— Whales of the South China Sea
The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior was designed as a strategic bomber for the United States Navy and was among the longest serving carrier-based aircraft in history. It entered service in the mid-1950s and was retired in 1991. Throughout its service, it was the heaviest operational aircraft to operate from aircraft carriers, earning its nickname, "The Whale." Its primary function for much of its later service life was as an electronic warfare platform, tactical air reconnaissance platform, and high capacity aerial refueling tanker.
During the Vietnam War, the A-3 attack aircraft were modified to KA-3B tankers while some were modified into a multi-mission tanker variant, the EKA-3B, that was a real workhorse for the carrier air wing. Electronic jamming equipment was added without removing tanker capability so the EKA-3B could jam enemy radar while waiting to refuel tactical aircraft.
KA-3Bs were modified at Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) as combination electronic countermeasures/aerial tanker aircraft. These were re-designated EKA-3B. Tanker Skywarriors were useful not only in routine combat operations but also in refueling combat aircraft returning from their missions that were about to run out of fuel short of their carriers or which were suffering major battle damage. Tanker Skywarriors with VAH and VAQ squadrons were credited with saving over 700 aircraft from loss during the war.
For the 3rd (26 July 1967 to 6 September 1968) and 4th (7 September 1968 to 11 September 1969) Vietnam Combat Cruises the A-3 Skywarrior underwent major transitions in naval service with mission assignment as well as carrier air wing squadron organization. This led to several squadrons aboard USS Coral Sea from 1967 to 1969, VAH-2, VAH-10 and VAQ-130.
Copyright © 2019 Bert McNamee, Harleigh, PA. All rights reserved.