The EA-6B “Prowler” isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but she was never supposed to. The plan wasn’t for sexy, it was for a dedicated electronic warfare (EW) tactical platform that could jam surface to air radars, collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from those receivers, and eliminate early warning threats as necessary. In other words, her envisioned role was to make the enemy blind and deaf. That in turn would make it easier for our strikers to smash enemy air defense networks and infrastructure.
The Drumstick first flew in May of 1962, and by the middle of 1971 was operating from the USS America in support of US efforts in Vietnam. EA-6Bs have participated in almost every single US combat operation since her introduction to the fleet in 1971.
USAF Major Doug “Pecker” Woodley, who had an exchange tour with VAQ-129 and VAQ-133, had this to say about his background and experience in the Prowler:
“I had been flying the B-1 for a number of years, as well as working in jobs focused on Electronic Warfare, so the idea to go to Prowlers was a logical one. I was born and raised on NAS Pensacola, the son of a career Naval Aviator, so I was anxious to experience that which I’d heard about my whole life. The training was tough but I quickly realized the more I assimilated to the Navy world, the better I would do. That being said, when my squadron lost its land-based mission and was returned to the carrier, I got the chance to experience the whole nine yards of Navy life. When we first found out we were returning to the carrier, my CO came to me and said, “Hey you’re an Air Force bomber guy. Don’t sweat the carrier stuff. We will need a guy to run the beach det so we can just leave you there. You’re not expected to know how the boat works.”
I saw his point initially but, upon going through the spin-up with the squadron, I soon approached him and said I wanted to be the first one out and last one back. If I was going to play Navy, I was going all the way. And the first time I felt the violent acceleration of a cat shot, I knew I’d made the right choice in flying Prowlers. I soon found myself being the only Air Force guy in the Air Wing, and the first carrier-qualified Air Force flyer in our squadron’s history. I was immensely proud to be able to add my small footnote to the history books of the US Navy. I was even more proud to have shared space on the boat with some of the finest Aviators in the world.”
In celebration of the EA-6B’s continued service to the USMC and recent withdrawal from Navy use, we offer a photographic take on the unique beauty and mission of the “Prowler.”