Prowlin’ no more
Before they merged with Northrop in 1994, the old-school Grumman Corporation fielded some of the most iconic military– and specifically carrier– aircraft ever made in the 20th Century.
We are talking the F4F Wildcat (which the Brits used as the Martlet, their most common naval fighter of WWII), the Zero-busting F6F Hellcat, the briefly-loved F7F Tigercat, the F8F Bearcat (which the French continued to fly in Indochina and Algeria well into the jet age), the F9F Panther, F11 Tiger, and, of course, the F-14 Tomcat– last of the “cats.”
They just didn’t make fighters. They also produced the Cold War ASW king S-2 Tracker and the Yankee Station bomb truck that was the A-6 Intruder.
Sadly, all of the above have long since faded from the fleet. Other than a few ragtag IRIAF F-14s and some Taiwanese and Latin American S-2s, they aren’t even in the service of Third World countries.
And last week, the last armed Grumman combat aircraft used by the U.S. was put to bed.
First flown in 1968, the EA-6 Prowler was an A-6 that had been converted to be an “Electric Intruder” developed for the Marine Corps to replace its 1950s-era EF-10B Skyknights in electronic warfare missions. By 1971, they were flying over Vietnam with VAQ-129 flying from USS America (CV-66). Over the next 48 years, the plane matured and no carrier air boss would leave home without it. Not just an EW jam spreader, it could also target enemy radar sites and surface-to-air missile launchers in SEAD missions with high-speed anti-radiation missiles– more than 200 AGM-78 Standard ARM/AGM-88 HARMs were fired by Prowlers in combat over the years, with the first “Magnum” HARM warshot being against a Libyan SA-5 battery in Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986.
Later, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they even jammed the cell phone and garage door signals used to trigger IEDs.
No Prowler was ever lost in combat, although they have been in the thick of it over Vietnam, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Afghanistan, Grenada and other points of conflict for a five-decade run.
In all, more than 20 Navy and Marine VAQ squadrons took to the sky in the flying jambox although just 170 of the aircraft were produced.
Now, replaced by the EA-18G Growler, the last Prowlers of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, have been put to pasture.
But Grummans are not totally out of the fleet. The E-2C Hawkeye lingers on.