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Legendary Skywarrior returns to Whidbey

A Douglas A-3 Skywarrior in flight before the Navy retired the aircraft in 1991. One of the legendary airplanes will be flying into Whidbey Naval Air Station around 1 p.m. Friday and will eventually go on stationary display.  - Courtesy photo
A Douglas A-3 Skywarrior in flight before the Navy retired the aircraft in 1991. One of the legendary airplanes will be flying into Whidbey Naval Air Station around 1 p.m. Friday and will eventually go on stationary display.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

After years of planning, fundraising, and a whole lot of effort, a long-lost Whidbey Island whale is finally coming home.

This Friday, a Douglas A-3 Skywarrior, fondly nicknamed the whale by Navy aviators, will land at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to become a static display on the corner of Ault Field Road and Langley Boulevard.

For aircraft enthusiasts, this is one homecoming that's been long awaited.

"What's the word? Euphoria," said Bill Burklow, spokesman for the Whidbey A-3 Skywarrior Memorial Foundation. "It will be a dream come true for a lot of people."

The aircraft came to NAS Whidbey Island in 1956 and was the air station's first permanently assigned jet bomber. At one time, six A-3 squadrons and one training squadron called the airbase home.

Composed largely of former service members, from former A-3 aviators to maintenance personnel, the non-profit group has been working since 2009 to raise enough money to bring one of the historic aircraft back to Whidbey Island.

Along with the static display, the foundation plans to a construct a memorial honoring the 251 people killed while operating the aircraft.

The jet was originally designed to deliver nuclear weapons during the Cold War, but went on to fulfill a variety of missions, from bomber and in-flight fuel tanker to an electronics and photography platform.

Its nickname was earned due to the jet's enormous size. Weighing in at 82,000 pounds when fully loaded and 73 feet long, it is credited with being the Navy's largest jet ever to operate off an aircraft carrier.

According to a Navy news release, the jets were the “backbone of attack aviation” in the Vietnam conflict until the arrival of the A-6 Intruder in 1966. The skywarrior was officially retired from Navy service in 1991.

The aircraft to serve as the static display was recently removed from the Navy’s active fleet inventory and is now “on loan” from the Naval Aviation Museum in NAS Pensacola, Fla. It's being flown from the Raytheon Company in Van Nuys, Calif., where it had been used as a radar research and test aircraft.

The skywarrior is expected to arrive Friday afternoon at about 1 p.m. in a formation including a EA-6B, a EA-18G and a P-3. Although it will land on base, good viewing locations include Deception Pass, Rocky Point and the grassy field near the Chief Petty Officers Club. A reception will follow at the club at about 2 p.m.

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