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
The flight hangers were located at the
The Navy eventually took delivery of 2 of these pre-production
models and they were flown to the Naval Air Station overhaul hangars at
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
Our crew was next sent to
We were then sent to the Naval Air Base at
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.
Phillip A. Purpura