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Skyknight cruises over a foggy landscape

A Skyknight of VMF(N)-513 during a escort mission over Korea


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Douglas F3D Skyknight

The Skyknight was a very unique fighter due to its bulkiness. That was mostly owed to the fact, that it was designed to intercept bombers at night and was build around the only powerful intercept radar system that was available at the time, the Westinghouse AN/APQ-35. This made the radar vision of the Skyknight superior to any other fighter of its time, most which did not have any radar.
The first Skyknight flew on March 23rd 1948. The first version, the F3D-1, was based on the prototype, and had notably smaller engine nacelles, than the later F3D-2. The F3D-2, which was the version to be delivered to operational squadrons, received a bigger engine, which led to the bigger nacelle, and the improved APQ-36 radar. Its bulky appearance earned the Skyknight its nickname "Willy the Whale". In its later career it was also called "Drut" (backward for **).

F3D-1 in flight

One of the early F3D-1's with smaller engine sections.

The Skyknight was first used in combat in the Korean war, were it soon became the main escort for the B-29-formations, which were vulnerable to attack by the nimble MiG-15. The Skyknight proved successful thanks to its powerful radar, which made it superior to smaller fighters at night, and especially the second radar in the tail proved useful, as it warned the pilot, if a MiG was on the tail.
During the Korean war, a Skyknight became the first Jet fighter to achieve an aerial victory at night, when Major William T. Stratton shot down a Yak-15.
During the Korean war, Skyknights scored six other aerial victories, which made it the most successful Navy/Marines type of the Korean war.The Skyknight was more successful with Marines squadrons, because while it did qualify for carrier landings, these were extremely tricky, so it was tried to avoid them and many Navy squadrons that operated the Skyknight didn't see combat.

Skyknight just before touching down on a carrier

A rare image: A Skyknight of VX-4 with missile pylons just about to touch down on an aircraft carrier

After the Korean war, the Skyknight became soon obsolete as a fighter, when new swept-wing designs became available. Douglas proposed an improved swept-wing Skyknight, the F3D-3, to the Navy, but that version never reached prototype stage. The designs for the wings and tail where later modified for the creation of the A3D Skywarrior.
Thanks to its radar, and its stability in the air, the Skyknight became the development testbed for the new Sparrow-missile and as such was the first Navy aircraft that became operational with air-to-air missiles.
After being retired as a fighter, the Skyknight was used mainly for radar training. It was the only second-line type that was available, which had a strong enough radar and could fire Sparrow missiles, which could help to train the radar operators for the F-4 Phantom II.

A typical Skyknight as used for radar operator training, painted in white with day-glo panels

Its bulky and spacious fuselage led the Skyknight to its final role, as an ECM-bird. As such, it saw action again in Vietnam, were it was flown by Marines Squadrons to support air-to-ground strikes with electronic countermeasures, until the Squadrons converted to EA-6's.
The last Skyknights were operated by Raytheon company as missile testbeds, as no other aircraft had the same stability in flight as the Skyknight.

A Skyknight of the "Playboy"-Squadron high above low clouds

The Skyknight in its final role as ECM-aircraft

wingspan: 15.24m
length: 13.85m
height: 4.90m
empty weight: 6.813kg
max loaded weight: 9.715kg
maximum speed: 852km/h
range: 2.212km
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