The 28 F3D-1 aircraft were used primarily to train F3D crews and did not see combat in the Korean War. The F3D-2 Skyknight was only deployed to Korea by USMC land–based squadrons, beginning in September 1952. The Skyknight downed more enemy aircraft in Korea than any other single type of naval aircraft. The first air-to-air victory occurred on the night of 2 November 1952 in a USMC F3D-2 piloted by Major William T. Stratton, Jr., and his radar operator, Master Sergeant Hans C. Hoglind of VMF(N)-513 Flying Nightmares, Major Stratton shot down what he believed was a Yakovlev Yak-15 (even though no Yak-15s were reported in Korea) which was the first successful night radar interception by a jet of a jet. The Skyknight claimed its first MiG-15 jet fighter on 8 November 1952, when Captain O.R. Davis and Warrant Officer D.F. "Ding" Fessler downed a MiG-15 northwest of Pyongyang. USMC pilot Lt. Joseph Corvi and his radar operator Sergeant Dan George set another record with the Skyknight on the night of 10 December 1952, when they downed the first aircraft by an aircraft with a radar track and lock-on and without visual contact; they performed the feat by using their radar to lock onto a Polikarpov Po-2 biplane. They were also credited with another probable kill that night.
The number of USMC Skyknights in Korea was doubled in January 1953 to 24 which allowed them to effectively escort B-29 Superfortresses on night bombing missions. On 12 January 1953, an F3D-2 of VMF(N)-513 that was escorting B-29s on a night bombing mission was vectored to a contact and shot down the fourth aircraft by a Skyknight. By the end of the war, Skyknights had claimed six enemy aircraft (one Polikarpov Po-2, one Yakovlev Yak-15 and four MiG-15s). One aircraft was lost to enemy fire, which was piloted by LTJG Bob Bick and his crewman, Chief Petty Officer Linton Smith, on 2 July 1953. This aircraft was with a detachment from Fleet Composite Squadron FOUR (VC-4) at NAS Atlantic City, and was attached to Marine Fighter Squadron 513 (VMF(N)-513). While the Skyknight lacked the swept wings and high subsonic performance of the MiG-15, its powerful fire control system enabled it to find and kill other fighters at night, while most MiG-15s could only be guided by ground-based radar.
Post Korean War
After the Korean War, the F3D was gradually replaced by more powerful aircraft with better radar systems. Its career was not over though; its stability and spacious fuselage made it easily adaptable to other roles. The F3D (under the designations F3D-1M and F3D-2M) was used to support development of a number of air-to-air missile systems during the 1950s, including the Sparrow I, II, and III and Meteor missiles. The Sparrow missile was developed at Pacific Missile Test Center and early test firings were conducted at Naval Ordinance Test Station China Lake.
In 1954, the F3D-2M was the first Navy jet aircraft to be fitted with an operational air-to-air missile: the Sparrow I, an all weather day/night BVR missile that used beam riding guidance for the aircrew to control the missilej's track. Only 28 aircraft (12 F3D-1Ms, and 16 F3D-2Ms) were modified to use the missiles.
In the late 1950s, a number of the Marine F3D-2 aircraft were re-configured as electronic warfare aircraft and were designated F3D-2Q (later EF-10B). A few aircraft were also converted for use as trainers and were designated F3D-2T. Some of these aircraft were fitted with a single 10" aerial reconnaissance photography camera, which was mounted in the tail section.
When the U.S. Navy issued a requirement for a fleet defense missile fighter in 1959, Douglas responded with the F6D Missileer, essentially an updated and enlarged F3D that would carry the AAM-N-10 Eagle long-range air-to-air missile, with the most important characteristics being its generous fuel capacity, its considerable time-on-station, a crew of two and sophisticated electronics, rather than speed or maneuverability. This concept which kept the straight wings in an age of supersonic jets was soon cancelled because it would not be able to defend itself against more nimble fighters. Its weapons system would be adapted for the supersonic swing-wing General Dynamics-Grumman F-111B, the U.S. Navy version of a joint USAF/USN tactical jet aircraft which also specified side-by-side seating. The USAF version would eventually see service as an air-to-ground fighter bomber, but the Navy version, envisioned as a Fleet Air Defense fighter and dogfighter, would be cancelled when it was clear that its performance was not sufficient for an air-to-air dogfighter role. The AWG-9/Phoenix and TF30 turbofan engine would eventually enter service on the F-111B's successor, the swing-wing Grumman F-14 Tomcat.
Skyknights continued in service through the 1960s in a gull white color scheme, when their contemporaries had long since been retired. In 1962, when the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force unified their designation systems, the F3D-1 was redesignated F-10A and the F3D-2 was re-designated F-10B.
EF-10B (BuNo 127041) of VMCJ-1 over Vietnam in 1966. This aircraft was downed by an SA-2 missile from the North Vietnamese 61st Battalion, 236th Missile Regiment over Nghe An province on 18 March 1966 (coordinates 191958N 1050959E). The crew, Lt. Brent Davis and Lt. Everett McPherson, were killed.
The Skyknight was the only Korean war jet fighter that also flew in Vietnam. EF-10Bs served in the Electronic warfare role during the Vietnam War until 1969. The large interior provided ample room for electronic equipment. U.S. Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron One VMCJ-1 Golden Hawks began operating the EF-10B in Vietnam on 17 April 1965 under Lt. Col Wes Corman at Da Nang Air Base Republic of Vietnam with six aircraft. No more than 10 EF-10Bs were in Vietnam at one time. The Electronic Warfare (EW) Skyknight was a valuable Electronic countermeasure (ECM) asset to jam the SA-2 surface-to-air missiles (SAM) tracking and guidance systems. VMCJ-1 made history when its EF-10Bs conducted the first USMC airborne radar jamming mission on 29 April 1965 to support a USAF strike mission. Four EF-10Bs also supported a massive strike on the SA-2 SAM sites near Hanoi on 27 July 1965.
Many U.S. aircraft were lost to SA-2 surface-to-air missiles in Vietnam and the electronic attack on the associated radar systems was known as "Fogbound" missions. The F3D also dropped chaff over the radar sites. The first EF-10B lost in Vietnam was to an SA-2 SAM on 18 March 1966, while four more EF-10Bs were lost in Vietnam to accidents and unknown causes. Their mission was gradually taken over by the more capable "Electric Intruder", (EW)/Electronic countermeasures variant of the Grumman A-6 Intruder. The EF-10B Skyknight continued to fly lower–threat EW missions until they were withdrawn from Vietnam in October 1969. The EKA-3 Skywarrior and the Douglas RB-66 Destroyer also took on EW missions.
The U.S. Navy continued to use the F-10s for avionics systems testing. The F-10 was used as a radar testbed to develop the APQ-72 radar. The nose of an F-4 Phantom was added to the front of an F-10B. Another F-10 had a modified radome installed by the radar manufacturer Westinghouse. Yet another TF-10B was modified with the nose from an A-4 Skyhawk. In 1968, three Skyknights were transferred to the U.S. Army. These aircraft were operated by the Raytheon Corporation at Holloman AFB where they were used testing at the White Sands Missile Range into the 1980s; they were the last flyable Skyknights.