The Douglas F3D Skyknight was the world’s first, purpose built, jet night fighter. In August, 1945 the US Navy requested proposals for a carrier based night fighter to supplement the F4U Corsair and F7F Tigercat night fighters that were then in service. The request specified the ability to acquire targets by radar up to a range of 125 miles, a speed of 500 miles per hour, an operating altitude of 40,000 feet and a combat radius of 500 miles. Douglas, Grumman, Curtiss and Fleetwings all submitted proposals. The Douglas entry was a straight winged, twin jet airplane with side by side seating for the pilot and radar operator. The wide antennae of the radar equipment in use at this time dictated the width of the fuselage, which earned the Skyknight the nickname “Willy the Whale”. This feature, because of available space in the fuselage, led to the type being chosen as an electronic jamming platform towards the end of its service life. Also unique to the Skyknight was the escape system for its crew. The pilot and Radar operator would leave their seats, kick out a panel that was in between the seats and slide down a chute that came out on the bottom of the aircraft.

       The first of three XF3D-1s flew on March 23, 1948. The first of 28 production F3D-1s flew on February 13, 1950.

       The need to provide more power led to the re-engined F3D-2 which was much faster and had double the range of the F3D-1 the second variant also had an upgraded electronics suite that included tail warning radar. A total of 237 examples of the F3D-2 Skyknight were produced, with the last example of the -2 rolling off the production line on March 23, 1952.

       Starting on October 4, 1949 and commencing on February 1, 1950 and XF3D-1 prototype was used for carrier suitability trials and was found to be unsuitable for daytime, let alone nighttime, carrier operations. For this reason, and the fact that a night fighter capable of intercepting jets would be needed in the Korean conflict, the Skyknight was relegated to Marine (VMF(N)) night fighter squadrons. Follow on carrier suitability tests were carried out on three F3D-2 models. These were found to be more suitable for carrier operations, but by that time the die had been cast and the Skyknight remained a land based aircraft throughout it service life. The last active duty Skyknight was retired in 1978. Several Skyknights continued on as radar test platforms, the last one of these being retired in 1987.

VMF(N)-513 Logo

       The F3D-2 Skyknight entered combat operations in the Korean War when 12 Skyknights arrived in July of 1952 for service with VMF(N)-513, the “Flying Nightmares”. The squadron was given the task of conducting fighter sweeps ahead of the nighttime B-29 bombing raids. From this point forward no B-29s were lost on Skyknight escorted missions.

       On November 3, 1952 the first nighttime jet to jet victory occurred. A Skyknight piloted by Major William T. Stratton with Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) MSgt Hans Hoglind shot down a Yak-15. This was the first of seven Skyknight kills during the Korean War, the most kills for any single type of aircraft flown by either the Navy or Marines during the conflict.

       After Korea, Skyknights served as trainers for radar intercept officers, and as electronic reconnaissance and countermeasure platforms through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. On September 18, 1962 the Defense Department changed its designation system for military aircraft in order to comply with Secretary McNamara's desire for more commonality between the services. Thus the F3D Skyknight became the F-10 Skyknight.

       BuAer # 124620, the airframe that is the subject of this scale model entered service with the US Marines’ night fighter squadron VMF(N)-542 at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, CA. on February 23, 1952 and did not arrive at the aircraft disposal center at Davis Monthan AFB, AZ. until February 13, 1970. This airframe is currently undergoing restoration at the Quonset Air Museum in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. In May of 1952 VMF(N)-542’s aircraft were transferred to VMF(N)-513. At this time 124620 was painted overall flat black with red WF tail markings and it was assigned aircraft # 15, which was also in red. Laura Mae was stenciled along the crew access steps on the right side of the fuselage. This is the moment in time that I have chosen to represent when finishing my model.

Czech Models Kit # 4814 F3D-2 Skyknight Box Art Czech Models Kit # 4814 F3D-2 Skyknight Box Art F3D-2 Skyknight at Quonset Air Museum

       In 2004 Czech Models released kit # 4814, Douglas F3D-2 Skyknight. The kit consisted of 4 plastic trees, including one of clear plastic for the canopy, 15 resin castings, for the wheel wells and cockpit interior, and a decal sheet with three different options. The marking options were for BuAer # 124620, the subject of this article, BuAer # 127038 an overall gloss sea blue example from the USS Intrepid in 1954 and BuAer # 125849 a light Gull grey and white airplane from VMCJ-1 from the Vietnam War days in 1967.

       Assembly began with the resin cockpit section. The pieces were painted according to the instruction sheet before assembly. The cockpit tub along with the nose wheel bay were test fitted into the fuselage halves. A lot of sanding was required to get the two halves of the fuselage to go together properly.

       The panel lines of the canopy were not right according to pictures in the reference material. The kit has two small windows in the top panel; the Skyknight had one window with rounded edges above the pilots. The canopy glass was test fit and glued in place and then the panel lines were completely sanded off and polished with Blue Magic Metal Polish. The canopy framework was masked off to better represent the actual airplane.

       The exhaust and intake cones were painted and assembled and glued to the insides of the engine nacelles. The nacelles required a lot of putty and elbow grease to make them look right.

       The resin main landing gear bays required removing at least one sixteenth of and inch before the wing halves would fit together. The wings were fit to the fuselage along with the tailplanes. The bays were painted Testors Gloss Sea Blue.

       With the major components of the Skyknight assembled final sanding and polishing was started. After applications of 220, 400, 600 grit sandpaper, polishing and test coats of paint the airplane was ready for the final coats of Testor’s Classic Black.

       Once the model had nice gloss sheen the decals could be applied. The red “15” and the red “WF” from the decal sheet supplied with the kit were a disappointment. When applied they did not exhibit the right color to match the reference materials I had. Luckily I had a decal sheet from the 1/48 scale Hasegawa F4U-5N Corsair that had the right markings and when applied looked right. This left the red “F3D-2”, “MARINES” and “124620” in small lettering on the tail. I went on-line to Microscale’s website and purchased sheet # 90105 ‘Railroad Gothic Letters and Numbers Red” The lettering from this sheet did the trick. I also used the National Markings without the blue surround from the Hasegawa kit. The white maintenance instruction lettering was applied as a final step in the decaling process. All decals were applied using the Microscale process of having a gloss finish, applying Micro Sol, laying and positioning the decal and then applying Micro Set.

       The landing gear pieces were painted gloss sea blue and then glued in place. Testors Dullcote was now applied all over the model. Next weathering was done as the flat finish of the real Skyknights did not stand up well to the Korean climate.

       The wheels were painted and glued on. Once this had been done it was apparent that the kit’s main landing gear was much too long. The model had a tail high stance that was not correct. I cut the main gear off with a razor saw and reduced its height by about 3/32 of an inch to give it a more correct appearance.

       Finally, the masking was removed from the canopy, the tailhook was painted and glued on, the pitot tube was placed in front of the cockpit and the tailskid was modified to a down position.

       In order to display the model I went online to Great Models and purchased a Just Plane Stuff Perforated Steel Plank air field section that would represent the airfields the Skyknight flew out of while serving in Korea. This resin base was painted and mounted on a 3/4" thinck base to complete my project.

       Overall this kit makes a good representation of an F3D-2 Skyknight. There were some corrections needed. The finished model can be seen at the Quonset Air Museum in North Kingstown, RI, were the actual airplane is an exhibit.


       Lawrence D. Webster - Aircraft Archeologist & Aero Historian – TIGHAR, AAHS, IPMS, RIAHA

       Night Wings - USMC Night Fighters, 1942 - 1953 By Thomas E. Doll

       Naval Fighters Number Four - Douglas F3D Skyknight by Steve Ginter

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