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Douglas F3D Skyknight: The World’s First Nighttime Jet Fighter

The aircraft for today is the Douglas F3D Skyknight which was later given the designation F-10 Skyknight. The Douglas F3D Skyknight is the twin-engine and a mid-wing jet fighter that was designed and developed by the company named Douglas Aircraft Company back in the late 1940s in California. The main decision for developing the Douglas F3D Skyknight was to have a nighttime fighter that could operate from an aircraft carrier in all-weather conditions. The aircraft mainly served the US Navy and the US Marine Corps. The main mission role for the Douglas F3D Skyknight was to search as well as destroy the enemy fighters during night time.

The Douglas F3D Skyknight was not produced in large numbers but it was still able to perform many amazing roles during the Korean War. despite not reaching the fame and glory of the North American F-86 Sabres, the Douglas F3D Skyknight went on to destroy plenty of Soviet made MiG-15s in Korean War during night time missions. Only one of the Douglas F3D Skyknights were ever lost in Korean War following an assault from a Chinese built MiG-15.

The aircraft also was modified to serve as the Electronic Warfare aircraft during the Vietnam War and was also the predecessor for aircraft like the EA-6B Prowler and EA-6A Intruder. The aircraft is often pronounced by dropping the ‘K” in its spelling. Some of the pilots during the Korean and Vietnam War even named it as Drut; meaning of which can be cleared up when read backwards. The aircraft saw multiple combat actions for the US Navy and US Marine Corps and retired back in 1971.


The Douglas Aircraft Company took it upon itself to develop an all-weather and low-level flying aircraft that could be operated from aboard the aircraft carriers of the United States. This is why; the aircraft was developed with its suite of that era’s advanced radar systems that allowed for the aircraft to be a nighttime fighter.

The placement for such aircraft was placed back in 1946 by the US Navy; during the final year of the World War II when the jet powered technology was still budding. This placement from US Navy led to the creation of the XF3D-1 that was designed under the leadership of designer and engineer named Ed Heinemann. He is also the same designer who created the A-4 Skyhawk and was director for the project developing the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.

First Flight:-

The first flight ready prototype of the Douglas F3D Skyknight was designated as XF3D-1 which was ready by 1948. The first flight of this Douglas F3D Skyknight prototype occurred back on 23rd March 1948 and eventually 3 of these prototypes were manufactured. After its successful testing phase, the US navy placed an order for 28 of these Douglas F3D Skyknight aircraft. The production started with first deliveries made in the June of that very year.

The limited numbers of Douglas F3D Skyknight were created under designation F3D-1 which were used as trainers and would serve the training aircraft for the upcoming F3D-2 which was ordered by US Navy back in 1949.

Powerplant & Performance:-

In order to power this nighttime fighter, Douglas fitted the Douglas F3D Skyknight with 2 of the Westinghouse J46-WE-36 engines; each of would generate a thrust of 3400 lbs. This allowed for the aircraft to have a maximum speed of about 530 mph with the ferry range being 1374 miles. The aircraft was able to achieve the maximum altitude of about 37000 feet with climbing rate of 3000 ft/min.


For the standard armament configuration, the Douglas F3D Skyknight was fitted with 4 of the 20 mm Hispano-Suiza M2 Cannons that were fitted in its lower fuselage’s forward section.

As for the optional ordnance carrying capabilities, the Douglas F3D Skyknight could carry about 2000lbs of it. This was used to equip the aircraft with following weapons.

  • F3D-2 was equipped optionally either with 10 of the air-to-air rockets or 2 of the conventional drop bombs weighing 1000 lbs each.
  • F3D-2M was equipped to carry 4 of the Sparrow missiles for medium range air-to-air strikes.

Entering the Korean War:-

The Douglas F3D Skyknight entered its first combat service during the Korean War where it served extensively. The aircraft was mostly pitted against the propeller driven fighters as well as normal jet power fighters of the era. When it was not used for nighttime patrols or striking missions, it was used as an escort for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

The world’s very first jet powered nighttime fighter kill was recorded on 3rd November 1952 by a US Marine Corps Douglas F3D Skyknight. The aircraft went on to destroy 4 of the Soviet built MiG-15 Fagot jet fighters.

While the MiG-15 had the advantage over the Douglas F3D Skyknight with their sped and agility, during the nighttime, the Douglas F3D Skyknight was the kind and could effectively neutralize the enemy targets.

Service during Vietnam War:-

One of the variants of the Douglas F3D Skyknight designated as F-10B was brought out of the retirement during the Vietnam War. It was then fitted with ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) equipment and was redesignated as EF-10B. The aircraft went on to serve the US Marine Corps well until 1970.

Cuban Missile Crisis:-

These ECM based Douglas F3D Skyknight were also used by the US navy as reconnaissance aircraft during the 13-day conflict back in 1962 known to be the “Cuban Missile Crisis”.

Total number of aircraft produced and retirement:-

The production of the Douglas F3D Skyknight started from back in 1949 and until the day it retired only a total of 265 of these Douglas F3D Skyknights were manufactured in all their variant forms. The reason for developing the Douglas F3D Skyknight in such low numbers was that it was not exported outside of USA.

The last one to retire the Douglas F3D Skyknight was the US Marine Corps which retired the EF-10 model of the Douglas F3D Skyknight.

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