A Special Tribute to VA-52

The recent modernization of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation’s “Hall of Recognition,” dedicated to the thousands of individuals and organizations who have made the National Naval Aviation Museum a reality, has been made possible by the estate of the late Lieutenant David A. Webb, U.S. Navy Reserve, and his wife Mrs. Jean Ann Webb, who contributed nearly one million dollars to the Foundation through our “Wings of Gold Society” planned giving program.


Lieutenant Webb served as a member of Attack Squadron (VA) 52, the Knight Riders, flying the A-1 Skyraider. His estate requested that the Foundation not only recognize his financial contribution, but also the historical contribution of the entire Knight Rider squadron.

We extend our sincere appreciation to the Lieutenant David and Jean Ann Webb estate, with special thanks to Jonathan and Jan Korda, who have been integral in developing this tribute to the VA-52 Knight Riders.

Lieutenant David A. Webb, USNR
Mrs. Jean Ann Webb
Mr. Jonathan and Mrs. Jan Korda



[expand title=”History of Attack Squadron (VA) 52″]

Attack Squadron (VA) 52, flying the venerable AD/A-1 Skyraider and A-6 Intruder, served for more than 30 years with the U.S. Navy, and took part in several key operations of the Vietnam War.

VA-52 was originally established as a reserve squadron—Fighter Squadron (VF) 884 Bitter Birds—on 1 November 1949. With the onset of the Korean War, the Bitter Birds were called to active duty flying the F4U Corsair, conducting their first combat operations in early 1951. Near the end of the war, VF–884 was redesignated VF–144, and ultimately became VA–52—the Knight Riders—on 23 February 1959, led by Commander Al Taddeo, an original member of the Blue Angels.

Equipped with the rugged, prop-driven AD Skyraider, the primary mission of VA–52 was versatility. The Knight Riders could operate day or night, in any weather, conducting interdiction, close air support, or even nuclear attack missions.

Re-designated the A-1 in 1962, the single-engine Skyraider was well known for its ability to carry a greater bombload than the famous B-17 Flying Fortress. Nicknamed the “Spad” or “Able Dog”, the Skyraider is widely recognized as being one of the finest attack and close air support aircraft ever built, serving with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps throughout the Korean War and the early years of Vietnam, and later with the U.S. Air Force.

From 1960 to 1963, VA–52 made four deployments to the Pacific aboard USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) and USS Lexington (CVA-16) (Lieutenant David Webb, an aviator with the Navy Reserve, whose estate made this tribute possible, flew with the squadron during its first two cruises). In 1962, USS Lexington sailed around Cape Horn, during which time VA–52 had the unique opportunity to conduct the Navy’s first flight operations in the perilous Drake Passage, a region known for its persistent severe weather. VA-52 earned additional accolades in 1963 as it was awarded the Chief of Naval Operation’s Safety Award, following 6,097 accident-free flight hours.

In 1964, U.S. forces began carrying out photo reconnaissance missions over Laos in an attempt to aid the Royal Lao government against the communist Pathet Lao and disrupt the flow of manpower and material down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Operating from Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin, flights of unarmed Navy RF-8 Crusaders faced the dangerous task of gathering reconnaissance over the Plaine de Jarres. Following the shoot down and capture of Lieutenant Charles Klusmann in June 1964, VA-52 joined Yankee Team operations in July, flying weather reconnaissance and rescue combat air patrol missions in support of the photo reconnaissance flights.

On 2 August 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox (DD-731) was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats while performing a signals intelligence patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin. This attack was followed by additional alleged hostilities against Maddox and USS Turner Joy (DD-951) on 4 August. VA–52 Skyraiders provided air support during the engagement, which came to be known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

The following morning four VA–52 aviators took part in an attack on the Vinh oil storage facilities as part of Operation Pierce Arrow—the retaliatory strikes launched in response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. The attack on Vinh was led by Commander James Stockdale, who would later earn the Medal of Honor for his heroism while a prisoner of war. Piloted by Commander L. T. McAdams, Lieutenant Commander L. E. Brumbach, and Lieutenant Junior Grades Richard Moore and Paul Carter, the four VA-52 Skyraiders were estimated to have destroyed 90% of the complex.

With passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, U.S. military involvement in Vietnam rapidly escalated. VA–52 made two more combat deployments during the conflict while flying the A-1 Skyraider, the first from September 1965 to May 1966, including participation in Operation Rolling Thunder, interdicting enemy lines of communication into Laos and South Vietnam, and the second deployment from October 1966 to May 1967, including participation in Operation Steel Tiger, striking targets in Southern Laos, and Operation Sea Dragon, targeting enemy waterborne logistic craft. During these combat tours, Lieutenant Junior Grade Harvey Browne and Commander John Wanamaker received Silver Stars for gallantry in action against enemy forces.

On 13 April 1966, the squadron’s commanding officer, Commander John C. Mape, was killed in action. Highly regarded by his men, Commander Mape had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross in November 1965, while providing close air support for surrounded elements of a U.S. Army infantry division during the Battle of Ap Bau Bang.

In 1967, VA-52 transitioned to the A-6 Intruder, an advanced, jet-powered, all-weather medium attack aircraft, destined to become a legend in its own right. VA–52 made another three combat deployments to Vietnam aboard USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) and USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), including significant participation in Operation Linebacker I. During this deployment, VA–52 averaged over 1,000 flight hours per month, flying more than 3,000 sorties and delivering over 12 million pounds of ordnance during 160 days of combat operations.

In addition to flying armed reconnaissance, Alpha strikes and tanker operations, VA–52 Intruders were tasked with mining many of North Vietnam’s harbors and inlets, as well as suppression of enemy radar defenses. VA-52 became the most decorated Intruder squadron of the war, and was awarded the Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet Battle Efficiency Pennant in 1973.

Following the Vietnam War, VA–52 made numerous peace-time cruises aboard USS Kitty Hawk and USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). In 1980, VA-52 was again awarded the Chief of Naval Operation’s Safety Award, and boasted more than six years of accident-free flying.

VA-52 conducted its final combat operations in January 1993 while striking targets in Iraq, and made its final cruise in 1994, being disestablished the following year, after more than three decades of service as a Navy attack squadron.


[expand title=”Photo Gallery”]
[nggallery id=”5″]

[expand title=”Interviews”]

“Remembering David Webb” – Rudy Mangels

“Secret War in Laos” – Richard Moore

“The Gulf of Tonkin Incident” – Captain Paul Giberson, USNR (Ret.)

“The Gulf of Tonkin Incident” – (audio) Captain David Timberlake, USN (Ret.)

“Strike on the Vinh Oil Storage Facility” – Richard Moore

“Loss of CO Commander John C. Mape” – Captain Paul Giberson, USNR (Ret.)

“Porter Pierce Catapult Bridle Slip” – Richard Moore & Captain George Duskin, USN (Ret.)

“Nuclear Weapons Delivery” – Rudy Mangels & Richard Moore

“Engine Failure & Ditching” – Captain Paul Giberson, USNR (Ret.)

“Fallon Workups & Night Landings” – Captain George Duskin, USN (Ret.)

“Captain James Daniels, USN, USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) Commanding Officer 1962-63″ – Richard Moore

“Night Aerobatics” – Richard Moore

“USS Ranger (CVA-61), the ‘Reluctant Warrior'” – Rudy Mangels & Richard Moore

“Cambodian DC-3 Intercept” – Captain David Timberlake, USN (Ret.)

“Fred Hamilton Ramp Strike” – (audio) Richard Moore & Rudy Mangels

“Da Nang Story” – (audio) Captain David Timberlake, USN (Ret.)


Intruder Association (External Link)

in memoriam