Soul of the Skyraider
A U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation pilot describes what it’s like to fly three generations of ground attack aircraft.
- By Linda Shiner
- AirSpaceMag.com, August 14, 2012
Courtesy Greg Anders
U.S. Air Force Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Greg Anders (ret.) flew the A-10 Thunderbolt II in combat with the Idaho Air National Guard during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Among the combat misions he trained to fly was the Sandy mission, pioneered in Vietnam by A-1 Skyraider pilots. Sandys locate and protect downed air crews awaiting rescue by helicopters. Today, Anders flies the Skyraider in airshows, as well as the grandaddy of ground attack, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The A-1 Skyraider he flies is in the collection of the Heritage Flight Museum in Bellingham, Washington, founded by his father, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders.
Air & Space: Does the A-10 share some of the design characteristics of the A-1?
Greg Anders: The straight wing allowed it to be more maneuverable in the low altitudes where you could stay close to your objective—that is, downed air crewmen or troops in contact on the ground. And so it was basically a clear understanding that the Skyraider was an incredible airplane, and when it came time to replace it, an F-15 or an F-16 were just never going to do it, and we just needed something that could stay low to the ground, stay close to the troops, stay close to a survivor. So the Skyraider was the template that was used for the A-10.
What do you think was the challenge for A-1 pilots who flew Sandy missions?
The A-1 was a long-endurance, heavily loaded airframe with a lot of weapons, which meant it had a lot of loiter time, but it didn’t have a lot of the fancy technology that we’re used to. So it was just a lot of maintaining situational awareness in a very complex situation, while flying the airplane—in the weather and all kind of crazy situations. [Sandy pilots had to maintain contact with the airman on the ground and keep track of helicopters coming in for the rescue in addition to other aircraft called in for strikes. And, of course, rescues don’t wait for weather.] Having flown the mission in the A-10, I think it’s a pretty amazing thing to know these guys flew it in the Skyraider.
Do you fly the A-1 only in Heritage Flights?
No, we do airshows with it as well. In fact, my brother just got back from the McChord airshow [at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington] where he flew it in a re-enactment of a Vietnam-era mission, with some Hueys, an O-1, which is also a FAC—a forward air control. They put together a scenario where they had a guy on the ground who had ejected and they were going to set up a rescue. They did a whole Vietnam rescue re-enactment, and we were all scratching our heads going Wow, we should do this more often because it was a great show. The Huey Cobra and UH-1 were from the Olympic Flight Museum, and we had our Cessna O-1 and the A-1.
What was your first flight in the Skyraider like?
At the time, I was qualified in the P-51 and the AT-6, so those are two taildraggers that are very similar to Skyraiders. In fact the Skyraider flies almost exactly like a T-6, except it’s just bigger. I still remember my very first sortie because it’s a single-seat plane. You don’t get to fly with an instructor; you just take it off on your own. And here’s this big beast of a warbird, bigger than any warbird I’ve flown, and you just kind of stomp on the right rudder and keep it almost to the ground and keep bringing the power in because power will pull you left. The side of prop headed down has more thrust, and that’s to the right side, so it pulls you left. Until you get airflow over your rudder, you don’t have any control for that, so you’re just managing as you’re rolling down the runway. And it’s a giant airframe.
Are you wondering at any time during this takeoff if this is a good idea?