By MC Patrick Ian Crimmins
Editor’s note: Before retiring in June, the EA-6B Prowler conducted its final deployment in 2014 aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN) 77. Hear from the crew who reflect on what made the Prowler so special.
“I’m proud of the squadron for concluding the career of the Prowler with honor,” said Cmdr. Christopher “TJ” Jason, Commanding Officer, of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 134, who has flown in the Prowler as an electronic countermeasures officer since 2000. “I don’t think we could have done anything more to leave a more enduring impression of the excellence of this aircraft than we have.”
As one of its last achievements, the Prowler earned a 100-percent sortie completion rate while being flown by the “Garudas” of VAQ-134 aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN) 77. The deployment ended November 2014.
“One of the oldest airframes on the flight deck has executed every single combat sortie assigned the whole deployment,” said Lt. Winston “Favre” Likert, a pilot who has flown the Prowler for the past three years as part of VAQ-134. “Pretty rare in any squadron. Hornet, Rhino, Prowler, whatever, but for an aging airframe like ours, huge props to our maintenance team to get that done.”
First seeing service in Vietnam, the Prowler made its first flight in May 1968 before going operational in July 1971. It made its first deployment to Southeast Asia in 1972. It saw action in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, supported NATO operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Yugoslavia, and enforced no-fly zones around Iraq. In October, during its final deployment with George H.W. Bush, it flew missions over Iraq and Syria.
The Prowler will be replaced by the EA-18G Growler, a variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet.
“We’re actually flying the Prowler longer than the Navy intended,” Jason said.
“It’s a Vietnam-era design,” Likert said. “It’s a completely different generation of aircraft all together. It’s all manual bell-cranks and pulleys and hydraulics.”
“The Prowler’s return on investment is fantastic,” said Capt. Daniel “Undra” Cheever, commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8. “It’s a testament to its design and its relevance that it’s still being used.”
But nothing lasts forever.
“The longer you keep an airframe going past its intended lifespan, the higher the cost,” Jason said.
Both Cheever and Likert describe the Prowler as similar to a ‘57 Chevrolet: simple, powerful and beautiful in its own way, but hard to compare to something like a Corvette, or, in the Prowler’s case, the EA-18G Growler.
Jason said the Prowler is a traditionally built, metal aircraft, unlike other airframes, which are primarily modularly constructed from composite materials. A unique aspect about working on the Prowler is how the mechanics can fix a problem on deployment rather than get a new part shipped in.
“If they need to fabricate a component, they’re going out there and bending sheet metal to make it match,” Jason said. “They will create it. So, that is going to be a lost art.”
A more modern aircraft can tell a mechanic through electronic codes where problems might be, Likert said. Over the years, Prowler mechanics have developed an intuition to tell from a pilot’s observations which issues need troubleshooting.
“There’s a lot to it, but it’s easily understandable,” said 21-year-old Aviation Mechanic 3rd Class Jason Lee Gregory. “If you sit back and think about it, you can figure out what’s going wrong with it.”
“It is a 40-plus-year-old airframe,” Cheever said. “It is not designed with all the new technology we have today.”
Prowler pilots are more dependent on their own strength and situational awareness than in modern airframes because they don’t have electronically assisted controls or air-to-air radar.
“It’s a very physically demanding aircraft to fly,” said Likert. “You don’t have computers making up the gaps, it’s all you. It’s exhausting to fly, but that makes it endearing, like grabbing the beast by the scruff of its neck.”
Cheever said he agrees that the source of the Prowler’s success lies in the people who surround it. Everyone involved with the Prowler, from its design phase to its implementation over the years, are responsible for the jet’s achievements, he said.
“The overarching message is, ‘It’s all about the team,’” Cheever said.
When published in November 2014, Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Patrick Ian Crimmins served as a public affairs officer assigned to USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).
Prowler Test Pilot Comes Full Circle
By MC2 John Hetherington
Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CVWP), hosted a three-day sunset celebration commemorating the retirement of the Navy EA-6B Prowler June 25-27 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s (NASWI) Ault Field in Oak Harbor, Washington.
“We’ve been able to see people we haven’t seen in 35, 40 years or so, including some of the original people from Grumman who designed the system,” said retired Capt. Fred Wilmot, who served as a test pilot for the Prowler and delivered the first one to NASWI while serving in Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 in January 1971. “It’s really a fitting end to the Prowler era.”
Wilmot credited the lengthy service of the Prowler to multiple factors.
“The fact that the Prowler stuck around for 45 years is testimony to how well it was designed and built, and the thousands of men and women who have maintained and operated it,” Wilmot said.
The farewell ceremony featured speeches, a recitation of the names of VAQ Sailors who sacrificed their lives in service, and a missing man formation.
Wilmot rode in the formation for the fly off of the last Prowler.
“I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to take the opportunity to fly in the last flight away since I brought the first flight in,” Wilmot said.
Capt. Darryl Walker, CVWP commander, said he feels fortunate to have led his community through this major transition.
“We’ve sunset our last Navy Prowler with VAQ-134, so the entire community will now be transitioned to the EA-18G Growler,” said Walker. “It’s really spectacular to see the community grow into the fantastic airplane, the EA-18G Growler.”
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Hetherington is a member of the Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Northwest.