AUBRY GRATTON COLLECTION
No. 10276. Douglas A-26B Invader (41-39136 c/n 6849) US Army Air Forces
Aeroplane Photo Supply (APS) Photo No. 3500

Douglas A-26B Invader

02/28/2016. Remarks by Johan Visschedijk: "Designed to a USAAC requirement written in 1940, the A-26 was developed and put into production with great rapidity, reaching the European theatre of operations before the end of 1944. Although till 1946 more numbers in the “attack” category were assigned by the USAAF, up to the XA-45, the A-26 also proved to be the last important operational aircraft produced in this category. The specification called for a multi-purpose light bomber capable of fast attack operations at low level as well as precision bombing from medium altitudes, and carrying a powerful defensive armament.

Three prototypes were ordered in June 1941, and the first of these, the XA-26 (s/n 41-19504), was first flown on July 10, 1942. This prototype was completed as the basic bomber, with a bomb-aimer's station in the nose. The second prototype, XA-26A (s/n 41-19505) was armed as a night fighter, with four 0.787 in (20 mm) machineguns in the belly and four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machineguns in the top turret, remotely sited and fired from a gunner's position amidships. The third prototype, XA-26B (s/n 41-19588), included a 2.95 in (75 mm) cannon, nose-mounted, in its armament.

Flight testing of these three prototypes, and combat reports from Europe and the Pacific area, led to adoption of the A-26B as the production model. Like the XA-26B, this had an "attack" nose, but the large-bore cannon gave way to six 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machineguns; dorsal and ventral turrets, both remotely controlled, had two more 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machineguns in each. The armament could be supplemented by eight more 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machineguns in four packages under the wings and two in packages each side of the nose; the top turret guns also could be used for ground attack, with the guns locked to fire forwards and controlled by the pilot.

Heavily armored, to afford protection against ground fire, the A-26B carried a crew of three, comprising pilot, navigator/radio operator and the gunner. Internal stowage was provided for a maximum 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) bomb load. Under-wing points carried 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs, eight 5 in (12.7 cm) rockets and two fuel tanks, or 16 rockets.

The A-26B was put into production by Douglas at the Long Beach and Tulsa factories, which built 1,150 and 205, respectively, of this model, deliveries starting in the first half of 1944. Powered by 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines, the A-26B achieved a maximum level speed of 355 mph (571 kmh) at 15,000 ft (4,572 m), making it one of the fastest bombers used by the USAAF in World War II. Experiments with nose armament continued, with an A-26B mounting a 2.95 in (75 mm) cannon, another with this gun plus two 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machineguns and a third with two 1.46 in (37 mm) cannon.

The operational career of the A-26B began on November 19, 1944, with the 9th Air Force in Europe. The A-26 was also operational in the Pacific in the later stages of the campaign against Japan, for which the A-26C joined the A-26B. In the "C", a transparent "bombardier" nose replaced the gun nose, to permit more accurate bombing from medium levels; two forward-firing guns were retained, together with the turret guns. The fuselage was widened, and dual flight controls were fitted, the second pilot also acting as bombardier.

Douglas built five A-26Cs at Long Beach and 1,086 at Tulsa, with deliveries starting in 1945. One XA-26D was also built, as a development of the "B" having eight 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machineguns in the nose and six in wing packages. A camera-equipped reconnaissance version which appeared in small numbers was the FA-26C.

Production of 750 A-26Ds was cancelled after VJ Day, but the eight-gun nose was later adopted on the A-26B, as well as the wing packages as noted above. Also cancelled were 445 A-26Bs, 2,809 A-26Cs and 1,250 A-26Es, an advanced development of the A-26C. The single XA-26F, first flown in 1945, was an A-26B airframe (s/n 44-34586) used to test-fly a General Electric J31 turbojet mounted in the rear fuselage.

Many hundreds of both B and C models of the A-26 remained in frontline service after the end of WW II, particularly as the primary offensive weapon of Tactical Air Command when it was created in 1946 from the wartime 9th and 12th Air Forces. In June 1948, the Attack category was officially abandoned and the designation changed to B-26B and B-26C, all examples of the Martin B-26 being then out of service. The B-26B returned to Europe when the 38th Light Bomber Wing was assigned to USAFE, and the B-26C and RB-26C also operated from bases in Germany. The latter had no armament but carried cameras, and flash flares for night photography.

The 3rd Bombardment Group, comprising three B-26 squadrons, was early in action in Korea, flying tactical intruder missions from Iwakuni, Japan, for the first time on June 27, 1950. It was later joined by the 452nd (later renumbered 17th) Bomb Group at Itazuki. For these operations, the B-26 operated at considerably higher weights, and with greater loads, than had been achieved in WW II. The B-26B, for instance, mounted eight nose guns and three in each wing (in place of the earlier packages on the wings) with a total of 4,000 rounds; the four turret guns with 500 r.p.g.; 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) of bombs internally; fourteen 5 in (12.7 cm) HVARs (High Velocity Aircraft Rocket, nicknamed Holy Moses) under the wings, or fewer HVARs plus two 165 gal (625 l) fuel tanks, or two 110 gal (416 l) Napalm tanks.

The B-26Cs in Korea had the same underwing loads as the B-26B, and the two turrets, with the bombardier nose and H2S radar in the fuselage between the nose wheel and bomb-bay. The use of radar permitted the B-26Cs to make highly effective bombing attacks by night.

The B-26 remained in service with Air Force Reserve and National Guard units after being retired by TAC, and was available to return to operational service in Vietnam in 1962. Both B-26B and B-26C versions went into action in the counter-insurgency role, and in the light of early operational experience the USAF initiated development of a new COIN variant designated YB-26K.

In addition to its use as a bomber, the B-26 was adapted for several other roles, among the most important of which were training and staff transport. With the designations TB-26B and TB-26C, the training variants served in Reserve and NG units, while the CB-26B and VB-26B transports were used by Air Force Headquarters. Air Research and Development Command used some DB-26Cs as drone launchers and controllers.

A single example of the USAF A-26B Invader was converted for the USN in 1945 as the XJD-1, followed by a total of 140 JD-1s converted from A-26Cs as target tugs. They were operated by Utility Squadrons in the Navy training areas. Some were later designated JD-1D when equipped to launch and control target drones. The designations were changed to UB-26J and DB-26J respectively in 1962.

View the retouched photo of the above pictured aircraft, with the machineguns in the nose and the top turret eliminated."

Created December 31, 2010