted for 28 x F3D-1 production systems as the "Skynight". Production was underway a short time later and deliveries began in June. The rather limited production numbers of the F3D-1 mark restricted their usage as Skyknight trainers while preparations were made for the improved "F3D-2" mark to follow. The F3D-2 was ordered by the USN in 1949.