By Tommy H. Thomason

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Curious Case of the A3D-1Q Crew Size

26 May 2013: Updated with additional information and an illustration

Every once in awhile someone asks a question that causes me to do a fact check and research that leads to a different answer than I would have given otherwise. In this case, the question was: "Can anyone tell me why these A3D-1Q's had open bomb bay doors...if they were originally (sealed) to accommodate the ECM* monitors in an unpressurized bomb bay compartment. It would seem that opening the bomb bay would be impossible if it was converted to an ECM* compartment"
*Strictly speaking, the mission wasn't ECM (Electronic CounterMeasures) but electronic reconnaissance. The A3D-1Qs were recording communication, navigation, and radar emissions, not jamming them.

Five Douglas A3D-1s bombers were converted to have an electronic reconnaissance mission capability by the Navy, reportedly at the Navy repair and overhaul facility at Norfolk, Virginia, and redesignated A3D-1Q. The A3D-1Q Characteristics Summary (CS) dated 15 July 1957 gives the Bureau Numbers (130356 and 130360-3) and states that it had a crew of seven and a "pressurized cabin". Other published sources state that the bomb bay was not pressurized (the bombs didn't need it) even though there were guys sitting back there or that there was a pressurized "capsule" installed in the bomb bay.

The bomb bay door that's open is the one on the left. The right one was modified to add a canoe-like fairing to house antenna(s); it could be opened if required. There were also mission-specific antennas located in the fairings on the side of the forward fuselage and the tip of the tail.
Two of the A3D-1Qs were delivered to VQ-1 and two to VQ-2 in late 1956.  (Chuck Huber reports that at least one A3D-1Q was delivered to VQ-1 still glossy Sea Blue.)

An excellent history by Capt Don East, USN of the U.S. Navy's electronic mission activity and these two squadrons is provided here:
and here:

Capt East makes it clear that these were four-place, not seven-place, airplanes: pilot, navigator, crew chief (who would also have been the tail gunner), and a radio-electronics operator. There were a couple of other indicators as well as to the number of crewmen. In both fatal crashes, one at VQ-1 and one at VQ-2, there were only four crewmen aboard; although one was a proficiency flight, the other was almost certainly operational. There are only four guys in this picture of a VQ-1 A3D-1Q crew.
At first I assumed that the fourth crewman was located in the bomb bay but the more I thought about it, the less sense this made. The bomb bay was not pressurized (although the flight deck wasn't pressurized much and pressurization isn't absolutely necessary for flight at high altitude). There didn't appear to be any side or upper escape hatches added to the mid fuselage, much less a porthole. Theoretically, however, bailout could be accomplished by opening the bomb bay door and the fourth crewman would probably ride the jump seat on the flight deck for takeoffs, landings, and when a ditching or crash landing was going to occur.

Closer inspection of the forward fuselage revealed two interesting features though. First, the periscope fairing had been removed consistent with the removal of the ASB-1 bombing system since the electronic reconnaissance mission didn't require it. Second, the aft part of the canopy appeared to have be replaced with solid panels and the sides of the canopy looked nonstandard as well.

As a result, I suspected that the flight deck of the A3D-1Q was configured with a fourth work station. Eliminating the bombing system would allow the right front seat to be moved forward, creating adequate space behind it to accommodate it.

Captain East confirmed by email that the A3D-1Q had a four-man crew and they were all seated on the flight deck. The fourth crewman's work station was not in the bomb bay.

This is a comparison of a poor-quality A3D-1Q canopy photo with one of an A3D Bomber that suggests the seating arrangement on the right in the A3D-1Q was the same as existing one on the left although the fourth seat reportedly faced forward.
However, one second-hand report has the aft right-hand seat facing forward, with the back of the seat consisting of "the aft bulkhead of the cockpit". That would be consistent with the addition of a jump seat during A3D-2 production.
It is also described as a bucket seat, which would seem to be more appropriate for crew comfort on a long mission.

How to explain the 1957 CS that lists it as a seven-place airplane with a pressurized cabin? This is almost certainly an error, possibly caused by confusion with the forthcoming A3D-2Q (the mockup had been reviewed in September 1954) that was a seven-place airplane with four crewmen added in a rearrangement of the fuselage interior that created a pressurized cabin immediately behind the flight deck. (See The same applies to the published and online instances of the A3D-1Q described as having seven crewmen.

I'd appreciate it if someone would look inside the cockpit and bomb bay of the last remaining EA-3A (the redesgnation of the A3D-1Q) that is on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum and report back.

There might be enough hardware left in it to ascertain the configuration of the fourth crew station. It was however, used by Westinghouse to test side-looking radar, among other things, so the flight deck might have been rearranged at some point and no longer represents that of the A3D-1Q.

I'm also hopeful that a connection gets made with an A3D-1Q crewman who has a reliable memory...


Anonymous said...

Having been in VQ-2 in 1957/58 as an AT flying aircrew on P4M-Q aircraft, there is probably some confusion between the EA3-1Q and EA3-2Q. The 1Q had a crew of 4 and 2Q had 4 ECM operators in the Bombay. I left before seeing a 2Q, but info is well documented elsewhere.

Tailspin said...

Thanks very much for the confirmation and clarification.

Adron Joyner said...

I was in VQ-2 Oct, 1956 to July, 1959.
When I joined the squadron, VQ-2 had two A3D-1Q's. The 1-Q had a pair of 20MM cannons in a tail turret, controlled from the cockpit by the BN. The A3D-1Q was indeed a four man aircraft. Pilot, Bombardier/Navigator, and two ECM operators - one enlisted and one officer, who was also the Evaluator. The enlisted operator was generally a senior Petty Officer, and I was the only one of my generation to get into that fraternity. My A3D "career" was cut short by the loss of both AirCraft. One on approach to Incirlik AFB in Adana, Turkey with the loss of all four crewmen - well documented - and the other, again, in an accident on a local training flight in Port Lyautey. That aircraft sustained a broken back and sat on our ramp covered with a tarp for months. And I really don't remember what happened to it.
The A3D-1Q had an ALA-3 signal analyzer instead of the APA-74 as in the P4M. The ALA-3 only had three sweeps and was considerably smaller than the APA-74, which had five. All other ECM gear was the same as the P4M, as I recall

adron joyner said...

Obviously,"Anonymous" and I were in VQ-2 at the same time & flew the P4M-1Q together. I hope he identifies himself. Adron Joyner, bayshore8@live,com

65 TossPowerTrap said...

Can any A3D experts comment on the configuration of equipment in the bomb bay of the A3D-1Q? Usually on the ground, the left bomb bay door was left open, and the right door was welded shut. Is there any source of information as to what exactly was in the bomb bay of the 1Q, the placement and color?


James Sprouse said...

Minor typo spotted just after the second photo "Chuck Huber reporsts"

Tailspin said...

Thanks - fixed