The A-26 was designed as a follow-up airplane to the A-20 Havoc medium bomber. It made its first flight on July 10, 1942. Production deliveries began in August 1943, and on November 19, 1944, it went into combat over Europe. It was used for level bombing, ground strafing and rocket attacks. By the time production halted after VJ-Day, 2,502 Invaders had been built.
The A-26 Invader had one of the longest service lives of any American warplane, serving in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Designed and manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company, it first flew in 1942 but due to production delays was not used operationally until 1944. With 22 50 caliber machine guns the A-26 had the most awesome concentrations of firepower of any World War II aircraft. Unlike the B-17, B-25 and B-24 bombers, the A-26 used remote controlled gun turrets above and below the airframe. The remote turrets solved the problem of wind buffet and also allowed the guns to swing faster than possible with hand held guns. Tasked with the job of disrupting German logistical support routes, the 47th BG flying the A-26 flew around the clock and did pioneer work in night interdiction against enemy supply routes. Losses were relatively light, thanks to the beefy airframe, and on numerous occasions severely damaged aircraft made it home safely. Production of the type ceased at the end of World War II with a total of 2,450 manufactured. It was the last twin engine propeller driven bomber to be built for the US Air Force.
A-26 Bs and Cs conduct a bombing mission over Germany
When the North Korean army poured over the DMZ into South Korea on June 25, 1950, the US was ill prepared to fight a war. The 3rd Bomber Group flying the A-26 was pressed into service to provide cover for evacuating US personnel and their dependents from Korea. Soon after they received offensive orders and began to pound North Korean forces that were south of the DMZ. The 3rd BG took out most of the North Korean air force during a single raid on the main enemy airbase in Pyong Yang. A total of 25 aircraft were destroyed on the ground along with one Yak-3 being shot down in the air. Thereafter, the A-26 shifted to its traditional role of ground interdiction and support. This was critical as the US and South Korean forces were pressed into a very small region called the Pusian Perimeter. Had it not been for the air support of the A-26, the North Koreans would have easily overrun the entire country. The A-26 distinguished itself throughout the war. In fact, the last bombing mission of the war was carried out by the 3rd BG shortly before the truce went into effect, a fitting climax for the aircraft which also carried out the first attack of the war.
An A-26 C is being loaded for an operation in Korea
The A-26 was once again pressed into service in the early 60s as a counter-insurgency aircraft twenty years after its first flight in 1942. Due to the unconventional nature of the guerrilla type conflicts in Southeast Asia, the US did not want to use its front line bombers such as the Douglas B-66 and Martin B-57s. A total of forty aircraft were modified by the On Mark Engineering company for use with the Special Operations Squadron (SOS). The modified A-26 aircraft had rebuilt wings and fuselages. These aircraft operated out of Nakhom Phanom (NKP) Airbase in Thailand and were used primarily for night interdiction on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The last A-26 was removed from service in 1972. This aircraft in now displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The A-26C on display was flown to the Air Classics Museum in 1993. It appears in the colors and marking used during the Vietnam Conflict by the Special Operations Squadron flying night intruder missions.