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First flight of A-26
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A-26 Gunners station with periscopes on Douglas
A-26C "Hard to Get" from Cavanaugh Flight Museum.
Credit David D Jackson.

The DB-7 / A-20 was a winner for Douglas Aircraft; fast, agile, rugged, packed a serious punch, everything an army wanted; and it was rapidly becoming obsolete in the face of new fighters, bombers, and demands. Just like Dornier’s Do-17 evolved into Do-217, Douglas took the basic design and put it on a bodybuilding program. Master engineer Edward (Ed) Heinemann with Ted R. Smith from the A-20 program joined Robert Donovan in designing the new aircraft, with A.M.O. Smith (aerodynamicist) choosing the then-new NACA 65-215 laminar flow airfoil that promised better performance, coupled with two powerful 2,000 hp (1,500 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-27 "Double Wasp" radials.

Many concepts from the DB-7 was transferred to the new design, including tricycle gear and crew station. While much wider it was still a single pilot aircraft, more typical of European bombers than American ones. The extra fuselage width allowed the bombardier access to the pilot, which was not possible in the DB-7. Just like its older sibling the nose could be swapped out for different configurations in a few hours, from bomber with Norden sight to a weapons filled solid nose thus offering all the weapons combinations the B-25 could carry including a 75mm cannon. The bomb bay was now longer and wider allowing a larger selection of ordinance, but also when empty a crawlspace between stations, if crew trusted the bomb doors not to open under them!

On Mark Marksman C (Douglas B-26) N60XX

Two major innovations were flaps and periscopically sighted remote turrets. The wing aerofoil allowed the heavy aircraft to fly very fast (570 km/h, 355 mph), but the penalty was a very high stall speed. To fly slowly enough for a safe landing complex double slotted Fowler flaps were incorporated, unusual for the time but common on airliners today. By taking the gunner out of the design, very low profile, low drag turrets with a new control and targeting system was devised, resulting in a system that offered nearly full top and bottom hemispherical protection by a single gunner, although it was a little harder to scan for enemy aircraft.

On 10 July 1942 the new bomber took off and the test pilots praised its performance right away. Teething issues were corrected and by next year (August 1943) the Douglas company began delivering A-26B’s (solid nose) to the USAAF with the new bomber first seeing action in the Southwest Pacific theater on 23 June 1944. While it performed very well, it was not universally welcomed by crews and often flew in mixed company with the older sister: the A-20. However, in September of that year the first action in Europe was performed where it was enthusiastically accepted and in great demand.

A-26 “Fire Eater” N4814E used in movie “Always”.
Credit Joe Kudrna.

The end of the war resulted in canceling future orders and massive downsizing of the USAAF, thus A-26 was redesignated B-26 (causing confusion with B-26 Marauder). The Korean conflict saw the A/B-26 up to the new challenge and where it performed superbly in the jet age. It found itself involved in Vietnam from the very early days with the French, eventually being used by many different forces in that conflict. Halfway around the world in Cuba it was used in the Bay of Pigs insurgency, ironically the Cuban Forces also operated A-26C’s against them! Meanwhile the American company that upgraded the aircraft for the demanding military missions also created a highly modified, fast, and highly desirable executive transports with many newly built parts, the On Mark Marksman.

36 years after its first flight it was finally retired from any military use making one of the longest serving military vehicles in history; however, the aircraft continued a different kind of “bombing” for government agencies, dropping retardant on forest fires, a mission where the A-26 became a star and was immortalized in the movie “Always”.

The War Thunder Team

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