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Prowler joins gateway display

The U.S. Navy is giving away an EA-6B Prowler aircraft so that it can welcome folks into the city of Oak Harbor.

Ross Wilhelm, a member of the Intruder Association, said the Navy has committed to providing a Prowler aircraft for the Navy Gateway display at the corner of Highway 20 and Ault Field Road. It will join an A-6 Intruder that should be installed at the site within the next few weeks.

When the showcase is complete, perhaps sometime this fall, the two aircraft painted in Desert Storm tactical gray will be displayed in flight configuration, or as Wilhelm describes it, “in a climbing turn, as if they’re in flight.”

“It will be a very dramatic display as you’re coming into town,” Wilhelm said. “It will serve as a point of pride as you’re entering both the city and the naval air station.”

According to Wilhelm, the Navy will donate the Prowler to the National Museum of Aviation in Pensacola, which also owns the Intruder that will be in the display. The museum will loan the Prowler to the city, as it does the Intruder.

The particular Prowler, Wilhelm said, will be the first one taken out of service specifically based on the forthcoming arrival of the EA-18G Growler, which is supposed to begin arriving on Whidbey in July 2008.

The plane probably never trained over Whidbey. Wilhelm said that it went into commission in August of 1986. It was flown by Marines at Cherry Point, N.C.

Those involved in the Gateway project were surprised to receive a Prowler so soon.

“We had been planning to have the Intruder that is on loan to the city from the Naval Aviation Museum mounted this summer, but we had not realized that the impending arrival of the Growler would mean that we might be able to complete the project this year,” said Commander Sam Bovington, the Navy’s project leader.

Once the Navy Gateway display is complete, it will be a shining example of what can be accomplished when volunteers and government entities work together.

The effort to create the unique display began about two years ago. The city had long displayed an A-6 Intruder near the waterfront RV park, but the seagulls and salty wind played havoc on the aircraft. Also, it was surrounded by an unsightly fence to prevent people from playing on it.

As a result, the Navy and volunteers moved the aircraft to a hangar on the Navy base, where volunteers spent countless hours fixing and repainting it. Navy and city officials decided to relocate the jet on Navy land at the far end of the city, far away from the seagulls and the sea.

“The volunteers, most of whom are sailors working in their spare time, did a beautiful job restoring the Intruder,” said Dave Williams, a retired Navy captain who coordinated the project for the city. “There are not enough words to thank all who have been involved and given so generously of their time.”

Wilhelm noted that donations to date to the tax-exempt charitable organization had come from the Association of Naval Aviators Squadron Forty, Blue Mountain Electric, Cane Engineering, Krieg Concrete Products, Krieg Construction, PCS Structural Solutions, P&L Construction, and Washington Ironworks.

He said that several individuals had also contributed to the project including Capt. Christine Picchi in honor of her late husband, Commander Roger Lerseth; Sue Karahalios in memory of her late father, Capt. Ray Compton; Jim Offutt and John Peiguss.

Also, the city entered into a $25,000 contract to build the display.

Wilhelm said it’s going to take more volunteer work and donations to get the Prowler ready for display. Besides being painted, he said the jet will be de-militarized, which means all the equipment that can be used for spare parts for another plane will be taken off. The ejection seats will also be removed for safety reasons.

When it comes to money, Wilhelm said things were looking up for adding the Prowler to the display.

“We were gratified to learn that one of the Naval Air Station’s industry partners, L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace Contract Field Services, is committed to providing the Navy Gateway with a donation,” he said. “L-3 provides the Naval Air Station with a number of services, most notably maintenance of many of the Prowlers, so this display will owe a lot to their contributions. We still have a way to go before we can afford to mount the Prowler on the site, but this very generous donation moves us a long way toward that goal.”

The A-6 was designed by Grumman in the 1950s to fly in all weather, navigate in total darkness and carry a large payload. The versatile aircraft delivered more ordnance over Vietnam than did the B-52, bombed Libya in 1986 and was used extensively in Operation Desert Storm, according to www.globalsecurity.org.

According to the Navy, the EA-6B Prowler is a four-seat, long-range, all-weather jet aircraft with advanced electronic countermeasures capability. The Prowler provides an umbrella of protection for strike aircraft, ground troops and ships by jamming enemy radar, electronic data links and communications.

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