Skyraider Pilots Reunion


April 23, 2019 – The Tennessee Museum of Aviation, located on the airport in Sevierville, will host a reunion of Vietnam Veteran A-1 Skyraider pilots led by  Operating Location Alpha Alpha (OLAA), 56th Special Operations Wing (SOW). The Skyraider pilots will gather from 10am-3pm on Saturday, May 4, 2019.  Skyraider pilot Jon Goldenbaum, Col. USAF Ret, has been invited as the guest speaker. Goldenbaum served two tours, during the Vietnam War, racking up 608 hours of combat time as an OV-10 Forward Air Controller (FAC) and in the A-1 Skyraider.  During his active duty service, Goldenbaum commanded an F-15 Fighter Squadron and served in a variety of command positions.  Between 1968 and 1988 he flew and instructed in the A-1 Skyraider, OV-10, T-38, T-39, F-111, F-5E, and the F-15. His commendations include: Distinguished Flying Cross, 11 Air Medals, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, Meritorious Service Medal, and Air Force Commendation Medal.

This will be the fifth OLAA pilot sponsored reunion at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. The museum features several airworthy “Warbirds” including an A-1H Skyraider, in which many of these men flew combat sorties while serving in Vietnam. The museum’s Douglas A-1H Skyraider #665 is only one of four surviving “combat veteran” Skyraiders.

Too late for action in World War II, the Douglas Skyraider went into production on May 5, 1945. The Douglas Aircraft Company built 3,180 in 28 variations, over a span of 12-years, ending in September 1957. The Skyraider was the world’s biggest, most powerful prop-driven, single-seat combat aircraft, able to carry more ordinance than that of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Initially, the Skyraider was placed into service with the United States Navy (USN), later serving with the United States Marine Corps (USMC), United States Air Force (USAF), Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF), French Air Force, and the British Royal Navy among others.

During the Korean War, Skyraiders served in Naval and Marine squadrons. The aircraft was instrumental in performing close air support missions. In the early 1960s, the Skyraiders were phased out of active service as the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and Grumman A-6 Intruder took their place in the Navy’s fleet. A-1Es and A-1Hs were transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force as early as 1960, using covert instructors. The VNAF pilots were later trained and supported by the U.S. Air Force in the mid-60’s. In 1962, the USAF acquired 150 Skyraiders for their own use, providing critical close air support to ground forces, and assisting the famed “Jolly Green Giant” H-53 helicopters in the insertion and extraction of Special Operations teams along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The aircraft’s ability to carry a variety of ordinance, absorb heavy ground fire and loiter up to eight hours, made the “low and slow” A-1 maneuvers invaluable during search and rescue missions (SAR).

By 1973, all of the A-1 Skyraiders had been turned over to the VNAF. Shortly thereafter, the combat career of the A-1 came to an end on April 30, 1975, as the South Vietnamese surrendered and most of the remaining A-1s were destroyed. However, four A-1 Skyraiders survived and now reside at four aviation museums in the United States:

A-1E Bu.No. 132683 Colorado Springs, CO (National Museum of WWII Aviation)
A-1H Bu.No. 135332 Washington, DC (National Air and Space Museum)
A-1H Bu.No. 139606 Addison, TX (Cavanaugh Flight Museum)
A-1H Bu.No. 139665 Sevierville, TN (Tennessee Museum of Aviation)

The January 1997 issue of the Air & Space Magazine contains the article Escape to U Taphao, written by Ralph Wetterhahn, detailing the final days of the Vietnam War and the efforts to evacuate U.S. supplied aircraft.

Excerpts from the Air & Space/Smithsonian, Dec/Jan 1997 issue:
Escape to U Taphao – written by Ralph Wetterhahn

By the end of the day, 165 VNAF aircraft were at U Taphao, including 31 F-5s, 27 A-37 Dragonflys, nine C-130A Hercules transports, 45 UH-1 Bell helicopters, 16 C-47s, 11 A-1E and H Skyraiders, six C-7A Caribou transports, three AC-119 gunships, 14 Cessna U-17 Skywagons, three O-1 Bird Dogs, and a handful of civilian aircraft. The airplanes were crammed among 97 Cambodian aircraft that had arrived since April 12, when Phnom Penh fell.

Loading only the most valuable aircraft aboard the Midway meant, of course, that older combat aircraft, like the A-1 Skyraiders, would be left behind. These propeller-driven aircraft had proven effective in close-air-support and rescue operations, and Aderholt was not about to let them fall into Vietnamese hands. With the blessing of the Thai military, Aderholt ordered Youngblood and Major Jack W. Drummond, both pilots who had flown Skyraiders years earlier, to U Taphao to fly the A-1s to a โ€œless conspicuous location.โ€

They delivered the airplanes to Ta Khli Air Base in central Thailand and parked them out of sight in a hangar. (Aderholt was familiar with the base because he had worked with the CIA there to send U-2s on missions over China.) The two pilots returned to U Taphao and brought another pair of A-ls to Ta Khli. When the U.S. Embassy in Thailand found out about the F-5s that were given to the Thai air force and the movement of A-1s, Drummond and Youngblood were returned to their regular duties, and the remaining A-1s stayed at U Taphao.

Aderholt retired from the Air Force in 1976, but he stayed in Thailand for four more yearsโ€”long enough to arrange transport home for the four A-1s he had sent to Ta Khli. He says today that he knew those aircraft had become rare in the United States and he wanted to make sure a few were preserved.

Aderholt rented tractors to pull the airplanes from Ta Khli to the Chao Prya River. He had them loaded on four barges brought up from Bangkok, which immediately got mired in shallows. Aderholt bribed the keeper of the Chainat Dam with 20,000 baht ($1,000 at the time) to open the flood gates. The barges floated down river to the port, and the aircraft were loaded on a ship. Later, warbird collector Dave Tallichet brought them to Los Angeles and stored them at Orange County Airport until 1986.

On May 5, 1975, after being abandoned in Thailand, for two years, by the South Vietnamese, the rescue of the four surviving “combat veteran” A-1 Skyraiders began as Jack Drummond flew A-1H #135332 (National Air and Space Museum), alongside Roger Youngblood in A-1E #132683 (National Museum of WWII Aviation), flying from U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield to Takhli Royal Air Force Base. The next day, May 6, 1975 they both returned to U-Tapao to fly two more A-1s to safety, Drummond flew A-1H #139665 (Tennessee Museum of Aviation), and Youngblood flew A-1H #139606 (Cavanaugh Flight Museum).

Roger Youngblood, from Taylor TX, attended the April 2018 OLAA reunion, sharing his first-hand knowledge of his assignment to help move the Skyraiders from U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield to Takhli Royal Air Force Base. Youngblood was overwhelmed to see for the first time, since May 1975, one of the Skyraiders he rescued, as the National Museum of WWII Aviation flew their A-1E #132683 from Colorado Springs to the Tennessee Museum of Aviation, in Sevierville. Youngblood attended an event, later in 2018, at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum, giving him the opportunity after 43 years, to see yet another Skyraider from his past. After Youngblood climbed off of the wing of the last Skyraider (A-1H #139606), on May 6, 1975, to land at Takhli Royal Air Force Base, he never imagined he would see any of the four rescued aircraft again, much less see them fly together.

The May 4th OLAA reunion is historically significant this year due in part to the addition of Cavanaugh Flight Museum’s A-1H Skyraider #606. Ken Holston flew the Cavanaugh aircraft to Sevierville on April 10, where it has been on display in our aircraft hangar. Weather permitting on May 4, 2019, history will take flight over Sevierville, as two of the four surviving A-1H Skyraiders honor all USAF Skyraider pilots who so heroically fought during the Vietnam War. These two aircraft flew together for the last time on May 6, 1975, nearly 44 years to the day. The magnitude of this historical flight is hard to comprehend, but for the men who flew the A-1 Skyraider, it will create treasured memories and command great emotion.