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Pilots adjust to Growler experience

Capt. Tom Tack greeted military personnel, media representatives and community members in April. - Paul Boring / Whidbey News-Times
Capt. Tom Tack greeted military personnel, media representatives and community members in April.
— image credit: Paul Boring / Whidbey News-Times

The older - or more revered - EA-6B Prowler pilots have been unlearning certain indelible “muscle memories” as they train on the EA-18G Growler, the future of airborne electronic attack.

Training on a new aircraft while simultaneously carrying on the mission of its predecessor is not a new undertaking for the Navy or its pilots.

"We use the model for the F-14, an aircraft that eventually went away," said Cmdr. Paul Jennings, the former EA-18G Fleet Introduction Team Officer. "Then we went to the F/A-18 E and F. It's a huge challenge, but the transition is not a new concept for the Navy. Everything is all here at NAS Whidbey."

Pilots in VAQ-129, the world's first Growler squadron, are familiarizing themselves with a two-seat jet, as opposed to the EA-6B's four-seat capacity. The downsizing will mean greater mission involvement for the pilots.

"They are learning jamming and other tasks they weren't performing before," said Cmdr. Derek Leney, Jennings' successor as EA-18G Fleet Introduction Team Officer.

The Naval Flight Officers will enjoy a highly-automated, very high tech aft cockpit, but they will be doing the job of three NFOs.

"There will be more cross aviation," added Leney, "And new mission planning responsibilities. They will figure out their roles."

A younger generation of pilots and NFOs is being sought to fly the Growler. An 18-year-old sailor is much easier to train without conflicting information battling it out in his or her brain.

"We're importing a handful of Hornet aviators, but they are hard to come by. First-time Prowler operators don't have as much to unlearn. It's not as ingrained and this is a pretty big step up. There's less teaching an old dog new tricks," Jennings said with an apologetic shudder after using the familiar adage.

Growler flight simulators will replace EA-6B computerized training equipment at NAS Whidbey. The first EA-18G simulator is under construction as Boeing continues to test the flight software. The non-motion Growler simulators feature screens that extend around the cockpit to the wingtips. Bob Papadakis, Boeing Company EA-18G NAS Whidbey Integration Lead, had the opportunity to evaluate the simulator years ago.

"The clarity of the graphics is unbelievable," he said.

The first of three simulators will be ready for training in June. The final piece of equipment, being by Boeing at its St. Louis facility, will arrive at NAS Whidbey in 2013.

"As one Growler simulator goes in, a Prowler simulator goes out," Papadakis said.

The training of instructors is taking place at NAS Lemoore in California. But NAS Whidbey Island will be the ultimate destination for all things Growler, according to Leney, a former "Prowler guy."

The Oak Harbor community has had a difficult time containing its excitement over the arrival of NAS Whidbey's newest community.

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