The first CSAR missions and the story of how the A-1 Skyraider became known as "Sandy"


By Dario Leone
Jul 24 2017
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The main missions performed by the Skyraider during the Vietnam Conflict had been CAS to ground forces and protection to helicopters rescuing airmen downed in enemy territory

Developed during World War II for the U.S. Navy, the Douglas AD Skyraider almost disappeared before having the chance to excel during the Vietnam War: in the high-speed, jet-age world of the late 1950s, the Skyraider seemed to be a relic of an earlier time.

In fact, even though it had performed well during the Korean War, the Navy decided to replace it with jet aircraft.

Nevertheless, the Skyraider proved well suited for fighting against the guerrilla-style war waged by communists in Southeast Asia, where it played an important role thanks to its ability to carry an immense amount of weapons and stay over the battlefield for extended periods of time.

A Vietnamese Air Force student pilot and a USAF instruction sit side by side in a VNAF A-1E Skyraider taxing to the runway at Bien Hoa AB, Vietnam.

The main missions performed by this aircraft during the Vietnam Conflict had been close air support (CAS) to ground forces and protection to helicopters rescuing airmen downed in enemy territory.

The first Skyraiders arrived in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s, when the U.S. provided South Vietnam with increased military assistance and training to resist communist forces, and the ADs were delivered U.S. to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF).

In 1961, U.S. Air Force (USAF) instructors started training VNAF pilots at Bien Hoa Air Base with Skyraiders in VNAF markings and their tail hooks removed. Gradually, the USAF instructors started flying combat missions with the VNAF pilots over South Vietnam.

A single-seat A-1H from the 6th Special Operations Squadron providing close air support in 1968.

Redesignated the A-1 in 1962, the old Skyraider soon got the nickname “Spad”referring to the French fighter used in World War I.

The first USAF Skyraiders, two-seat A-1Es, arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base in May 1964. They were assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron (later the 1st Special Operations Squadron), which operated under the call sign Hobo. Other USAF squadrons flew Skyraiders from bases in South Vietnam and Thailand under the call signs Spad, Firefly and Zorro. Wherever they went, the Skyraiders provided critical CAS to ground forces and other operations, such as defoliant spraying or supporting the insertion and extraction of special operations teams inside enemy held territory along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

This Douglas A-1E was severely damaged in combat in South Vietnam. It is the aircraft that was flown by Maj. Bernard Fisher on Mar. 10, 1966, when he rescued a fellow pilot shot down over South Vietnam, a deed for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The aircraft was restored and is currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

However USAF Skyraiders in Southeast Asia are probably best remembered for their support of search and rescue (SAR) missions. Operating under the call sign Sandy, the A-1’s ability to fly over a downed Airman for an extended period complemented its massive firepower. Whereas jet aircraft often had to leave an area for refueling or rearming, the Sandies provided nearly continuous suppressing fire until helicopters could extract downed Airmen.

Douglas A-1E Skyraider in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Source: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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