Your article on the Douglas A3D brought back a host of fond memories involving my experiences as a young aircraft mechanic working on the A3D.I had just gotten my aircraft mechanics license, (A&E, as it was called back then), and I hired on at the Douglas Aircraft plant in El Segundo California; I believe the year was around 1954. I was put to work on the first pre-production models of the A3D incorporating EOs, (Engineering Orders), prior to their delivery to the Navy.

 

The flight hangers were located at the Los Angeles International Airport and used the same runways as the commercial flights. I remember going to the far end of the production plant to bring the first A3D down Douglas Avenue and across Imperial Highway to the flight hangers.A small tug was pulling the A3d with a yoke attached to the nose gear. I was told that if they had to stop suddenly, the weight would overwhelm the tug and push it forward. Therefore 2 of us were to run along side the A3D and were given wooden 4x4s to throw in front the main landing if such an event occurred.To this day I still think the plane would have rolled right over the 4x4s. The brakes were non-function at this point in the assembly process; it seems absurd to me now. I suppose that the A3D was the biggest Naval plane ever built at that plant which may explain the small tug. But the most absurd thing was that we had to stop at the traffic signal to cross Imperial Highway while towing an A3D down the street!

 

The Navy eventually took delivery of 2 of these pre-production models and they were flown to the Naval Air Station overhaul hangars at Norfolk Virginia. I believe that there were 4 or 5 of these pre-production models to be delivered prior to the production run.It was a real problem fixing all the hydraulic leaks long enough for the inspector to buy off the planes. A crew of mechanics were sent there to modify the A3Ds to the latest configuration; I was one of the crew. I took my wife and baby son and went to live in Norfolk Virginia.

 

At the Norfolk Naval Station we literally disassembled and reassembled the A3ds to bring them up the latest configuration, including the installation of a fuel dump system.We really became proficient at changing the engines and prided ourselves on the ability to perform the process in far less than an hour.We also installed a new automatic braking system on the planes and one Naval aviator didnít feel comfortable with the way the brakes felt. He proceeded to run the A3D up and down the runway several times to checkout the new braking system until the brakes got so hot the sensors melted and possibly annealed the axles; we had to remove the axles and sent them to the plant for heat re-treatment.

 

We were awaiting the last of the pre-production A3Ds when we learned, (Second hand), that it had developed a problem over Los Angeles Internal airport. Rumors were that the pilot had cycled the landing gear at speeds above some prescribed limit and the landing gear doors had been torn off the aircraft, taking with them all the hydraulics, including the back-up systems. This rendered the main landing inoperable with the gear retracted. The circling plane rained parts over the neighborhood. An upshot of the inoperable main landing gear problem was that the Navy cut a hole in the rear bulkhead of the bomb bay to access the landing gear compartment. They then put a removable cover over the hole and mounted a standard crowbar on the bulkhead. This was to be used to pry the landing gear over center so that it could then free fall and lock down, if the need ever arose. I saw this ďEmergencyĒ fix on several operational A3Ds.

 

The story continued that the plane was flown to China Lake and the controls were set to allow it to slowly circle until it crash-landed after the pilots bailed out. An addition to the story was that a nearby group of new North American F100s were dispatched to chase it down. The A3D was said to have bellied-in and broke in half. There were stories that the F100s fired on it, I wonder today if thatís what really happened; but as a 20year old, I really loved the story.

 

Our crew was next sent to NAS Patuxent River for the Fleet Indoctrination Program, (FIP?). I once watched a pilot trying to land an A3D in a severe crosswind, he was having difficulty due to the narrow stance of the fuselage mounted main landing gear. The plane was bouncing on the nose gear which resulted in the overstressing of the front bulkhead on which the nose gear was mounted. Later examination of the bulkhead revealed several cracks. We were told to stop drill the cracks until an Engineering fix was developed by the factory.

 

We were then sent to the Naval Air Base at Sanford Florida to further modify the A3Ds.One memorable task was to install additional baffles in the rear fuselage fuel tanks. The actual tanks were rubber and we also had to vulcanize additional anchors to better secure them to the plane. Apparently the fuel sloshed around violently during carrier take-off and other maneuvers.It was summer and hot; the fumes were overwhelming. We had to work inside the large tank, (Approximately 2000 gallons), wearing respirators. I also seem to recall that an A3D crashed at Sanford; I have forgotten the details.

 

Some of my recollections have faded due to time while others remain vivid.I donít know how much of my experiences were, or are, classified information, but I did have a very high clearance.

 

One of the most vivid recollections was that when the A3Ds reached the end of the long assembly line, the rear mounted radar controlled twin 20mm canon were test fired into a dirt bank. A warning whistle would sound and all employees would steady themselves; the ensuing canon sound created a gut-wrenching feeling in me as it resounded down the nearly half-mile long plant. Iíll never forget that feeling in the pit of my stomach.

 

I do remember the A3D very well as I spent considerable time working on just about every area of the plane. As a young curious mechanic, I wanted to know everything about the plane and itsí abilities. My experience with the A3D was a memorable time in my life and I thank you for bringing back those pleasant memories.

 

Sincerely.

Phillip A. Purpura

Torrance, California