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F4D (F-6) Skyray
Role Fighter aircraft
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
Designer Ed Heinemann
First flight 23 January 1951
Introduction 1956
Retired 1964
Status Phased out of service
Primary users United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Produced 1950–1958
Number built 422
Developed into Douglas F5D Skylancer

The Douglas F4D Skyray (later redesignated F-6 Skyray) was an American carrier-based supersonic fighter/interceptor built by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Although it was in service for a relatively short time and never entered combat, it was notable for being the first carrier-launched aircraft to hold the world's absolute speed record, at 752.943 mph,[1] and was the first United States Navy and United States Marine Corps fighter that could exceed Mach 1 in level flight. It was the last fighter produced by the Douglas Aircraft Company before it merged with McDonnell Aircraft and became McDonnell Douglas. The F5D Skylancer was an advanced development of the F4D Skyray that did not go into service.

Design and development

The XF4D-1 prototype aboard USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), in October 1953.

The Skyray was designed to meet a Navy requirement issued in 1947 for a fighter aircraft that could intercept and destroy an enemy aircraft at an altitude of 50,000 ft (15,240 m) within five minutes of the alarm being sounded.[2] The Navy also wanted an aircraft that followed the designs and research of the German aerodynamicist Alexander Lippisch, who moved to the U.S. after World War II.

The F4D Skyray was a wide delta wing design with long, sharply swept, rounded wings. The design was named for its resemblance to the manta ray.[3] The thick wing roots contained the air intakes feeding a single turbojet engine. Fuel was contained both in the wings and the deep fuselage. Leading edge slats were fitted for increased lift during takeoff and landing, while the trailing edges were mostly elevon control surfaces. Additional pitch trimmers were fitted inboard near the jet exhaust, and were locked upward on takeoff and landing.

The Westinghouse J40 turbojet was the intended power plant, but Douglas took a conservative view and designed in contingency options for other power plants. The J40 proved troublesome and was eventually cancelled, and the Skyray was fitted instead with the Pratt & Whitney J57, a more powerful but larger engine.

Production aircraft were not delivered until early 1956, while the U.S. Marine Corps received their first in 1957. In total, 419 F4D-1 (later designated F-6 in the unified designation system) aircraft were produced.

Its unique design also played a part in making the Skyray one of the best-known early jet fighters. Affectionately known as the "Ford" (after the "Four" and "D" of its designation).[4] In 1953, Edward H. Heinemann was awarded the Collier Trophy in recognition of his design work on the F4D.[5]

Operational history

APQ-50A radar of an F4D-1

In April 1956, VC-3 was the first squadron operational with the F4D-1.[1] This unit was later redesignated VFAW-3 and assigned to NORAD, as the only U.S. Navy fighter squadron in what was predominantly a U.S. Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force organization. VFAW-3 was permanently based at NAS North Island in San Diego.

The U.S. Marine Corps also flew the Skyray. When the Department of Defense adopted a uniform aircraft designation system patterned on the USAF aircraft designation system in September 1962, the F4D was redesignated as the F-6A Skyray. In addition to multiple Navy and Marine Corps squadrons, Naval Air Reserve and Marine Air Reserve squadrons VF-881, VF-882 and VMF-215 also flew the Skyray. The last operational squadron was VMF(AW)-542, which flew the Skyray until February 1964.

The Skyray was designed exclusively for the high-altitude interception role with a spectacular rate and angle of climb. The Skyray set a new time to altitude record flying from a standing start to 49,221 ft (15,000 m) in 2 minutes and 36 seconds, all while flying at a 70° pitch angle.[1] As a dedicated interceptor, the F4D was unsuited to the multi-mission capabilities soon in demand, so it had a short career in Navy and Marine Corps service, the last aircraft being withdrawn from service in 1964. Four aircraft were used by NACA (soon to be NASA) until 1969.[6]

Under the new 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system, the F4D-1 was redesignated the F-6A. The F4D (old designation) should not be confused with the F-4D (new designation) – the latter being the "D" variant of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II operated by the U.S. Air Force.

F5D Skylancer

The F5D Skylancer was derived from the F4D and intended to be a Mach 2 capable successor to the Skyray. Although four prototypes were built and flown, the project was cancelled as being too similar in mission parameters to the Vought F8U Crusader and also to reduce dependence upon Douglas Aircraft, which was also producing several other aircraft for the U.S. Navy.[6]


F4D-1 Skyray

Prototypes, redesignated YF-6A in 1962, two built
Single-seat fighter aircraft, production model redesignated F-6A in 1962, 420 built.
Re-engined F4D-1 with the J57-F-14, 100 on order cancelled.
F4D-2 version with extended nose housing twin radar scanners, project only evolved into the F5D Skylancer.
XF4D-1 prototypes redesignated in 1962.
F4D-1 redesignated in 1962.


Formation of two VF-102 F4D-1 Skyrays

F4D-1 of VMF-542


Aircraft on display

USMC F4D-1 BuNo 139177 from the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum

US Navy F-6A Skyray 134806 on display at the NMNA at Pensacola Florida in 1975

F4D-1 (F-6A)
  • 134836 - New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.[11]

Specifications (F4D-1)

Douglas F4D Skyray line drawings.svg

Data from The American Fighter[1]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 45 ft 3 in (13.8 m)
  • Wingspan: 33 ft 6 in (10.21 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.96 m)
  • Wing area: 557 ft² (52 m²)
  • Empty weight: 16,024 lb (7,268 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 22,648 lb (10,273 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 27,116 lb (12,300 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8, −8A or −8B turbojet
    • Dry thrust: 10,200 lbf (45 kN)
    • Thrust with afterburner: 16,000 lbf (71 kN)


  • Maximum speed: 722 mph (627 kn, 1,200 km/h)
  • Range: 700 mi (610 nmi, 1,100 km)combat
  • Ferry range: 1,200 mi(1,040 nmi, 1,900 km)
  • Service ceiling: 55,000 ft (17,000 m)
  • Rate of climb: 18,300 ft/min (93.3 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 41 lb/ft² (198 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.71


  • Guns: 4 20 mm Colt Mk 12 cannon, 2 each just aft of the wing leading edge, mid-wing, underside, with 65 rounds/gun
  • Rockets:
    • 6 pods of 7 2.75 in (70 mm) unguided rockets or
    • 4 pods of 19 2.75 in (70 mm) unguided rockets
  • Missiles: 4 AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles
  • Bombs: 2 2,000 lb (907 kg) bombs


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Angelluci 1987, p. 92.
  2. Angelluci 1987, p. 91.
  3. Gunston 1981, p. 67.
  4. Gunston 1981, p. 70.
  5. "Collier Trophy awards." National Aeronautic Association. Retrieved: 27 February 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gunston 1981, p. 73.
  7. "F4D Skyray/124587." Warbird Registry. Retrieved: 26 October 2012.
  8. "F4D Skyray/134748." Pima Air and Space Museum. Retrieved: 27 February 2008.
  9. "F4D Skyray/134764." Aero Web. Retrieved: 15 December 2010.
  10. "F4D Skyray/134806." Museum of Naval Aviation. Retrieved: 27 February 2008.
  11. "F4D Skyray/134836." New England Air Museum. Retrieved: 26 October 2012.
  12. "F-4D Skyray/134936." Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum. Retrieved: 29 February 2008.
  13. "F4D Skyray/134950." Aero Web. Retrieved: 26 October 2012.
  14. "F4D Skyray/139177." Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum. Retrieved: 13 June 2010.
  • Angelucci, Enzo. The American Fighter. Sparkford, Somerset, UK: Haynes Publishing Group, 1987. ISBN 0-85429-635-2.
  • Green, William and Gerald Pollinger. The Aircraft of the World. London: Macdonald, 1955.
  • Gunston, Bill. Fighters of the Fifties. Cambridge, UK: Patrick Stephens Limited, 1981. ISBN 0-85059-463-4.
  • Posey, Carl. "Beautiful Climber". Air & Space, June–July 2006.
  • Williams, Nick and Steve Ginter. Douglas F4D Skyray, Naval Fighters no. 13. Simi Valley, California: Ginter Books, 1986. ISBN 0-942612-13-2.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Douglas F4D Skyray." Military Aircraft of the Cold War (The Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2006. ISBN 1-84013-929-3.
  • Winchester, Jim. Fighter: The World's Finest Combat Aircraft, 1913 to the Present Day. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. and Parragon Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0-7607-7957-0.

External links

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