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Douglas A-3 Skywarrior

United States (1956)
Picture of Douglas A-3 Skywarrior Fleet Air Reconnaissance / Strategic Bomber Aircraft
Picture of Douglas A-3 Skywarrior Fleet Air Reconnaissance / Strategic Bomber Aircraft Picture of Douglas A-3 Skywarrior Fleet Air Reconnaissance / Strategic Bomber Aircraft
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The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior series soldiered on through most of the Cold War while in service with the United States Navy.

Detailing the development and operational history of the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior Fleet Air Reconnaissance / Strategic Bomber Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 8/29/2016. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©

Douglas supplied its large, twin-engine Skywarrior jet-powered bomber to both the United States Air Force (as the B-66 Destroyer) and the United States Navy (as the A-3 Skywarrior). Some 282 of the latter were produced and these managed a healthily-long operational service life spanning from 1956 to 1991. While introduced as a carrier-based bomber, the Skywarrior eventually took on the roles of reconnaissance, in-flight refueling tanker and Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) before its story was fully written. Design of the aircraft was credited to famous American aviation engineer Ed Heinemann best known for his lead in the design of the USN's fabled A-4 "Skyhawk" carrier-based fighter. When adopted by the USN in 1956, the Skywarrior became its first twin-engine nuclear-capable bomber and the largest (and heaviest) aircraft to serve on an aircraft carrier.

The USN commissioned for several design studies to test the feasibility of a carrier-based strategic bomber with the primacy concern being operating weights and size on a space-strapped aircraft carrier deck. Douglas engineers then began design work on such an aircraft in 1947, mostly operating without the benefit of all the design details the USN envisioned - such was the secrecy surrounding any new aircraft intended to deliver a nuclear-minded payload. In January of 1948, U.S. Navy authorities issued their formal requirement for a carrier-based bomb-delivery platform with this nuclear capability in mind - the aircraft intended to operate from the deck of current American carriers while also displaying inherently good operating ranges. Douglas secured the development contract and went on to produce the "XA3D-1" prototype to which this aircraft first flew on October 28th, 1952. The development phase was a protracted affair and service entry for the aircraft that would eventually become the "Skywarrior" was not until 1956. Production spanned from 1956 to 1962 and from this design the USAF's B-66 "Destroyer" platform was also realized.

As completed, the Skywarrior exhibited a wingspan of 72 feet, 6 inches, a length of 74 feet, 5 inches and a height of 22 feet, 9.5 inches - a large aircraft indeed. Maximum Take-Off Weight was in the vicinity of 82,000lbs. With its 2 x Pratt & Whitney J57-P-10 turbojet engines of 10,000lbs thrust each, the aircraft could reach speeds of 620 miles per hour (520mph cruising) and a service ceiling up to 40,500 feet. Engines were held underwing in individual nacelles while an internal bomb bay allowed for 12,000lbs of ordnance to be carried. Operational range was 2,300 miles. A turret was fitted to the tail unit for some self-defense capability and was remotely-controlled from the cockpit. The aircraft's crew number three.

Picture of the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior Fleet Air Reconnaissance / Strategic Bomber Aircraft
Picture of the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior Fleet Air Reconnaissance / Strategic Bomber Aircraft

Externally, the aircraft featured a long, slender fuselage with an elegant fuselage spine curving to become the single vertical tail fin. Wings were shoulder-mounted and heavily-swept while displayed some dihedral. Conversely, the horizontal tailplanes were cranked slightly upwards and mid-mounted along the vertical tail fin. Since the engines were held outboard of the fuselage, this allowed for the needed internal volume for fuel stores, avionics and munitions. The undercarriage was of a tricycle arrangement with three single-wheeled legs. The crew sat under a framed canopy offering generally adequate views of the action around the aircraft - save perhaps to the rear. As a navy aircraft, the main wing assemblies were able to fold outboard of the engine installations.

Beyond the XA3D-1 prototype - of which two were built, the Skywarrior line included the YA3D-1 development prototype (single example) and the initial production-quality A3D-1 of which 49 were delivered. The A3D-1P mark was a one-off prototype form modified for the photographic reconnaissance role and A3D-1Q were five converted airframes for ELectronic INTelligence (ELINT) with additional crew for the role. The A3D-2 became the primary bomber form of the Skywarrior line and the A3D-2P was its photo-reconnaissance form, the A3D-2Q serving as the ELINT variant. Trainers became a dozen A3D-2T airframes to which five were then later revised as VIP transports, joining the two VA-3B examples in the same role. KA-3B signified some 85 airframes modified for the aerial tanker role beginning in 1967. The EKA-3B served to cover aerial tanker modified airframes and ERA-3B were electronic "aggressor" aircraft for USN training. NRA-3B was used to designated some six test airframes and a sole NTA-3B example served as an aerial testbed for the powerful Hughes-brand radar system to be eventually fitted on Grumman F-14D "Tomcat" carrier-based interceptors.

All designations were revised in the 1962 under the new Tri-Services designation scheme. This produced the A-3A (A3D-1), RA-3A (A3D-1P), EA-3A (A3D-1Q), A-3B (A3D-2), RA-3B (A3D-2P), EA-3B (A3D-2Q), TA-3B (A3D-2T) designations in turn.

The Skywarrior was one of the many American aircraft pressed into combat service during the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Early in their tenure, the Skywarriors undertook their intended conventional bombing role against enemy positions in both North and South Vietnam. With the arrival of newer aircraft showcasing better performance, capabilities and technologies, the Skywarrior's intended strategic bombing role eventually faded over time. The aircraft found renewed use as an in-flight refueling tanker while other airframes were eventually outfitted with specialized equipment for the dedicated reconnaissance role. Additional mounts served as crew trainers.

Amazingly, the 1950s-era Skywarrior, in its "EA-3B" form (A3D-2Q), was around long enough to participate in the 1991 Gulf War before seeing formal retirement.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (610mph).

    Graph average of 562.5 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Douglas A3D-2/A-3B Skywarrior's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

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Origin: United States
Year: 1956
Type: Fleet Air Reconnaissance / Strategic Bomber Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Douglas Aircraft Company - USA
Production: 282
Global Operators:
United States (retired)
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Douglas A3D-2/A-3B Skywarrior model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.




76.35 ft

23.27 m


72.51 ft

22.1 m


22.80 ft

6.95 m


39,410 lb

17,876 kg


82,001 lb

37,195 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
2 x Pratt & Whitney J57-P-10 turbojet engines developing 10,500 lb of thrust each.


610 mph

982 kph

530 kts


2,100 mi

3,380 km

Nautical Miles
1,825 nm


40,997 ft

12,496 m

7.76 mi

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Graphical image of an air launched nuclear weapon
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Armament - Hardpoints (4):

2 x 20mm M3L cannons in tail barbette

Up to 12,800lb of conventional drop ordnance.

12 x 500lb bombs
6 x 1000lb bombs
8 x 1,600lb bombs
4 x 2,000lb bombs
1 x Nuclear Bomb
Variants: Series Model Variants
• A-3 "Skywarrior" - Base Series Designation
• XA3D-1 - Prototype designation of which two completed.
• YA3D-1 (YA-3A) - Single developmental model
• A3D-1 (A-3A) - Initial production bombers; 49 completed.
• A3D-1P (RA-3A) - Photographic Reconnaissance mark; single conversion example.
• A3D-1Q (EA-3A) - ELINT mark; five conversions
• A3D-2 (A-3B) - Follow-up bomber variant
• A3D-2P (RA-3B) - Photographic reconnaissance version based on A3D-2 form.
• A3D-2Q (EA-3B) - ELINT model of A3D-2
• A3D-2T (TA-3B) - Trainer variant
• KA-3B - In-flight refueling tanker variant
• EKA-3B - Hybrid ECM/refueler type
• ERA-3B - Electronic aggressor aircraft
• NRA-3B - Test platforms; six examples
• VA-3B - VIP transports; two examples
• BTA-3B - F-14D Tomcat Hughes radar system testbed