Growler comes home to Whidbey

Christmas came early for the Navy this year when Boeing delivered the first EA-18G Growler Sept. 24.

The massive aerospace and defense corporation neglected to include the receipt with the package, but the Navy showed no signs of cognitive dissonance.

“It’s an impressive airplane,” said Bob Papadakis, Boeing Company EA-18G NAS Whidbey Integration Lead. “The crews are very excited.”

The EA-18G is equipped with radar-jamming equipment and other gear to effectively disable a wide array of electronic devices. The sleek aircraft will fly with teams of conventional bombers and help disrupt enemy air defenses.

The Growler will ultimately replace its venerable predecessor, the EA-6B Prowler, beginning next year.

Technologically superior Active Electronically Scanned Array radars, now being introduced on fighter jets, will also be part of the Growler’s electronic arsenal.

“They’re getting state-of-the-art fighter technology with the EA-18G,” Papadakis said.

Boeing’s delivery of the first production aircraft, G1, to Patuxent River, Md. was a monumental occasion. As part of the $9.2 billion contract, the Navy received two test Growlers, EA1 and EA2 in September and November of last year, respectively. The latter plane dropped jaws at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station when it made a stopover visit in April.

“The test aircraft will be used exclusively for testing throughout the life of the Growler,” Papadakis said.

The Growlers are scheduled to be deployed in 2010, and the Navy has agreed to buy a total of 85 by 2013, although the timeline is flexible. G1 was the first of the 85, Papadakis said.

The Navy paid $1.2 billion to develop the aircraft, and the purchase contract is approximately $8 billion. The planes themselves cost about $60 million apiece, but the Navy’s contract includes the cost of training and support to deploy the aircraft.

The Growler combines the state-of-the-art, two-seat twin-engine F/A-18F Block Two Super Hornet with the EA-6B Improved Capability III system, providing next-generation electronic attack capability to the long-awaited replacement aircraft. The EA-18G is also leaner and faster, which will help the aircraft more than keep up with other planes.

Al Bradford, a Prowler guy by trade, beamed as he climbed from the EA2’s cockpit in April. Papadakis said from that pilot’s perspective, the Growler handles like a Super Hornet, melding the power and performance of the fighter attack aircraft.

Capt. Paul Overstreet, program manager for the Growler, told Papadakis the central mission of the EA-18G remains airborne electronic attack, but the aircraft brings with it the attributes of the Super Hornet.

The first jet will arrive at NAS Whidbey in July 2008 and the Navy will rapidly transition 10 squadrons in a four-and-a-half-year timeframe starting in September of next year. Papadakis said the last planes will be delivered in fiscal year 2013.

All of the aircraft will eventually be stationed at NAS Whidbey, but at different times.

The EA-18G is being built by the industry team of Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Electric Aircraft Engines, Raytheon, and nearly 1,800 other suppliers.

Collectively, the team has already garnered accolades. The EA-18G program was given the 2007 Defence Product of the Year award by Flight International and was named as a finalist in the Research/ Systems Development Documentation category by Aviation Week.

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