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Maintaining the Growler

James Watt, a mechanic for Boeing in St. Louis, installs radio frequency cables in EA-1, the first flight test aircraft for the Growler program. - Boeing photo
James Watt, a mechanic for Boeing in St. Louis, installs radio frequency cables in EA-1, the first flight test aircraft for the Growler program.
— image credit: Boeing photo

Just as Prowler aircrews are feeling their way around a new aircraft, the maintenance personnel who keep the aircraft in the air are modifying - and augmenting - their already impressive bank of knowledge to fit the EA-18G.

"We have the maintenance team broken up by expertise," said Cmdr. Derek Leney, EA-18G Fleet Introduction Team Officer.

VAQ-129 has 150 EA-18G-trained maintainers still honing their skills as they train in their specialty.

Most of maintenance gurus have spent their careers working on the EA-6B Prowler, the venerable aircraft the Growler is succeeding. A derivative of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Growler maintenance training is a bit easier with an existing jet working as a tangible precedent and model.

"We're basically making them Super Hornet maintainers," Leney said. "We take from the EA-6B side and move it to the Growler side."

Avionics technicians are trained at NAS Whidbey while some of the other skilled maintainers are sharing their expertise elsewhere.

With a new aircraft comes a mind-bending amount of support equipment, with which all of the maintenance personnel are becoming intimately familiar.

"There is a lot of new stuff," Leney said with a laugh.

Historically, NAS Whidbey has been home to 13 Prowler squadrons with four aircraft in each group. The Growler, by comparison, will number 10 squadrons at five jets apiece. The former, however, accommodates four pilots whereas the latter is a two-seater.

Cmdr. Paul Jennings, Leney's predecessor, said by the aircraft transition's completion in 2013, the slight decrease in pilots and naval flight officers will be offset by a larger weapons school, additional maintenance personnel, and a nominally bigger VAQ-129.

"We won't see a mass exodus," he said. "Fleet Readiness is a growth business."

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