History

This attack plane turned the enemy into grease spots

When you hear "Sandy," maybe you think about Olivia Newton-John's character in Grease, unless you're in the Search-and-Rescue community. Even then, most people don't associate the word with one of the best attack planes of all time. But the Douglas A-1 Skyraider was also a "Sandy" — and one that turned many enemies of the United States into…well...grease spots.


An A-1 Skyraider in 1966, when four planes assigned to USS Intrepid shot down at least one MiG-17. (U.S. Navy photo)

"Sandy" was the callsign A-1s operated under when they escorted the combat search-and-rescue helicopters. You may have seen Willem Dafoe's character in Flight of the Intruder talking to "Sandy Low Lead." Well, he was talking to a pilot flying a Skyraider when he called in an air strike on his own position.

An A-1 Skyraider escorts an HH-3C rescue helicopter as it goes in to pick up a downed pilot in Vietnam in 1966. (Photo from the National Museum of the USAF)

The A-1 had been started in World War II, when it was called the BT2D-1. The Navy, though, was realizing that the air wings on the carriers needed to change. Part of the reasoning was the presence of the kamikaze, which required the presence of more fighters. The Navy even put a plane it rejected, the Vought F4U Corsair, on carrier decks. As such, the plan was to replace the SB2C Helldiver and the TBF/TBM Avenger. The plane later became the AD.

An Air Force A-1E Skyraider loaded with a fuel-air explosive bomb. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Skyraider had 15 hardpoints, allowing it to haul 8,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, torpedoes, or gun pods. It also packed two or four Mk12 20mm cannon. The latter weapons helped the Skyraider score five air-to-air kills, including two MiG-17 "Fresco" fighters over North Vietnam.

A MiG-17 "Fresco." Two of these planes were shot down by A-1s. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Bubba73)

Some of those "Sandys" were Air Force, incidentally — one of a number of Navy bombers used by that service. The Air Force had wanted a version of the plane, which proved excellent at close-air support, since 1949. The Air Force used the A-1 over Vietnam, as did Vietnam, Cambodia, and a number of countries in Africa. The last A-1s were retired by Gabon in 1985.

The A-10 has become a primary airframe flying the "Sandy" CSAR missions, which is one of the reasons the hog is so beloved.

Still, you can see more about the original —and lethal — "Sandy" below.

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