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MCARA Aircraft > F3D-2Q/EF-10B Skyknight - History

The F3D-2Q Skyknight was the Electronic Warfare (EW) version of the F3D-2 Naval Fighter series which had an exemplary combat record in Korea with VMF (N) 513 as a night fighter. It was designated the EF-10B in 1962.

Right after the end of the Korean War in July 1953, VMC-3 at MCAS El Toro was assigned F3D-2 Buno 125786 and retained it in the fighter configuration until it was sent to the North Island O&R facility in August 1955. It was apparently used for the squadron’s AEW mission which was primarily supported by AD-5Ws. In April 1955 a second F3D-2 was assigned (Buno 124620). No doubt the experience gained from operating these two-seat jet aircraft led in 1955 to a plan to convert this platform for EW purposes as a potential replacement for the AD-5Ns currently in use by all 3 of the VMC squadrons. At that time a number of former AIOs from the night fighter squadrons had become ECMOs in the VMC squadrons.

The initial modifications to what was to become the F3D-2Q EW configuration was initiated in 1955 by VMC-3 (later VMCJ-3) through an in-house prototyping effort led by CWO Joe Bouher and other Marines who had been involved with modifying the AD series aircraft for ECM operations during the Korean War. The mod work began on Buno 124620 and in January 1956 Buno 125786 returned from North Island and became the second prototype. (MCARA members John Cleveland and Jim Janke were young technicians involved in the mods) This effort apparently was coordinated with North Island O & R as conversion of a third F3D-2 (Buno 124602) began at the same time. Another of the pioneers of Marine Corps EW, MSgt Doc Grimes, was apparently coordinating the parallel effort at North Island. The two VMCJ-3 prototypes were designated F3D-2Q variants in May 1956 and 124602 was similarly re-designated soon after at North Island but remained there until 30 November when it was transferred to VMCJ-3. The documentation of the aircraft modifications by North Island led to the development of Airframe Change 173 which was the baseline for a follow-on formal modification program that ultimately delivered 35 F3D-2Q variants to the VMCJ squadrons. Although most of the EW receiver suite was carried over from the AD-5Ns, the F3D-2Qs were outfitted with internally mounted ALT-2 jammers and MX-900 chaff dispensers.

Buno 124606 was the first of the F3D-2Q aircraft with AFC-173, and it entered service with VMCJ-3 in September 1957. (ironically, it was the first Q variant to be lost when it crashed at El Toro in Janary 1958 with loss of the crew). VMCJ-3 completed its transition to the new jet aircraft during the Spring of 1958, and deployed to MCAS Iwakuni Japan with 9 F3D-2Qs in July of 1958. VMCJ-1 was commissioned at El Toro that same month and transitioned to the F3D-2Qs next. VMCJ-2 at MCAS Cherry Pt. began its transition to the F3D-2Qs early in 1958. VMCJ-3 was relieved by VMCJ-1 in late 1959 and VMCJ-1 continued to fly the aircraft from MCAS Iwakuni on Cold War missions until April 1965 when it deployed to Danang, RVN to support U.S. air operations over North Vietnam.

In 1967 a number of EF-10Bs beginning with Buno 124620 underwent a modification program at North Island under AFC 199 that upgraded the communications suite and added a wideband fire control threat receiver and defensive ECM equipment. The first of these aircraft nicknamed “Super Whales” were deployed to VMCJ-1 at Danang in February 1968.

The last EF-10B departed Danang for CONUS in October 1969 and all the remaining aircraft were retired to the desert storage facility at Davis Monthan AFB in 1970. The last operational flight of a Marine Corps EF-10B was in June 1970 when Buno 124618 from VMCJ-3 at MCAS El Toro was flown to Quantico for subsequent placement in a museum. (hasn’t happen yet!)

During its first 10 years in the Cold War period with the VMCJ squadrons, the F3D-2Q/EF-10Bs were employed extensively on peripheral reconnaissance or ELINT missions in the Pacific and around Cuba and also provided ECCM training for the MACS, HAWK, and fighter squadrons. VMCJ-2’s F3D-2Qs were credited with the first intercepts of Soviet air defense radars in Cuba and the played an important role in monitoring the evolving threats in the run up to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

With the escalation of the Vietnam conflict into a major air war in 1965, VMCJ-1’s EF-10B’s and well trained aircrews were the only tactical jet EW assets readily available in PACOM to provide sustained ECM support to USAF and Navy strike aircraft. They soon proved their worth in supporting air operations in a high threat integrated air defense environment consisting of both SAMs and radar controlled AAA. Within days of deployment to Danang RVN, VMCJ-1’s six EF-10Bs were fully committed to a high operational tempo that would continue for nearly two years before the more capable EA-6A’s were able to take over the key ECM support role. For over two more years the EF-10Bs continued to provide vital threat warning and jamming support for friendly air operations along the DMZ.

The historical record clearly shows the unique contributions made by the versatile F3D-2 aircraft as it is the only tactical jet that served in Korea and Vietnam and the intervening years of the Cold War that included the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It is also unique from a technological standpoint as it began service as an innovative night fighter with a state –of- the art fire control radar and then was at the forefront of the evolution of tactical EW thanks to the foresight and resourcefulness of some low ranking VMCJ Marines.

The following is list of the 35 Skyknight BuNos converted to F3D-2Q-EF-10Bs with some notes derived from official documents provided by the Naval Aviation History Center and from logbooks of the Marine Corps aircrews that flew them.


1. 124596 Was #2 F3D-2 and a carrier suit test aircraft

2. 124602 Third prototype modified by North Island O&R, to J-3 1 November 56.

3. 124606 Delvrd to J-3 9/25/57. Crashed at El Toro 1/7/58 .(1/Lt Hils, SSgt Dickey)

4. 124618 At Quantico from J-3. w/VMF-(N) 513 in Korea & J-2Cuba.

5. 124619 Early 60s Cuba service with VMCJ-2

6. 124620 Quonset Air Museum RI. 1955 Prototype F3D-2Q. 513 & 3 VMCJs

7. 124624 Crashed 7/29/58 @ J-2 NKT w/eng fire. (Capt Gieger, Sgt Taylor rcvrd)

8. 124632 Maj. Don Morgan & CWO-2 Jim Doyle flew early Iron Hand strike in Haiphong area, 10 Dec 1965.

9. 124633 Crashed @ Holiman AFB 3/9/60, J-3 (2 Lt. Lecy, Msgt Lake rcvrd)

10. 124645 Capt JJ Morrissey/1Lt Fiegler flew last J-1 Combat msn on 2 Oct 69.

11. 124647 Crashed @ J-2 NKT 5/19/58. Flameout (Capt Upshulte,SSgt Bright rcvd).

12. 124663

13. 125786 2nd Prototype. Lost in VN 24 Mar 67 (Capt Murphy/2Lt Albright)

14. 125793* Lost in VN 19 July 68 (1/Lt Ariel Cross/Capt Lionel Parra)

15. 125806* Lost in VN 31 July 65 (1/Lt McNulty/CWO-2 Small)

16. 125809 Early 60s Cuba service with VMCJ-2

17. 125810 1 of first 3 Super Whales, arr J-1 Feb 68 serving till 3 Oct 69.

18. 125814 Crashed 12 Mar 60 at Holiman AFB, (1/Lt.Pope/Gysgt Beresford rcvrd)

19. 125818 Mickey Conroy survived 2 Mishaps, 8/19/ 63 El Toro, 69 Danang!

20. 125828

21. 125831* Lost in VN 16 Jan 68 (Capt Moreland/1/Lt Gee)

22. 125833 Crashed J-3 Yuma 10/21/68. Cable slap.(1/Lts Acker & Werner rcvrd)

23. 125839* Crashed Japan 1/16/60, J-1 (Pilot Eads lost, ECMO Bo Boyett rcvrd)

24. 125846* 2ND Super Whale, delivered to J-1 Danang 26 Feb 68.

25. 125849 1 of 4 supporting 1st SAM Strike in NVN 27 Jul 65. (CWO-2 Steinken)

26. 125850* At Edwards AFB Museum (J-1 prewar & J-3 service)

27. 125869 1/Lts Sublett & Whitten flew fragged photo msn over NVN Aug 66

28. 127034 Departed J-1 Danang on 3 Oct. 1969 for J-3.

29. 127041* Lost to SA-2 18 Mar 66 over NVN ( 1/Lt McPherson/ 1/Lt Davis)

30. 127047 One of last 2 acft to Lv J-1 Danang for J-3. (10/25/1969) (J-2 Cuba 62)

31. 127050 Alpha damage FM AAA, Tiger Is 1965, (1/Lt Crouch/CWO-3 Wood)

32. 127051 To PAR after tire exploded inflight Aug 1966 at J-1. (Markwitz/Gazzale)

33. 127060* To PAR after inflight fire departing Danang 03/29/66 (Gering/Whitten)

34. 127066*

35. 127072 Delvrd to J-2 2/58. Struck at 4000 hrs by J-1 Iwakuni 1/8/65.

Vietnam war service in bold, asterisks denotes Bunos first deployed to Japan w/VMCJ-3 in 58. (5 of 9 were lost, one in Japan and 4 in Vietnam!)

F3D2 Skynight Jun 14 2005

(a) 124620 was assigned to VMC-3 on 23 Mar 55 where it underwent in-house mods by squadron avionics and became first designated F3D-2Q in May 56 by VMCJ-3. As an F3D-2 it served with VMF (N) 513 from Jan 53 during Korean War as side number WF 15 & nicknamed Laurie May. Cpl. Janke’s first training flight was in 124620 on 28 July 56. Sgt Norm Charboneau's first F3D-2Q flight was in this Buno on 23 Apr 57 while assigned to VMCJ-3 at El Toro. The aircraft was assigned later to VMCJ-2 then back to VMCJ-3 where 2/Lt. Whitten flew his first EF-10B training mission on 24 Sept 64. In August 1967 it was first EF-10B inducted by NARF NORIS for a major ECM/Avionics upgrade as AFC -199. Prototyping and testing of the ECM suite was conducted at the Naval Missile Center, Pt. Mugu under direction of Capt. “Toje” Wheeler. Maj Art Bloomer and Capt. Duke Steinken recall testing the communications suite at NATC PAXRIV. 124620 was delivered to VMCJ-1 Danang along with two other Super Whales on 26 Feb 68. Capts. Len Ingram and Joe Stone were two of first ECMO’s to fly this Super Whale in combat. After extensive Vietnam service with VMCJ-1, it was returned to VMCJ-3 in late 1969 and retired to MASDC 23 Jun 70. The Quonset Air Museum obtained the aircraft in the mid 90s and has it under a continuing restorable program.

(b) J.T. Smith's right seat FAMs and first solo pilot flights in J-3 Japan in 1958-59 were in 125839, 125806 and 127041 all subsequently lost!

(c) TP Kelley flew 127066 as nightfigher as a Cpl E-3, later as a Capt ECMO in EF-10B!

(d) 125850 had a retirement parade by J-3 in March 1965 before being flown to Litchfield Park boneyard by Lt Col Rocky Opeka & CWO-3 Toje Wheeler having reached 4,000 hour wing life. Later recalled to duty w/J-3 and flew till Jun 1970! ( El Toro newspaper story has pix of 1/Lt. Kent Mills blowing TAPS)

(e) The aircraft rework facilities returned 127051 to service with J-2 in 67, and 127060 to J-1 in 68.

(f) The last combat mission in Vietnam was flown by Capt.J.J. Morrissey & 1Lt Fieger on 1 Oct. 69, you guessed it a DMZ patrol!! 124645. It was one of last 2 to depart Danang for J-3 via Cubi on 25 Oct 69. Made it to boneyard at DM. (picture in Ginters book)

(g) The first 3 “Super” Whales bunos 124620,125810 & 125846 arrived at J-1 Danang in February 68, same month as the production EA-6As arrived with ALQ-86 & 76 Pods!

(h) VMCJ-2 initiated reconnaissance missions around Cuba staging out of Key West in September 1960. The squadron received the first Navy Unit Commendation given in peacetime for its sustained operations around Cuba from September 1960 through the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis in December 1962. Ben Skinner flew Cuba missions in 124618 on 15-17 Nov 60 & 25-30 Jul 61. Last missions were in 127047 18-24 Jan 62 before going to CINCLANT JRC.

(i) On 1 Mar 66, 1/Lt Ken Crouch & Capt Jim Gazzale responded to a USAF FAC call for fire support and were credited with 2 VC KIAs from 20MM strafing runs. They were dutifully reprimanded by squadron CO and 1st MAW G-3 with reminder the EF-10B was a national EW asset!!

(j) In Summer of 1965 Capts Chuck Houseman and Hoyt Wayne Young (with … &… ECMOs) were “tasked” by the VMCJ-1 S-2 to get some photos of ships in the Haiphong harbor as a secondary mission. While making their photo run their two EF-10Bs encountered some serious flak but pressed on to bring back their photos. Unfortunately they found their skipper Lt. Col Corman a bit unhappy that they had put to of his six EF-10Bs at risk for questionable photo mission!! There were to be no more EF-10B photo missions until August of 1966. (see # 27)

( Information compiled by Col.H. Wayne “Flash” Whitten USMC (ret) in 2006 and updated in June 2009.)