Douglas A-26 Invader
One of the
longest-serving aircraft in American military history has to be the Douglas A–26 Invader. It is a twin-engined light
attack bomber that saw service beginning in 1942 and was not retired until 1972.
Invaders saw action with the Fifth Air Force in the Southwest Pacific theater when they bombed Japanese-held islands near
began arriving in Europe in late September of 1944 for assignment to the Ninth Air Force. These aircraft flew their first
mission on September 6, 1944.
of the Third Bombardment Group, operating from bases in southern Japan, were some of the first USAF aircraft engaged in the
Korean War, as they carried out missions over South Korea before carrying out a bombing mission in North Korea on June 29,
Invaders– or B–26s - destroyed 38,000 vehicles, 406 locomotives, 3700 railway trucks, and seven enemy aircraft
on the ground during the Korean War. Invaders carried out the last USAF bombing mission of the war 24 min. before the Korean
cease-fire was signed on June 27, 1953.
were “sanitized” in early 1961 at Duke Field for use in the Bahy of Pigs Invasion.. Cuban exile aircrews were
trained to fly them. Affter the 20 aircraft were transferred to Nicaragua in early 1961, they were painted in the markings
of the Air Force of the Cuban government. Eight B–26 is crewed by Cuban exiles attacked three Cuban airfields in an
attempt to destroy Cuban cimbat aircraft on the ground. Also, on April 17, 1961, B–26s supported the Bay of Pigs invasion
of Cuba. This conflict ended on April 19 after the loss of nine B–26s, 10 Cuban exiles and four American airmen.
of 1960, the first B–26 is to arrive in Southeast Asia were deployed in Thailand. They were unmarked and operated under
the auspices of the United States CIA. Because of repercussions from the Invaders participation in the Bay of Pigs invasion,
no combat missions are known to have been flown. The aircraft were subsequently operated in South Vietnam under project “farm
gate.” The only other deployment of B–26 aircraft to Laos was the deployment of two RB–25 C aircraft, specifically
modified for night reconnaissance mission.
While not thought
of as one of America’s top bombers, the A-26 Invader – or B-26 -can boast of 30 years of workmanlike service to
the United States Air Force as one of America’s longest-lived and most verstatile aircraft.
The Douglas A-26 Invader (B-26
between 1948–1965) was a United States twin-engined light attack bomber built by the Douglas Aircraft Co. during World War II that also saw service during several of the Cold War's major conflicts. A limited number of highly modified aircraft (designation A-26 restored)
served in combat until 1969.
The redesignation of the type from
A-26 to B-26 has led to popular confusion with the Martin B-26. Although both types used the R-2800 engine, they are completely different designs.
The last A-26 in active US service
was assigned to the Air National Guard; that aircraft was retired from military service in 1972 by the US Air Force and the National Guard Bureau and donated to the National Air and Space Museum.
Design and development
A-26 was an unusual design for an attack bomber of the early 1940s period, as it was designed as a single-pilot aircraft (sharing
this characteristic with the RAF's de Havilland Mosquito, among others). The aircraft was designed by Edward Heinemann, Robert Donovan, and Ted R. Smith.
Douglas XA-26 prototype (41-19504) first flew on 10 July 1942 at Mines Field, El Segundo, with test pilot Benny Howard at the controls. Flight tests revealed excellent performance and handling, but there were problems
with engine cooling which led to cowling changes and omission of the propeller spinners on production aircraft, plus modification of the nose landing gear after repeated
collapses during testing.
A-26 was originally built in two different configurations. The A-26B had a "solid" nose, which originally could be equipped
with a combination of anything from .50 caliber machine guns, 37mm auto cannon, 20mm or even a 75mm pack howitzer, but normally
the solid nose version housed six (or later eight) .50 caliber machine guns, officially termed the "all-purpose nose", later commonly known as the "six-gun nose" or "eight-gun
nose". The A-26C's "glass" nose, officially termed the "Bombardier nose", contained a Norden bombsight for medium altitude precision bombing. The A-26C nose section included two fixed M-2 guns,
later replaced by underwing gun packs or internal guns in the wings.
about 1,570 production aircraft, three guns were installed in each wing, coinciding with the introduction of the "eight-gun
nose" for A-26Bs, giving some configurations as many as 14 .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in a fixed forward mount.
An A-26C nose section could be exchanged for an A-26B nose section, or vice versa, in a few man-hours, thus physically (and
officially) changing the designation and operational role. The "flat-topped" canopy was changed in late 1944 after about 820 production aircraft, to a clamshell style with greatly
the pilot in an A-26B, a crew member typically served as navigator and gun loader for the pilot-operated nose guns. In an A-26C, that crew member served as navigator and bombardier, and relocated to the nose section for the bombing phase of an operation. A small number of
A-26Cs were fitted with dual flight controls, some parts of which could be disabled in flight to allow limited access to the
nose section. A tractor-style "jump seat" was located behind the "navigator's seat." In most missions, a third crew member
in the rear gunner's compartment operated the remotely-controlled dorsal and ventral gun turrets, with access to and from
the cockpit only possible via the bomb bay when that was empty.
World War II
Douglas company began delivering the production model A-26B in August 1943 with the new bomber first seeing action with the
Fifth Air Force in the Southwest Pacific theater on 23 June 1944, when they bombed Japanese-held islands near Manokwari. The pilots in the 3rd Bomb Group's 13th Squadron, "The Grim Reapers" which received the first
four A-26s for evaluation, found the view from the cockpit to be poor for low level attack. General George Kenney, commander of the Far East Air Forces stated that, "We do not want the A-26 under any circumstances as a replacement for anything."
Until changes could be made, the 3rd Bomb Group requested additional A-20 Havocs, although both types were used in composite flights. The 319th Bomb Group worked up on the
A-26 in March 1945, joining the initial 3rd BG, with the 319th flying until 12 August 1945. The A-26 operations wound down
in mid-August 1945 with only a few dozen missions flown.
began arriving in Europe in late September 1944 for assignment to the Ninth Air Force. The initial deployment involved 18 aircraft and crews assigned to the 553d Squadron of the
386th Bomb Group. This unit flew its first mission on 6 September 1944. The first group to fully convert to the A-26B was
416th Bombardment Group with which it entered combat on 17 November, and the 409th Bombardment Group, whose A-26s became operational in late November. Due to a shortage of A-26C variants, the
groups flew a combined A-20/A-26 unit until deliveries of the glass-nose version caught up. Besides bombing and strafing,
tactical reconnaissance and night interdiction missions were undertaken successfully. In contrast to the Pacific-based units,
the A-26 was well received by pilots and crew alike, and by 1945, the 9th AF had flown 11,567 missions, dropping 18,054 tons
of bombs, recording seven confirmed kills while losing 67 aircraft.