Air Force Medal of Honor Missions
Two Air Force Congressional Medal of Honor recipients flew Skyraiders when they earned their accolades. Major Bernard Fisher was flying a close air support mission when he landed his Skyraider on a torn up airstrip in the A Shau Valley in 1966 under heavy fire to rescue “Jump” Myers, a fellow “Spad” pilot who had been shot down and crash landed in the valley. A detailed account of that incredible mission can be found here.
Jones and the Trial by Fire
The other Skyraider pilot was performing the mission for which the Skyraider was perhaps best known in Vietnam- combat search and rescue (CSAR) support. Lieutenant Colonel William Atkinson Jones III was commander of the 602nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS) when on September 1st 1968 an Air Force F-4 Phantom II was shot down. Jones would fly the lead in and coordinate the rescue mission- call sign Sandy One.
Situation Extremely Critical
The downed pilot’s back-seater had already been captured. Jones did not want to go 0 for 2 that day so he bored in low and finally located the pilot. In so doing he took numerous hits from enemy ground fire. One of those hits disabled his ejection seat and jettisoned only his canopy. The cockpit of Jones’ Skyraider was set ablaze and Jones’ radios were shot out so he was unable to communicate the position of the downed pilot to the rest of the rescue team.
There Was No Quit in This Hero
Not wanting to lose the information about the downed pilot’s position, Jones chose to fly his barely airworthy Skyraider 90 miles back to base. After Jones landed he passed on the exact position of the downed pilot before he would accept medical care for his serious injuries. Later that afternoon the downed F-4 pilot was rescued, thanks in large part to Jones’ heroic and selfless act.
Honored Service With the Air Force Too
The Air Force lost a total of 191 Skyraiders (all causes) in Vietnam. The Navy lost another 65 of them (all causes). Production of the aircraft had ended in 1957, so the “Spad” supply was finite. When the Air Force started running out of A-1Es they turned to refurbished A-1Hs to accomplish their missions. The final Air Force Skyraider sortie was flown, fittingly enough, by the 1st SOS on November 7th 1972. The Skyraider was honored (at least in most cases) with the longest list of nicknames in aviation history. These terms of endearment and respect (for the most part) included the well-known and obscure; the universal and narrowly specific; the humorous and descriptive.
What’s in a Nickname?
AD / A-1 monikers include “Spad” and “Super-Spad” (derived from the original AD designator), “Able Dog” (1950s phonetic for AD), “Queer Spad” (electronic warfare-specific variants), “Q-Bird” (same), “Guppy” (AEW-specific version), “Flying Dumptruck”, “Old Faithful”, “Old Miscellaneous”, “Destroyer”, “The Big Gun”, “Fat Face” (AD-5 / A-1E). The South Vietnamese called the Skyraider “Crazy Water Buffalo.”
Hobo, Firefly, Zorro, and Sandy
Several squadron call sign-specific nicknames like “Hobo” (1st SOS), “Firefly” (602nd SOS), “Zorro” (22nd SOS), and “Sandy” (602nd SOS) were used as well. “Sandy” was the call sign of the combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter escorts who often coordinated rescue combat air patrol (RESCAP), communicated with the crew on the ground waiting for rescue, and did their best to suppress enemy fire during the actual pickup.
An International Sensation
In addition to the United Sates Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Chad, France, Gabon, South Vietnam, Thailand, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Vietnam operated the AD / A-1 Skyraider. Gabon finally retired the last operational Skyraiders on the planet in 1985.