Douglas AD-4L Skyraider (San Diego — XX fsw)

Douglas A-1 Skyraider

The Douglas A-1 Skyraider was designed as a carrier-based, single-seat, long-range dive/torpedo bomber and as the next generation of the TBM/F Avenger. Interestingly enough, the TBM was a 3-person aircraft and the Skyraider was a single pilot aircraft (some later variants were widened considerably and had two seats side-by-side). The Skyraider continued the Douglas tradition of naming their military aircraft with names leading with “Sky.”

In 1943, the Navy decided to combine dive-bombing and torpedo missions into one aircraft. Previously, in WW2, they were generally separate planes with specific missions. For example, the TBM Avenger was a torpedo bomber and the SBD Dauntless was a dive-bomber. The Skyraider isn’t generally considered a graceful design but it was capable of carrying 8,000 pounds of ordinance.

The Skyraider had an impressive history and was widely flown during the Korean and Vietnam wars and remained in service until the early 1970s. Every single one of the 3,180 Skyraiders were manufactured locally here in Southern California at the Douglas El Segundo plant and, at the peak production level, two planes per day were rolling off the end of the line.

The Skyraider had a lot of mount points on the wing for artillery and munitions and the wings were relatively large. One of the distinctive features of the armaments were the 4 x 20mm cannon guns (2 on each wing) with 200 rounds per gun. The power plant was a Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engine.

AD-1 Skyraider (Image from warbirdheritagefoundation.org)

If there was any doubt as the amount of armament that a Skyraider could carry, here is an amazing picture from theaviationgeekclub.com:

A U.S. Air Force Douglas A-1H Skyraider (s/n 52-139608, “Blood, Sweat & Tears”) from the 1st Special Operations Squadron, 56th Special Operations Wing in flight.

Wright R-3350 Radial Engine (By YSSYguy at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18062693)

San Diego Wreck

There are at least two known Skyraider wrecks in Southern California that are on the “hit list” to find and document.

The first is off San Diego and the second is in Santa Monica Bay. The second one was the plane piloted by the infamous test pilot Bob Rahn when he performed the 90 degree dive bomb drop test on the XBT2D-1 prototype and the bomb hit the engine and he bailed out. We are still working on finding that one. The epic story of the crash while dropping a bomb during a 90 degree vertical dive is reason enough to find it!

The crash

On May 19, 1953, Lt. Charles Kelly flew out of Miramar with four other Skyraiders for glide bombing practice at a local target. Kelly was the last plane in the formation and a few minutes after takeoff he commenced to rendezvous with the other pilots but experienced engine problems in cloudy and overcast conditions. He proceeded back to North Island for an emergency landing but was unable to maintain his altitude. He made a water landing using full flaps and cleared out of the plane which sank shortly thereafter. The pilot was unharmed, got checked out in a nearby hospital, and was back on duty that same day.

According to the accident report, the Navy attempted to salvage the wreck but could not locate it.

Tyler Stalter has been searching for the San Diego Skyraider wreck for a LONG time. He has jumped in on a ton of sites and just found a lot of sand and rocks in his attempts to find it. The wreck was originally found and identified by Dennis Burns back in 2014 but the location has been kept confidential.

Tyler recently did a little more detective work in an attempt to find it. In addition, Lora just got a new nav/sonar system installed on the Marissa.

With Tyler’s detective work and Lora’s new system, they were able to locate the target and Tyler confirmed it about a week ago.

Sonar image of the Skyraider

Photos

I was able to dive the Skyraider this week. The water was the “typical Southern California green” and given the shallow depth and the amount of sand, the visibility was not great. Those conditions make it relatively hard to get good pictures. In addition, somebody has deposited a lot of “wreckage” into the cockpit which obscures a lot of the cockpit features. This is really unfortunate.

At some point, when the visibility is better and the sand has been washed away, we will go back and try to get better pictures. In the meantime, here are some photos of the wreck — primarily the 20mm cannons, the massive radial engine, and a couple shots of the fuselage.

20mm cannons

Wright R-3350 Radial Engine

Fuselage

Fuselage from the port side — note the buildup of the sand
Fuselage from above on the starboard side

References

Skyraider.org

Wikipedia

Naval History and Heritage Command

Olddiver.com – Found/identified the wreck

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