The A-3B Skywarrior is a whale of a plane

In the last year or so, I have been steadily building a collection of classic US Navy aircraft. The latest addition is the A-3B Skywarrior, a twin-engined carrier-based jet bomber.

A-3B Skywarrior of VAH-6 Fleurs

Back in the late forties nuclear weapons were large and heavy. According to the US Navy, a jet built to deliver one over a meaningful distance would have to weigh about 45 tons and be the size of a small airliner. Given that they wanted to operate their nuclear bombers from aircraft carriers, where space is at a premium, this posed an obvious problem. To add insult to injury, the first of a new generation of super-large aircraft carriers intended to operate these bombers was cancelled within a week after its keel had been laid. So, when the brilliant designer Ed Heinemann, also known for the A-1 Skyraider, proposed that Douglas Aviation build a bomber of about 30 tons that could fly from existing aircraft carriers, he definitely caught the Navy’s interest.

A-3B Skywarrior of VAH-6 Fleurs

The resulting aircraft entered service in the mid fifties as the A-3 Skywarrior. It was still a big beast. It was the heaviest aircraft to routinely fly from aircraft carriers, which earned it the nickname “Whale”. The LEGO model is a pretty big beast too. At my usual scale of 1/36, it is about 78 studs long.

This size meant I could add lots of working features: a bomb bay with opening doors, folding wings, working airbrakes, a retractable undercarriage and arresting hook (used for stopping the jet when landing on an aircraft carrier) and a detailed cockpit.

A-3B Skywarrior of VAH-6 Fleurs

A major challenge for the LEGO model was building the wings. They are swept back at an angle that doesn’t easily lend itself to being recreated using wedge plates. The only solution I could see was to hinge the whole wing.

A-3B Skywarrior of VAH-6 Fleurs

If you don’t like maths, you may now go want to look at some cute cats instead. I used right-angled triangles (with sides 1 and 4) connected along their hypotenuse using plate hinges. The whole construction is sandwiched inside the fuselage, with a bunch of different wedge plates and cheese slopes mounted on their sides filling in the little gaps at the top. It is sturdy enough that I can lift the model by its wings.

A-3B Skywarrior WIP

By the sixties nuclear bombs had become smaller and submarine-launched ballistic missiles took over the Navy’s nuclear tasking. Consequently, bomber whales were facing extinction. However, their big bellies could hold a large fuel tank and an air-to-air refuelling system. Whales ended up providing sterling service as flying gas stations during the Vietnam War and specialised versions served into the early nineties.

7 comments on “The A-3B Skywarrior is a whale of a plane

  1. Ralph Post author

    That’s a good suggestion. A very interesting aircraft, albeit quite different from the A-3 if you look at the details. One of the A-3 books I used when researching this model states: just about the only thing the aircraft share is the shadow they leave on the ramp.

  2. Ralph Post author

    Again, an excellent suggestion. An E-1 Tracer has been on my wish list for a while and I intend to build one sometime in the coming months. The Tracker is prettier, but most of the aircraft I’ve been building were assigned to USS Forrestal in 1965 and the airwing at the time included Tracers but no Trackers.

  3. Tony W.

    My father in law was on the Forrestal at the time of the accident, lost a majority of his command. He’d love to see some of your planes I bet…

  4. Alan Sargent

    This is a very cool model. I flew in a version of this, EA3B, way back in the day. My son who is an adult Lego enthusiast shared this with me and I have shared it with my Navy Squadron VQ2 Facebook page. I would love to have one of these.

  5. Comjam

    As an old Whaler (Who first flew Whales with Al Sergeant as my Crew Chief, BTW) who spent many hours with his kids building Legos, this is great! Dumb questions: Do you freestyle this or have you made instructions for others to follow? Great work!

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