The A-26 Invader: Versatility Above All

Douglas A-26 Invader

The Development History

First entering the world stage in July 1942, the Douglas A-26 Invader stood as a testament to engineering prowess and versatility. The necessity of a fast, nimble bomber drove the engineers at Douglas Aircraft Company. They sought to craft an aircraft with these attributes while also retaining the ability to carry a substantial payload. Thus, the Douglas A-26 Invader was born. Chief Designer Ed Heinemann led the ambitious project, navigating the stormy seas of technical challenges and design revisions.

Douglas A-26B-15-DL(41-39186/6899) in flight
Douglas A-26B-15-DL(41-39186/6899) in flight

Heart of the Hawk 

Much of the Invader’s outstanding performance was thanks to its twin Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines. Each of these powerhouses boasted 18 cylinders and an impressive output of 2,000 horsepower. This allowed the A-26 to fly at speeds up to 355 mph, a considerable improvement over previous bomber models. But raw power wasn’t the only thing these engines offered. They were reliable and resilient, giving the A-26 the strength to dive into the most heated combat zones and come out victorious.

Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 Radial Engine
Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 Radial Engine

Flight Characteristics

Flying the A-26 was an experience pilots often compared to dancing with the clouds. Despite its considerable size, the Invader displayed a nimbleness and agility that defied expectations. Its large wing area allowed for a lower wing loading, which coupled with its potent engines to provide impressive high-speed performance and maneuverability. The hydraulic-powered control surfaces ensured smooth handling, while the tricycle landing gear setup made take-offs and landings easier than in tailwheel designs. These characteristics combined to make the A-26 a versatile and formidable aircraft in a wide range of missions.

Prototype of proposed night fighter version of A-26
Prototype of proposed night fighter version of A-26, painted overall black with radar in nose and under fuselage gunpack April 1943

From World War II to the Cold War 

In the Pacific theater during World War II, the A-26 made its combat debut. It swiftly established itself as a formidable warrior, showcasing resilience under heavy enemy assault and effectively delivering catastrophic blows to its targets.  When peace briefly reigned, the Invader’s mission evolved.

It served as a fast reconnaissance platform and a guerrilla warfare aircraft during the early stages of the Cold War. The Invader also saw significant action in Korea and Vietnam, reinforcing its reputation as a reliable and adaptable tool in the military aviation arsenal.

U.S. Air Force Douglas/On Mark B-26K Counter Invader
U.S. Air Force Douglas/On Mark B-26K Counter Invader (s/n 64-17676, ex 41-39596) at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Ohio (USA)

The Redesignation Controversy

In 1948, the US Air Force redesignated the A-26 as the B-26, causing a significant confusion. The Martin B-26 Marauder, a distinct medium bomber, had already been in service since November 1940, predating the Douglas design by 20 months. This renaming led to many mix-ups in service records, operational reports, and maintenance logs, leaving a bewildering legacy in the annals of aviation history.

A-26 Invader cockpit
A-26 Invader cockpit