NAS Jacksonville January 5, 2015 - Jacksonville, Fla. - Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) held a bittersweet ceremony Dec. 17 to honor the workers of the EA-6B line as the last Prowler nears completion.
The ceremony, marking the end of more than 20 years of Prowler work, signified the end of one era, but also the birth of another as most of the artisans of the Prowler line transition to trainer aircraft.
“I just want to thank each and every one of you here,” FRCSE Commanding Officer Capt. Chuck Stuart told the hundreds in attendance. “Though the last one of these amazing monsters is leaving us, the culture of teamwork and dependability you all have built here will stay.
“That will continue no matter what aircraft you’re working on.”
The first EA-6B came to FRCSE in October 1994. Many workers from Norfolk, Virginia came too, after their depot was shut down during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.
While many of the workers are transitioning to training aircraft, others will hang up their tool belts along with the plane they’ve kept in the air for decades.
“None of us wanted to see it go,” EA-6B Supervisor Greig Tatum said. “I’ve been on the EA-6B for about 24 years going back to my days in Norfolk.
“It hurts, but it’s a good sign to me because I’m retiring with it.”
The pilot who delivered the first Prowler to undergo maintenance at FRCSE came back for the ceremony. Cmdr. Mark Nye flew the “Flying Frying Pan” in the Navy’s fleet for 10 years before coming to FRCSE as the EA-6B product officer.
“Even today, the electronics are modern but the airframe they’re loaded on is a little dated,” Nye said. “It’s pretty amazing when you think of how long the A-6 has been gone now and they’re still flying the Prowler.”
The A-6 Intruder, from which the EA-6B descended, entered service in March 1963 with Attack Squadron 42, according to the Intruder Association’s website. When the Navy saw the need for electronic attack aircraft, they returned to the A-6’s rugged design. In fact, in at least some cases, they used the actual plane itself.
“The first three Prowlers that were built, were built from A-6 Intruders,” said Burt Hood, who was FRCSE’s EA-6B program manager in the mid-‘90s.
“They cut it right there at fuselage station 139 where the top fit is, and they brought in that whole front section,” Hood said as he pointed to a seam on the plane just behind the rear cockpit. “The first three that were built, were built with an A-6 back and an EA-6B nose.”
Perhaps the worker with the longest time on Prowlers at the ceremony was Ken Ball, a logistics management specialist at FRCSE. Ball worked for the plane’s original manufacturer, Grumman, for 35 years.
“I started with Grumman in 1967,” Ball said. “I was in the flight test department, so I worked on some of the early prototypes. What really made this aircraft special was its ability to loiter over the battlefield for extended periods of time and jam enemy signals and communications.”
The team that maintained the aircraft is special as well, Stuart said. Perhaps that’s why so many turned out. From retirees with decades on the Prowler, to relative newcomers, more than 100 current and former workers showed up for the ceremony.
“It really was like growing up together, and I think we all enjoyed ourselves,” Tatum said. “It was like a family.”
The men and women of the Prowler line shared laughs and recounted old stories – and looked longingly at the last one.
“When the Prowler gets in your blood, she’s in your blood,” Nye said. “You end up working on a bunch of different planes, but this was always home.”