Douglas Skyraider AEW Mk1

RN Skyraider AEW Mk1

After the US Navy had introduced the concept of an AEW system towards the end of WW2, with the Grumman TBM-3W Avenger, they realised a larger aircraft was required to carry the necessary equipment and crew. Eventually it was decided to develop an AEW variant of the Douglas AD-3 Skyraider, known as the AD-3W, of which 31 were built, using the AN/APS-20 housed in a radome under the fuselage and crewed by a pilot and two radar operators buried in the fuselage.

The performance of the AN/APS-20 radar could best be described as rudimentary. Unreliability frequently plagued operations and radar detection capability was greatly affected by the sea state and prevailing meteorological conditions. The radar operated in the S-Band (2 to 4 GHz frequency) and in optimum conditions could detect a medium sized aircraft at 50nms. A total of 417 aircraft were eventually produced and all served with the US Navy, apart from 50 examples of the AD-4W which were supplied to the RN Fleet Air Arm in 1951.

RN Skyraider AEW Mk 1 taking off from HMS Albion

Known as the Skyraider AEW Mk1 in Fleet Air Arm service, 20 were new build aircraft and 30 were refurbished ex US Navy aircraft. Following evaluation with 778 Sqn and carrier trials on the newly commissioned HMS Eagle, the aircraft was accepted into service on 7 Jul 52. In service the aircraft were operated by 849 Sqn based at Culdrose and when additional aircraft were delivered the squadron was split into 5 operational flights together with a HQ Flt of between 4 to 6 aircraft each. During the next 7 years the aircraft were operated by various flights from HMS Eagle, HMS Glory, HMS Bulwark, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Victorious, HMS Albion and HMS Centaur. The Skyraider started to be phased out of RN service in Sep 59 with the arrival of the Gannet AEW Mk3. The last RN deployment of the Skyraider took place in Feb 60 when D Flt embarked on HMS Albion for a ten-month cruise to the Far East - on Albion's return in Dec 60 the aircraft were flown to Abbotsinch for disposal. A number of refurbished Skyraiders were sold to Sweden, two were retained by the RN for static display and the rest were scrapped.