A6- INTRUDER - History

A6- INTRUDER - History

A6 Intruder

Manufacturer: Grumman

Engine: 2 Pratt & Whitney J52-P-8A

Speed: 689 MPH

Ceiling: 47,500

Range: 1800 miles

Wingspan: 53ft

Length: 54ft 9 inch

First Flight: 4/1960

The A-6 Intruder Was One of the Deadliest Weapons of the Vietnam War

The Navy and Marine Corps used the A-6 Intruder for a wide array of strike missions during the Vietnam War.

It was dark and difficult to see on the night of April 18, 1966, but the U.S. Navy was counting on that. The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk prepared three aircraft for launch from its powerful catapults. A Soviet intelligence-gathering ship was nearby, so the planes operated under radio silence. A pair of A-6 Intruder attack planes quickly rose from the carrier’s deck accompanied by an E-2A Electronic Warfare aircraft for later communications. Commander Ron Hays, executive officer of Squadron VA-85, piloted the lead plane with his bombardier-navigator Lieutenant Ted Been seated next to him. Lt. Cmdr. Bill Yarbrough and bombardier-navigator Lieutenant Bud Roemish flew the other A-6 as their wingmen.

Their target was the Uong Bi powerplant, 12 miles north of Haiphong, a port city in Communist-controlled North Vietnam. The Intruder’s crews rendezvoused soon after takeoff and leveled off below 500 feet, staying low to avoid enemy radar detection. They stayed that way until about 25 miles from the target and then began a slow climb to 1,800 feet, where they could safely release their bomb loads. Each A-6 carried 13 Mk. 83 1,000-pound bombs. Soon the powerplant, sitting on the northeast side of Uong Bi, appeared below. The pilots separated their aircraft laterally before Hays made his run, releasing all his bombs onto the target. The second plane had problems with its release mechanism but the bombardier-navigator was able to manually drop his entire load as well.

The North Vietnamese were taken by surprise that night. By the time they began firing their antiaircraft guns both Intruders were already on the way home. A later damage assessment counted at least 25 bomb craters in the target area with heavy damage to the plant. The next day the North Vietnamese released a press statement in which they attributed the destruction to the B-52 Stratofortress. This was because the North Vietnamese were not yet fully aware of the payload and night attack capabilities of the newly introduced A-6 Intruder, but in the coming years they would learn this lesson, much to their detriment.

The A-6 Intruder had only been in service a few years when it was deployed to Vietnam. The design arose from a Navy requirement for a medium attack aircraft capable of flying in all weather and carrying out night operations. Before this the Navy’s ability to carry out attacks at night was severely limited by the available aircraft and technology. Targeting systems were primitive and many pilots operated more by moonlight or flares to find their targets. Skyraiders and A-4 Skyhawks carried out the light attack function while the larger A-3 Skywarrior filled the heavy attack role, including using nuclear weapons. The medium attack function really came to embody the concepts of all-weather and nighttime operations. Most jets of this era carried no more than 2,000 pounds of ordnance, and the new plane had to carry more.

The requirement was sent to 13 aircraft companies. Grumman’s A2F-1 won the competition from a field of eight submissions. In an era where jet aircraft were usually sleek with pointed noses and slim fuselages, the Grumman design had a large, blunt nose and a thick middle that tapered to the rear. Although it was dubbed the “Flying Drumstick,” Grumman officials asserted that they were focused on engineering performance and not on aesthetics. The plane was to be a bomber, and it was engineered to fulfill that specific role.

The thick nose held new ground-mapping and targeting radars necessary to bomb accurately in the dark and under the adverse conditions envisioned for the plane. The cockpit layout seated the pilot and bombardier-navigator next to each other, increasing the fuselage width but allowing them to work together more effectively. The A2F-1 carried the Litton Company’s ASQ-651 digital integrated attack navigation equipment, which enabled the crew to fly at night over rough terrain at low altitudes. It could do this in most weather conditions. “All-weather” is something of a misnomer as some weather is too severe for any flying. It was a complicated system that gave occasional trouble but was still a leap ahead in flying technology. The Navy also noted the Air Force had nothing similar in service. The system proved accurate enough that other attack aircraft often flew alongside the A-6 and dropped their ordnance at the same time.

The A2F-1 was standardized as the A-6A in late 1962 and entered active service in February 1963. The A-6A had a wingspan of 53 feet and could carry up to 18,000 pounds of ordnance on five external hardpoints. Typical loads consisted of 500-, 1,000-, or 2,000-pound bombs. While it had a combat radius of 900 miles, the Intruder was not a fast plane, with a maximum speed of only 685 mph compared to the supersonic aircraft of the day. The plane was not intended for speedy maneuvering, though. Its job was to put bombs on a target.

As the Intruder entered service it replaced the aging Skyraiders, with 10 squadrons converting to the A-6. Another pair of original A-6 squadrons were also formed. Ten of the 12 saw action in Vietnam. The Marine Corps also adopted the new plane and equipped six squadrons, with four of them serving in Southeast Asia. Marine Corps air crews flew the A-6 from both Da Nang and Chu Lai, as well as from carriers.

The A-6 suffered a high initial loss rate in Vietnam due to a mixture of mechanical failure, pilot inexperience, and enemy action. It is worth noting that accidental aircraft losses during the early years of carrier jet operations were higher than in the 21st century. A few days after the attack on the Uong Bi powerplant, a number of planes and aircrew were lost, with several men falling into North Vietnamese hands as prisoners, but there were also instances of success and heroism.

An A-6 from Squadron VA-85 was attacking barges north of the city of Vinh on April 27, 1966, when it was hit by enemy fire. A bullet struck the pilot, Lieutenant Bill Westerman, causing severe wounds. Bombardier-navigator Lieutenant Brian Westin reached across the cockpit to take the controls. There was no way to land safely so he pointed the plane out to sea. Bailing out over land meant probable capture by the North Vietnamese, but if they could get farther out to sea, it was more likely the Navy would find them first. Westerman was drifting in and out of consciousness, so after jettisoning the canopy Westin had to reach over and pull his friend’s ejection handle before pulling his own.

A helicopter soon arrived and pulled Westin from the water. The bombardier-navigator directed the rescuers back down the Intruder’s track until they found Westerman afloat. There was no diver on the helicopter to help the stricken pilot into the rescue sling, so Westin dove back into the water and hooked Westerman into the sling before waving the helicopter off to get the wounded pilot to treatment. Another helicopter arrived five minutes later to again rescue the bombardier. Brian Westin would be the first of 14 Intruder crewmen to be awarded the Navy Cross for heroism.

Despite the loss rate, the A-6 acquired a reputation for single-plane night attacks flown at very low altitudes. In most instances, the Intruder could penetrate heavily defended enemy airspace, drop its payload with precision, and exit the area before an effective response could be mounted. Even when the North Vietnamese did detect the plane and fire at it, the increasingly skilled aircrews could often get through and get away again.

One example is an attack carried out by Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Hunter and his bombardier-navigator Lieutenant Lyle Bull on October 30, 1967. They took off from the USS Constellation and flew through the darkness toward Hanoi. Their target was the Red River ferry docks and their A-6A carried 13 Mk. 83 1,000-pound Snakeye cluster bombs. A single plane night attack was risky. Bull recalled the area was protected by 20 SA-2 surface-to-air missile sites and 600 antiaircraft guns. An earlier attempt to destroy the docks using a large number of planes failed due to the heavy defenses.

The Intruder reached the coast north of Vinh and headed northwest toward Hanoi with Hunter using the terrain to mask their approach. Bull was using the radar, marking their path using its returns. At about 20 miles from the target the plane left the covering terrain features and was immediately targeted by antiaircraft guns followed by missiles, even though they were flying below 500 feet. “Intelligence reported the SA-2 couldn’t track below 1500 feet,” recalled Bull. “We were disturbed to see that their assessment was incorrect.” Hunter carried out a high-speed barrel roll that threw the missiles off target and took the A-6 as low as 50 feet.

Gunfire continued to flash at the A-6 as it reached the docks. Despite the incoming fire, Bull managed to drop his bombs on target and then Hunter flew them out of the engagement area. The Intruder made it safely back to the USS Constellation. Hunter and Bull received the Navy Cross for their actions. Both men stayed in the service and rose to the rank of rear admiral.

Once commanders and planners realized the Intruder’s strengths, the squadrons flying them began to get commensurate assignments. The night attack capability came as an unpleasant surprise to North Vietnamese troops moving along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a logistics line used to move supplies and soldiers into South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia. The Intruder’s targeting system also included a device called the moving target indicator, which helped target these moving troops at night. The North Vietnamese generally did not move during the day to avoid be spotted and targeted, but they were very comfortable travelling at night.

Entire convoys were bombed with practically no advance warning. The Intruders would often drop cluster bombs first, which punctured fuel tanks and set off ammunition, starting fires the pilots could use for followup attacks. Often the North Vietnamese would fire tracers into the air despite the low chance of a hit, just to warn the convoys in the area that American aircraft were overhead.

The Navy and Marine Corps refined strike tactics to improve the crew’s chances. If an attack involved multiple planes, flying in a column, one after the other, it allowed antiaircraft gunners to better target the following aircraft. Instead, the A-6s flew in from different headings a few seconds apart. To reduce the chance of mid-air collisions, the planes would come in at different altitudes, timed to be a few seconds apart. This minimized the opportunity for gunners to shoot at them, and some aviation experts even compared the tactic to the precision flying done by the Navy’s demonstration unit, the Blue Angels.

The side-by-side crew configuration proved to be a great benefit to the aircrews. Marine Corps pilot Bruce Byrum flew more than 3,000 hours as an A-6 pilot and praised the role his bombardier-navigator played. He monitored the radio and watched airspeed, power settings, attitude, and rate of descent. The bombardier-navigator also oversaw the plane’s place in the landing pattern as Intruders returned to their carrier. “He had as much to do with the pilot’s success as the pilot,” Byrum recalled.

This relationship created a great sense of teamwork and camaraderie. “With two guys sitting side by side, you could communicate with hand gestures, if need be,” said Commander Robert “Rupe” Owens. “You could simply look at the other guy and nod.”

On February 26, 1967, Intruders of VA-35 flew from the deck of the nuclear-powered carrier USS Enterprise to drop aerial mines in two rivers. They were the first unit to drop such mines since World War II. VA-35 lost one A-6 in its tour during a strike against Hanoi during Ho Chi Minh’s birthday on May 19, 1967. An A-6 flown by Lt. Cmdr. Gene McDaniel and bombardier-navigator Lieutenant Kelly Patterson was hit by a missile during the attack. Both men ejected. Patterson died in captivity while McDaniel spent six years in prison. He was later awarded the Navy Cross for his leadership while a prisoner.

One of the blackest days for the A-6 came a few months later. On August 21, 1967, four A-6As of VA-196 launched from USS Constellation for a day attack against the Duc Noi railroad yard north of Hanoi. The weather was bad, with thunderstorms and heavy cloud cover over most of the country. On the way in, one plane was hit by flak, but the crew felt they could press on. As the Intruders moved in for the attack, another strike by U.S. Air Force planes was in progress nearby and they were taking fire as well, losing a pair of F-105s. The resulting large amount of emergency radio traffic made coordination even more difficult.

As the aircraft started their dives, a surface-to-air missile struck the Intruder flown by Commander Leo Profilet, a well-respected Korean War veteran. The plane burst into flames and Profilet ejected along with his bombardier-navigator Lieutenant Bill Hardman. Their fellow flyers saw their parachutes as they flew out of the target area. Both men survived but spent more than five years as prisoners of war.

The remaining three planes raced toward the coast but became separated in the bad weather. Only one plane returned to the USS Constellation the other two were missing, but their fate was soon discovered. The Chinese government announced via radio it had shot down two U.S. Navy planes after they flew over their border. Bombardier-navigator Lieutenant Robert J. Flynn survived the ordeal. He was taken prisoner by the Chinese and held for more than five years, undergoing solitary confinement for most of that time. It was a dark day for the squadron and the Navy, losing three A-6s in one mission and even worse, seeing all the crews either killed or captured.

As the war progressed, new variants of the Intruder appeared. The A-6B was an initial attempt at a fire suppression aircraft specializing in attacking enemy radar and surface-to-air missile sites. A few A-6Bs would accompany A-6 squadron to assist in this role. The B model would eventually be replaced by the EA-6B Prowler, a specialized suppression aircraft that entered service toward the end of the Vietnam War and flew until March 2019.

The A-6C was fitted with a special pod carrying low-light and infrared cameras to further improve its ability to strike targets at night. A tanker variant, the KA-6D, also joined the Intruder squadrons to provide carriers with an improved air-to-air refueling capability. The A-6E was an improved attack version with better radar and navigation systems. The E model would serve the Navy until 1997, a victim of post-Cold War defense reductions.

The rugged A-6 also acquired a reputation for toughness despite the heavy losses Intruder squadrons sometimes suffered. Byrum recalled a daylight mission where one of his squadron’s planes took a hit that left a barrel-sized hole in the right wing. Although the pilot could not see it, the bombardier-navigator could. Since they were still over enemy territory, the bombardier-navigator chose not to tell the pilot about the damage, hoping to at least get to a friendly air base. Because the A-6 was not leaking fuel or hydraulic fluid, Byrum also decided not to inform the pilot.

The damaged A-6 made it safely to Da Nang and Byrum landed after it. By the time Byrum taxied over, the pilot of the damaged plane had shut down his engines and gotten out to inspect the damage. As Byrum watched, the shocked pilot knocked his bombardier-navigator to the ground, unhappy the man had not told him the truth. Byrum chose discretion and kept his cockpit shut so the enraged flyer would not try to do the same to him. “I don’t know what he would have done differently,” said Byrum. “He surely did not want to eject.”

Of the Intruders lost in combat in Southeast Asia, two were lost to MiGs, 10 to surface-to-air missiles and 36 to antiaircraft guns with more lost to accidents and mechanical failures. This was a small number of losses considering the Navy and Marine Corps flew 35,000 A-6 combat sorties over hostile territory that bristled with the most extensive air defense network in the world at the time. Worse than the loss of aircraft was the loss in lives. The Navy and Marine Corps lost 92 A-6 aviators and 53 other A-6 aviators became prisoners of war.

Rear Admiral James Seely placed great value on the Intruder’s contribution. “In my opinion the A-6 was the most effective strike aircraft the U.S. Navy had during the Vietnam War,” said Seely. “It could do day missions as well as any other aircraft, and was much superior at night. We had system problems with the A-6A, but it was in fact the only true all-weather aircraft in the fight.”

Some of the most demanding missions of the war were assigned to Intruder crews and they carried them out with courage and determination. Many A-6 crewmen would go on to command positions after the war, seeing the aircraft’s service through the remainder of the Cold War.

This article by Christopher Miskimon first appeared in the Warfare History Network on May 29, 2020.


Patrick Hayes was driving down Oceana Boulevard, his 3-year-old screaming in the back seat, when he looked to the left and saw the streaking A-6E Intruder jet begin to peek over the treetops at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.

"It wasn't flying right," the Virginia Beach man recalled Monday. "It looked like a sick pig in the air . It was just lumbering."

Within seconds, on that overcast day nearly three years ago, the low-flying 47,500-pound jet careened to the right and crashed in a ball of flames on the roadway, killing the pilot, the navigator and a pregnant woman whose car was hit by the debris.

Hayes' account of the May 22, 1986, crash that killed three people came in U.S. District Court, where the jury is being asked to decide whether the jet's 26-year-old pilot, Lt. James P. Hoban, was a hero or a hot dog trying to show off.

His widow, Elizabeth Hoban, contends that the plane's manufacturer, Grumman Corp. of New York, gave the Navy a faulty plane that failed her husband, stalling after takeoff and leading him to veer right to avoid a patch of homes before the jet crashed. She is seeking $4 million from Grumman.

But Grumman - backed by the Navy's own investigation of the crash - contends that Hoban caused the crash himself, attempting a risky, low-altitude stunt on takeoff even though he had been disciplined for doing it once before.

Seven witnesses to the crash, including four Navy officers from Oceana, took the stand Monday in the 3-day-old trial. Their statements seemed to suggest that Hoban, who was delivering the jet to the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, tried to pull the wrong stunt on the wrong day.

Cmdr. John C. Meister, a squad commander at the Oceana base and the officer who oversaw the Navy's crash investigation, said Hoban failed to follow the air station's flight rules by not climbing to an altitude of 1,000 feet on takeoff before attempting any turn.

Meister also said Hoban tried to execute a hard right bank while only about 300 feet off the ground, seriously miscalculating when he failed to extend his wing flaps to give the high-speed jet more lift at a slow speed.

The jet went into an "aerodynamic stall," Meister said, noting that a computer analysis and his own re-enactment of the maneuver - at a higher altitude - resulted in the same conclusion.

"The fact that he was at this lower altitude than he could have been, or should have been, reduced his margin of error," Meister said.

Meister said Hoban had tried the maneuver before during a training exercise at Pensacola, Fla.

Lt. Cmdr. Felix M. Usis III, a search-and-rescue pilot who was refueling his helicopter when the crash occurred, said he first saw Hoban's Intruder as it quickly taxied toward the runway at an excessive speed. Usis said he could see Hoban and his navigator, Lt. Michael F. Wilson, in the cockpit.

"They appeared to be having a good time, because they were waving to another crew that was taxiing behind me," Usis said.

Usis and his co-pilot, Cmdr Richard L. Trotter, said they watched as the gray jet went airborn, sped over the runway about 75 feet off the ground and, when it reached the end, pointed its nose up.

The jet then smartly banked hard right, its right wing pointing almost straight down, before the jet's nose started edging downward. Within seconds, the men said, the jet disappeared below the treetops.


Background Edit

As a result of the fair-weather limitation of the propeller-driven Skyraider in the Korean War and the advent of turbine engines, the United States Navy issued preliminary requirements in 1955 for an all-weather carrier-based attack aircraft. The U.S. Navy published an operational requirement document for it in October 1956. It released a request for proposals (RFP) in February 1957. [3] This request called for a 'close air support attack bomber capable of hitting the enemy at any time'. Aviation authors Bill Gunston and Peter Gilchrist observe that this specification was shaped by the service's Korean War experiences, during which air support had been frequently unavailable unless fair weather conditions were present. [4]

In response to the RFP, a total of eleven design proposals were submitted by eight different companies, including Bell, Boeing, Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, Martin, North American, and Vought. [5] Grumman's submission was internally designated as the Type G-128. [4] Following evaluation of the bids, the U.S. Navy announced the selection of Grumman on 2 January 1958. The company was awarded a contract for the development of their submission, which had been re-designated A2F-1, in February 1958. [6]

Grumman's design team was led by Robert Nafis and Lawrence Mead, Jr. [4] Mead later played a lead role in the design of the Lunar Excursion Module and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. [7] The team was spread between two sites, the company's manufacturing plant as Bethpage and the testing facilities at Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant, Calverton. During September 1959, the design was approved by the Mock-Up Review Board. [4]

The A2F-1 design incorporated several cutting-edge features for the era. In the early 1960s, it was novel for a fighter-sized aircraft to have sophisticated avionics that used multiple computers. This design experience was taken into consideration by NASA in their November 1962 decision to choose Grumman over other companies like General Dynamics-Convair (the F-111 had computerized avionics capabilities comparable to the A-6, but did not fly until 1964) to build the Lunar Excursion Module, which was a small-sized spacecraft with two onboard computers. [ citation needed ]

Into flight Edit

The first prototype YA2F-1, lacking radar and the navigational and attack avionics, made its first flight on 19 April 1960, [8] [9] with the second prototype flying on 28 July 1960. [10]

The test program required to develop the aircraft took a long time. The very advanced navigation and attack equipment required a lot of development and changes had to be made to correct aerodynamic deficiencies and remove unwanted features. [11] Extending the air brakes, which were mounted on the rear fuselage, changed the downwash at the horizontal tailplane which overloaded its actuator so the tailplane was moved rearwards by 16 inches (41 cm). Later evaluation of the aircraft showed that the airbrakes were not effective enough in controlling the speed of the aircraft and they were moved to the wing-tips. [12] Early production aircraft were fitted with both the fuselage and wingtip air brakes, although the fuselage-mounted ones were soon disabled, and were removed from later aircraft. [10] The trailing edge of each wing-tip split to form a much more effective speed-brake which projected above and below the wing when extended.

The rudder needed a wider chord at its base to give greater exposed area to assist spin recovery.

A major difference between the first six production aircraft and subsequent aircraft were the jet nozzles close-air support by the Marine Corps required STOL performance to operate from forward airstrips. Jet deflection using tilting tailpipes was proposed. The performance benefits from varying the angle were not worthwhile, whether operating from short strips or carriers, and they were fixed at a 7 degree downward angle. [13]

Further development Edit

During February 1963, the A-6 was introduced to service with the US Navy at this point, the type was, according to Gunston and Gilchrist, "the first genuinely all-weather attack bomber in history". [14] However, early operating experiences found the aircraft to be imposing very high maintenance demands, particularly in the Asian theatre of operations, and serviceability figures were also low. In response, the Naval Avionics Lab launched a substantial and lengthy program to improve both the reliability and performance of the A-6's avionics suite. [14] The successful performance of the A-6 in operations following these improvements ended proposals to produce follow-on models that featured downgraded avionics. [15]

Various specialized variants of the A-6 were developed, often in response to urgent military requirements raised during the Vietnam War. [16] The A-6C, a dedicated interdictor, was one such model, as was the KA-6D, a buddy store-equipped aerial refuelling tanker. Perhaps the most complex variant was the EA-6B Prowler, a specialized electronic warfare derivative. The last variant to be produced was the A-6E, first introduced in 1972 it features extensive avionics improvements, including the new APQ-148 multimode radar, along with minor airframe refinements. [16] The last A-6E was delivered in 1992. [17]

During the 1980s, a further model, designated A-6F, was being planned. Intended to feature the General Electric F404 turbofan engine, as well as various avionics and airframe improvements, this variant was cancelled under the presumption that the in-development McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II would be entering production before long. [18] [19] Instead, a life-extension program involving the re-winging of existing A-6E aircraft was undertaken initially a metal wing had been used before a graphite-epoxy composite wing was developed during the late 1980s. [20] Other improvements were introduced to the fleet around this time, including GPS receivers, new computers and radar sets, more efficient J-52-409 engines, as well as increased compatibility with various additional missiles. [21]

The Grumman A-6 Intruder is a two-seat twin-engined monoplane, equipped to perform carrier-based attack missions regardless of prevailing weather or light conditions. [4] The cockpit used an unusual double pane windscreen and side-by-side seating arrangement in which the pilot sat in the left seat, while the bombardier/navigator (BN) sat to the right and slightly below to give the pilot an adequate view on that side. In addition to a radar display for the BN, a unique instrumentation feature for the pilot was a cathode ray tube screen that was known as the Vertical Display Indicator (VDI). This display provided a synthetic representation of the world in front of the aircraft, along with steering cues provided by the BN, enabling head-down navigation and attack at night and in all weather conditions. [22]

The A-6's wing was relatively efficient at subsonic speeds, particularly when compared to supersonic fighters such as the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, which are also limited to subsonic speeds when carrying a payload of bombs. The wing was also designed to provide a favorable level of maneuverability even while carrying a sizable bomb load. A very similar wing would be put on pivots on Grumman's later supersonic swing-wing Grumman F-14 Tomcat, as well as similar landing gear. [23]

For its day, the Intruder had sophisticated avionics, with a high degree of integration. [4] To aid in identifying and isolating equipment malfunctions, the aircraft was provided with automatic diagnostic systems, some of the earliest computer-based analytic equipment developed for aircraft. These were known as Basic Automated Checkout Equipment, or BACE (pronounced "base"). There were two levels, known as "Line BACE" to identify specific malfunctioning systems in the aircraft, while in the hangar or on the flight line and "Shop BACE", to exercise and analyze individual malfunctioning systems in the maintenance shop. This equipment was manufactured by Litton Industries. Together, the BACE systems greatly reduced the Maintenance Man-Hours per Flight Hour, a key index of the cost and effort needed to keep military aircraft operating. [ citation needed ]

The Intruder was equipped to carry nuclear weapons (B43, B57, B61) which would have been delivered using semi-automated toss bombing.

Entering service and Vietnam War Edit

The Intruder received a new standardized US DOD designation of A-6A in the Autumn of 1962, and entered squadron service in February 1963. The A-6 became both the U.S. Navy's and U.S. Marine Corps's principal medium and all-weather/night attack aircraft from the mid-1960s through the 1990s and as an aerial tanker either in the dedicated KA-6D version or by use of a buddy store (D-704). Whereas the A-6 fulfilled the USN and USMC all-weather ground-attack/strike mission role, this mission in the USAF was served by the Republic F-105 Thunderchief and later the F-111, the latter which also saw its earlier F-111A variants converted to a radar jammer as the EF-111 Raven, analogous to the USN and USMC EA-6B Prowler.

A-6 Intruders first saw action during the Vietnam War, where the craft were used extensively against targets in Vietnam. The aircraft's long range and heavy payload (18,000 pounds or 8,200 kilograms) coupled with its ability to fly in all weather made it invaluable during the war. However, its typical mission profile of flying low to deliver its payload made it especially vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, and in the eight years the Intruder was used during the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps lost a total of 84 A-6 aircraft of various series. The first loss occurred on 14 July 1965 when an Intruder from VA-75 operating from USS Independence, flown by LT Donald Boecker and LT Donald Eaton, commenced a dive on a target near Laos. An explosion under the starboard wing damaged the starboard engine, causing the aircraft to catch fire and the hydraulics to fail. Seconds later the port engine failed, the controls froze, and the two crewmen ejected. Both crewmen survived.

Of the 84 Intruders lost to all causes during the war, ten were shot down by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), two were shot down by MiGs, 16 were lost to operational causes, and 56 were lost to conventional ground fire and AAA. The last Intruder to be lost during the war was from VA-35, flown by LT C. M. Graf and LT S. H. Hatfield, operating from USS America they were shot down by ground fire on 24 January 1973 while providing close air support. The airmen ejected and were rescued by a Navy helicopter. Twenty U.S. Navy aircraft carriers rotated through the waters of Southeast Asia, providing air strikes, from the early 1960s through the early 1970s. Nine of those carriers lost A-6 Intruders: USS Constellation lost 11, USS Ranger lost eight, USS Coral Sea lost six, USS Midway lost two, USS Independence lost four, USS Kitty Hawk lost 14, USS Saratoga lost three, USS Enterprise lost eight, and USS America lost two. [24] Although capable of embarking aboard aircraft carriers, most U.S. Marine Corps A-6 Intruders were shore based in South Vietnam at Chu Lai and Da Nang and in Nam Phong, Thailand.

Lebanon and later action Edit

A-6 Intruders were later used in support of other operations, such as the Multinational Force in Lebanon in 1983. On 4 December, one LTV A-7 Corsair II and one Intruder were downed by Syrian missiles. The Intruder's pilot, Lieutenant Mark Lange, and bombardier/navigator Lieutenant Robert "Bobby" Goodman ejected immediately before the crash [25] Lange died of his injuries while Goodman was captured and taken by the Syrians to Damascus where he was released on 3 January 1984. Later in the 1980s, two Naval Reserve A-7 Corsair II light attack squadrons, VA-205 and VA-304, were reconstituted as medium attack squadrons with the A-6E at NAS Atlanta, Georgia and NAS Alameda, California, respectively.

Intruders also saw action in April 1986 operating from the aircraft carriers USS America and Coral Sea during the bombing of Libya (Operation El Dorado Canyon). The squadrons involved were VA-34 "Blue Blasters" (from USS America) and VA-55 "Warhorses" (from USS Coral Sea).

During the Gulf War in 1991, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps A-6s flew more than 4,700 combat sorties, providing close air support, destroying enemy air defenses, attacking Iraqi naval units, and hitting strategic targets. They were also the U.S. Navy's primary strike platform for delivering laser-guided bombs. [26] The U.S. Navy operated them from the aircraft carriers USS Saratoga, USS John F. Kennedy, USS Midway, USS Ranger, USS America and USS Theodore Roosevelt, while U.S. Marine Corps A-6s operated ashore, primarily from Shaikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain. Three A-6s were shot down in combat by SAMs and AAA. [27]

The Intruder's large blunt nose and slender tail inspired a number of nicknames, including "Double Ugly", "The Mighty Alpha Six", "Iron Tadpole" and also "Drumstick". [28]

Following the Gulf War, Intruders were used to patrol the no-fly zone in Iraq and provided air support for U.S. Marines during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. The last A-6E Intruder left U.S. Marine Corps service on 28 April 1993. [29]

Navy A-6s saw further duty over Bosnia in 1994.

On 4 June 1996, during RIMPAC a US Navy A-6E performing the unusual target towing task to train Japanese Navy air defense crews was mistakenly engaged and shot down by the Japanese destroyer JS Yūgiri with its Phalanx CIWS gun. Both pilots ejected and were recovered. [30] [31]

Retirement Edit

Despite the production of new airframes in the 164XXX Bureau Number (BuNo) series just before and after the Gulf War, augmented by a rewinging program of older airframes, the A-6E and KA-6D were quickly phased out of service in the mid-1990s in a U.S. Navy cost-cutting move driven by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to reduce the number of different type/model/series (T/M/S) of aircraft in carrier air wings and U.S. Marine aircraft groups.

The A-6 was intended to be replaced by the McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II, but that program was canceled due to cost overruns. [32] The Intruder remained in service for a few more years before being retired in favor of the LANTIRN-equipped F-14D Tomcat, which was in turn replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in the U.S. Navy and the twin-seat F/A-18D Hornet in the U.S. Marine Corps. During the 2010s, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike programme was at one point intended to produce an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) successor to the Intruder's long-distance strike role, but the initiative has since changed priorities towards the tanker mission instead. [33] The last Intruders were retired on 28 February 1997.

Many in the US defense establishment in general, and Naval Aviation in particular, questioned the wisdom of a shift to a shorter range carrier-based strike force, as represented by the Hornet and Super Hornet, compared to the older generation aircraft such as the Intruder and Tomcat. However, the availability of USAF Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender tankers modified to accommodate USN, USMC and NATO tactical aircraft in all recent conflicts was considered by certain senior decision makers in the Department of Defense to put a lesser premium on organic aerial refueling capability in the U.S. Navy's carrier air wings and self-contained range among carrier-based strike aircraft. Although the Intruder could not match the F-14's or the F/A-18's speed or air-combat capability, the A-6's range and load-carrying ability are still unmatched by newer aircraft in the fleet. [19]

At the time of retirement, several retired A-6 airframes were awaiting rewinging at the Northrop Grumman facility at St. Augustine Airport, Florida these were later sunk off the coast of St. Johns County, Florida to form a fish haven named "Intruder Reef". [34] Surviving aircraft fitted with the new wings, as well as later production aircraft (i.e., BuNo 164XXX series) not earmarked for museum or non-flying static display were stored at the AMARG storage center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. [35]

YA-6A and A-6A Edit

The eight prototypes and pre-production Intruder aircraft were sometimes referred to with the YA-6A designation. [36] These were used in the development and testing of the A-6A Intruder.

The initial version of the Intruder was built around the complex and advanced DIANE (Digital Integrated Attack/Navigation Equipment) suite, intended to provide a high degree of bombing accuracy even at night and in poor weather. DIANE consisted of multiple radar systems: the Norden Systems AN/APQ-92 search radar replacing the YA-6A's AN/APQ-88, and a separate AN/APG-46 for tracking, the AN/APN-141 radar altimeter, and an AN/APN-122 Doppler navigational radar to provide position updates to the Litton AN/ASN-31 inertial navigation system. An air-data computer and the AN/ASQ-61 ballistics computer integrated the radar information for the bombardier/navigator in the right-hand seat. TACAN and ADF systems were also provided for navigation. When it worked, DIANE was perhaps the most capable navigation/attack system of its era, giving the Intruder the ability to fly and fight in even very poor conditions (particularly important over Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War). It suffered numerous teething problems, and it was several years before its reliability was established.

Total A-6A production was 480, excluding the prototype and pre-production aircraft. [36] A total of 47 A-6As were converted to other variants. [36]

A-6B Edit

To provide U.S. Navy squadrons with a defense suppression aircraft to attack enemy antiaircraft defense and SAM missile systems, a mission dubbed "Iron Hand" by the U.S. Navy, 19 A-6As were converted to A-6B version during 1967 to 1970. [37] The A-6B had many of its standard attack systems removed in favor of specialized equipment to detect and track enemy radar sites and to guide AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-78 Standard anti-radiation missiles, with AN/APQ-103 radar replacing earlier AN/APQ-92 used in the A-6A, plus AN/APN-153 navigational radar replacing earlier AN/APN-122, again used in the A-6A.

Between 1968 and 1977, several Intruder squadrons operated A-6Bs alongside their regular A-6As. Five were lost to all causes, and the survivors were later converted to A-6E standard in the late 1970s.

A-6C Edit

12 A-6As were converted in 1970 to A-6C standard for night attack missions against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam. They were fitted with a "Trails/Roads Interdiction Multi-sensor" (TRIM) pod in the fuselage for FLIR and low-light TV cameras, as well as a "Black Crow" engine ignition detection system. Radars were also upgraded, with the AN/APQ-112 replacing the earlier AN/APQ-103, and an AN/APN-186 navigational radar replacing the earlier AN/APN-153. A vastly improved Sperry Corporation AN/APQ-127 radar replaced the AN/APG-46 fire control radar. One of these aircraft was lost in combat the others were later refitted to A-6E standard after the war.

KA-6D Edit

To replace both the KA-3B and EA-3B Skywarrior during the early 1970s, 78 A-6As and 12 A-6Es were converted for use as tanker aircraft, providing aerial refueling support to other strike aircraft. The DIANE system was removed and an internal refueling system was added, sometimes supplemented by a D-704 refueling pod on the centerline pylon. The KA-6D theoretically could be used in the day/visual bombing role, but it apparently never was, with the standard load-out being four fuel tanks. Because it was based on a tactical aircraft platform, the KA-6D provided a capability for mission tanking, the ability to keep up with strike aircraft and refuel them in the course of a mission. A few KA-6Ds went to sea with each Intruder squadron. Their operation was integrated into the Intruder squadrons, as A-6 crew were trained to operate both aircraft and the NATOPS covered both the A6 and KA-6D. These aircraft were always in short supply, and frequently were "cross decked" from a returning carrier to an outgoing one. Many KA-6 airframes had severe G restrictions, as well as fuselage stretching due to almost continual use and high number of catapults and traps. The retirement of the aircraft left a gap in US Navy and Marine Corps refueling tanker capability. The Navy Lockheed S-3 Viking filled that gap until the new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet became operational.

A-6E Edit

The definitive attack version of the Intruder with vastly upgraded navigation and attack systems, introduced in 1970 and first deployed on 9 December 1971. The earlier separate search and track (fire control) radars of the A-6A/B/C were replaced by a single Norden AN/APQ-148 multi-mode radar, and onboard computers with a more sophisticated (and generally more reliable) IC based system, as opposed to the A-6A's DIANE discrete transistor-based technology. A new AN/ASN-92 inertial navigation system was added, along with the CAINS (Carrier Aircraft Inertial Navigation System), for greater navigation accuracy.

Beginning in 1979, all A-6Es were fitted with the AN/AAS-33 DRS (Detecting and Ranging Set), part of the "Target Recognition and Attack Multi-Sensor" (TRAM) system, a small, gyroscopically stabilized turret, mounted under the nose of the aircraft, containing a FLIR boresighted with a laser spot-tracker/designator and IBM AN/ASQ-155 computer. TRAM was matched with a new Norden AN/APQ-156 radar. The BN could use both TRAM imagery and radar data for extremely accurate attacks, or use the TRAM sensors alone to attack without using the Intruder's radar (which might warn the target). TRAM also allowed the Intruder to autonomously designate and drop laser-guided bombs. In addition, the Intruder used Airborne Moving Target Indicator (AMTI), which allowed the aircraft to track a moving target (such as a tank or truck) and drop ordnance on it even though the target was moving. Also, the computer system allowed the use of Offset Aim Point (OAP), giving the crew the ability to drop on a target unseen on radar by noting coordinates of a known target nearby and entering the offset range and bearing to the unseen target.

In the 1980s, the A-6E TRAM aircraft were converted to the A-6E WCSI (Weapons Control System Improvement) version to add additional weapons capability. This added the ability to carry and target some of the first generation precision guided weapons, like the AGM-84 Harpoon missile, and AGM-123 Skipper. The WCSI aircraft was eventually modified to have a limited capability to use the AGM-84E SLAM standoff land attack missile. Since the Harpoon and SLAM missiles had common communication interfaces, WCSI aircraft could carry and fire SLAM missiles, but needed a nearby A-6E SWIP to guide them to target.

In the early 1990s, some surviving A-6Es were upgraded under SWIP (Systems/Weapons Improvement Program) to enable them to use the latest precision-guided munitions, including AGM-65 Mavericks, AGM-84E SLAMs, AGM-62 Walleyes and the AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile as well as additional capability with the AGM-84 Harpoon. A co-processor was added to the AN/ASQ-155 computer system to implement the needed MIL-STD-1553 digital interfaces to the pylons, as well as an additional control panel. After a series of wing-fatigue problems, about 85% of the fleet was fitted with new graphite/epoxy/titanium/aluminum composite wings. The new wings proved to be a mixed blessing, as a composite wing is stiffer and transmits more force to the fuselage, accelerating fatigue in the fuselage. In 1990, the decision was made to terminate production of the A-6. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the A-6 had been in low-rate production of four or five new aircraft a year, enough to replace mostly accidental losses. The final production order was for 20 aircraft of the SWIP configuration with composite wings, delivered in 1993.

A-6E models totaled 445 aircraft, about 240 of which were converted from earlier A-6A/B/C models.

A-6F and A-6G Edit

An advanced A-6F Intruder II was proposed in the mid-1980s that would have replaced the Intruder's elderly Pratt & Whitney J52 turbojets with non-afterburning versions of the General Electric F404 turbofan used in the F/A-18 Hornet, providing substantial improvements in both power and fuel economy. The A-6F would have had totally new avionics, including a Norden AN/APQ-173 synthetic aperture radar and multi-function cockpit displays – the APQ-173 would have given the Intruder air-to-air capacity with provision for the AIM-120 AMRAAM. Two additional wing pylons were added, for a total of seven stations.

Although five development aircraft were built, the U.S. Navy ultimately chose not to authorize the A-6F, preferring to concentrate on the A-12 Avenger II. This left the service in a quandary when the A-12 was canceled in 1991.

Grumman proposed a cheaper alternative in the A-6G, which had most of the A-6F's advanced electronics, but retained the existing engines. [39] This, too, was canceled.

Electronic warfare versions Edit

An electronic warfare (EW)/Electronic countermeasures (ECW) version of the Intruder was developed early in the aircraft's life for the USMC, which needed a new ECM platform to replace its elderly F3D-2Q Skyknights. An EW version of the Intruder, initially designated A2F-1H (rather than A2F-1Q, as "Q" was being split to relegate it to passive electronic warfare and "H" to active) and subsequently redesignated EA-6A, first flew on 26 April 1963. It had a Bunker-Ramo AN/ALQ-86 ECM suite, with most electronics contained on the walnut-shaped pod atop the vertical fin. They were equipped with AN/APQ-129 fire control radar, and theoretically capable of firing the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile, although they were apparently not used in that role. The navigational radar is AN/APN-153.

Grumman A-6 Intruder

Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited: 05/28/2021 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The Grumman A-6 "Intruder" was a dedicated strike platform designed to a United States Navy (USN) requirement for an all-weather, carrier-based attack aircraft capable of carrying and delivering large, potent payloads on inland enemy targets. To this point, the USN had found success for such a platform through the multi-faceted Douglas "Skyraider" prop-driven attack aircraft line used in the Korea War (1950-1953) and looked to expand on such capabilities through a jet-powered mount. The USN delivered their request in 1955 and finalized their wish-list by 1957. This resulted in the usual American defense players being solicited (no fewer than eleven bids from eight companies forthcoming) and in January of 1958, the Grumman model "G-128" was selected for further development under the USN designation of "A2F-1" (using the pre-1962 USN marking convention). This continued the Grumman-USN partnership that dated back to World War 2 and the storied F4F Wildcat fighter line.

Work revealed a flyable prototype which first took to the skies on April 19th, 1960. The prototype YA2F-1 would largely resemble the finalized A-6 Intruder known today but featured a unique quality with its swiveling jet pipe nozzles which were to allow for short runway take-offs when pointing downwards. The rest of the aircraft constituted tear drop-shaped fuselage with bulbous frontal section and severely tapering aft section, high-mounted and rearward-swept monoplane wing assemblies, and a wide two-man, side-by-side cockpit arrangement (pilot at left with the bombardier at right). Indeed the aircraft took on the shape of a turkey leg and was thus nicknamed that over the course of its career. The aircraft was powered by two turbojet engines seated along the sides of the lower fuselage, aspirated through semi-circle intakes found along the forward fuselage sides and exhausted through individual nozzles under the sides of the tail unit. The undercarriage was typically carrier-like - two single-wheeled main legs and a dual-wheeled nose leg, all three legs retractable into the frame. The all-weather requirement was aided by a terrain display CRT system to which the navigator/bombardier utilized for their low-level attack runs. A permanently fixed in-flight refueling probe was fitted over the nose between the forward cockpit windscreens and used to further extend the operational reach of the aircraft. The tail unit consisted of a single vertical tail fin with swept-back horizontal planes.

From the outset, the A2F-1/A-6 was designed around a large bomb load out and this necessitated a specialized approach to the wings which could enable the aircraft to carry potent payloads while maintaining the necessary strength and capabilities for subsonic flight. With a high-mounted installation, the underwing hardpoints were cleared from any ground interference and offered the needed performance handling during low-level runs while retaining agility against ground-based fire. Airbrakes were integrated into the wings for additional stabilizing support. The avionics suite was of an advanced nature for the period with automation built-in as well as diagnostic measures to aid technicians and the flight crew. This sort of sophisticated design nature made the A-6 a high maintenance machine.

Armament was set across five total hardpoints that included four underwing and one under fuselage position for a total of 18,000lb of externally-held stores. The A-6 would eventually see a career carrying everything from air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, anti-radar missiles, rocket pods, and a plethora of general purpose drop bombs. Precision-guided munitions followed in time and a nuclear-drop capability was always a part of her design. There was no internal gun fitted. Additionally, the aircraft could carry external drop tanks across any of its five hardpoints for all positions were plumbed.

Grumman completed eight airframes for the preliminary and developmental testing phases. These led to the initial A-6A production models which would eventually number 480 units (USN designations moved to a new standard in 1962). The first operational squadron to be issued the A-6A was VA-42 on February 1st, 1963 and the type was adopted for service with both the USN and the United States Marine Corps (USMC) serving as the primary strike arm of USN carrier groups.

As a carrier-based aircraft, the A-6 was given the usual carrier-minded qualities to assist in its operation in an over-water environment. Its undercarriage was reinforced for the rigors of deck service (complete with the double-tired nose landing gear leg) and an arrestor (tail) hook was added under the empennage to snag awaiting deck cables when landing. For storage on the space-strapped carriers of the day, the A-6's wing mainplanes folded upwards at about their midway length to promote a more contained profile when held below deck.

The A-6's baptism of fire occurred in the long-running Vietnam War (1955-1975). By the mid-1960s, America's commitment in the region had grown to the point that any and all available military hardware was sent to the region in an attempt to turn the tide against the invading Soviet-supported North. The A-6 was up to the challenge with well-trained crews and long-ranged capabilities while carrying an incredible amount of ordnance against enemy ground targets. Of course, the low-altitude runs expected of the aircraft opened it up to intense enemy ground fire (including Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) strikes) from all quarters and some eighty-four A-6s were lost in the war. Nevertheless, the A-6 became just one of the many American military symbols of the Vietnam War - joining the storied McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter, the Bell UH-1 "Huey", and others in the fray.

During the war, the A-6A was selected for modification to an anti-radar platform for suppression of North Vietnam air defense systems. Nineteen A-6As were converted by replacing their traditional ground attack equipment (AN/APQ-103 radar) with anti-radar systems (AN/APQ-92) to be used in conjunction with AGM-78 "Standard ARM" and the AGM-45 "Shrike" anti-radiation missiles. The missiles rode to their target on the emissions generated from a seeking/tracking enemy radar system upon their launching from the A-6 wing hardpoints. Navigation was also replaced with the AN/APN-153 series radar and these revised Intruders were designated "A-6B", beginning service in 1968.

In 1970, a dozen A-6A models were modified for the night attack role and outfitted with the TRIM pod ("Trails/Roads Interdiction Multi-Sensor") which allowed for enhanced night time function of the aircraft in low light / poor weather over the crucial Ho Chi Minh Trail supply route. Again, attack systems and navigational radar were replaced for the role.

While no definitive "D" Intruder model emerged, the "KA-6D" was developed as a successor to the outgoing KA-3B "Skywarriors" in the in-flight refueling role. The KA-6D retained some of its basic bombing capabilities but was a support platform through and through. It could service other attack aircraft by carrying a specialize refueling kit which made the base A-6A a "fuel bus" of sorts, providing fuel to awaiting allies during missions. As the USN lacked a dedicated in-flight refueling tanker, the KA-6D filled this role through a the "K" conversion process and some 78 A-models and a further 12 E-models were converted to this standard.

Also in 1970 emerged the A-6E variant which introduced a new attack suite and navigation system. This mark became the final - and somewhat definitive - Intruder of the Vietnam War years. A 1980 conversion program increased weapons support to include precision-guided ordnance. A large portion of the fleet were also given new wing assemblies due to combat and service life fatigue over the ensuing decade. E-models eventually totaled 445 units of which 240 were brought along from existing A-, B-, C-model stocks.

The A-6F became an ultimately failed bid to augment the A-6 fleet through an improved "Intruder II" concept with new, more powerful engines and onboard processing systems. Five prototypes were completed but USN authorities decided against the costly endeavor. The A-6G was, therefore, a Grumman-sponsored "budget alternative" of the F-model but went nowhere as well.

The EA-6A was a USMC Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) variant which numbered 28 airframes (distinguished by their vertical fin bulge housing the antennas). The type first flew on April 26th, 1963 and eventually was made from a stock of 15 new-build models and 11 converted A-6A airframes. The USMC used these specially outfitted aircraft over Vietnam where they replaced the aging stock of Douglas F3D "Skyknights" in the same role. Equipment included the AN/APQ-129 Fire Control Radar (FCR) and AN/APN-153 series navigation system and EA-6As soldiered on up to the late 1970s before being given up.

A more dedicated EWA version of the Intruder family became the EA-6B "Prowler" which was given a lengthened fuselage to accommodate an additional two side-by-side crewmen (electronic warfare officers). More advanced radar, navigation, and processing systems greeted this type and gave the USN a potent alternative to the USAF-sponsored EF-111 "Ravens" that it relied on in combat zones. One other identifying quality about these aircraft was the pod fitted to the tail fin which housed the necessary antennas and underwing pods for the jammer equipment. Prowler procurement numbered 170 units for service with both the USN and USMC and were introduced during 1971 with production spanning into 1991.

The Prowler has since been replaced by the modern EA-18G "Growler" series, this specialized airframe based on the twin-seat Boeing F/A-18 "Super Hornet" line.

For the 1980s, American attention had turned away from Southeast Asia and centered more and more on involvement in Middle East affairs. In 1983, the A-6 was called to service over Lebanon in support of an international peacekeeping measure under the banner of the United Nations. Combat found the series once more when they launched in anger against targets in Libya. In 1991, Intruders formed the carrier-based strike arm of the U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf as it laid waste to the Iraqi air force and army during Operation Desert Storm where precision-guided capabilities were put to tremendous use. Both USN and USMC Intruders were used in the war with only three lost to enemy fire. After the war, Intruders served with coalition forces in maintaining the UN-imposed "No Fly Zones" over northern and southern Iraq. Its next actions in the region brought it over Somalia during Operation Restore Hope (1992-1993) while final sorties were in eastern Europe against enemy targets in Bosnia during 1994.

By the middle of the decade, the Intruder design had all but run its course as a frontline USN player, having seen consistent combat service throughout most of the major American engagements of the latter 20th Century. Time and technology advances eventually crept into a decision to begin a drawdown of the A-6 fleet. The McDonnell Douglas A-12 "Avenger II" - a triangle-shaped naval stealth bomber - was, at one point, envisioned to be the A-6's high-tech replacement but the project went nowhere and ended as an over-funded black eye for the USN. Once the Grumman F-14 Tomcat air defense interceptor was given a long-awaited ground attack capability, the A-6 was formally retired to help better streamline and standardize the types of aircraft serving aboard American carriers. The F-14 was then, itself, retired and replaced by the multirole F/A-18 "Hornet" which, in turn, gave rise to a two-seat platform as the "Super Hornet". The Super Hornet handles both the role of fleet defense (as the F-14 did) while taking on strike sorties as needed (as in the A-6).

The A-6 Intruder was never exported beyond American shores. Total production netted 693 aircraft of all variant types mentioned.

A-6 Intruder

The Navy's Korean War experience, with no jet all-weather strike capability and limited carrier air group night or all-weather effectiveness, prompted research on avionics systems to overcome this deficiency. By the mid-1950s, the Marine Corps defined its need for an all-weather close support airplane capable of operating from the shortest possible expeditionary field runways. Meanwhile, the Navy was introducing the first of a new generation of jet carrier aircraft. These ranged from the smallest attack jet -- the A4D (A-4) Skyhawk-through various fighters, to the long-range, heavy attack A3D (A-3) Skywarrior. Both of these attack types were designed for nuclear strike missions, as well as being capable of delivering conventional ordnance. However, their limitations -- including no all-weather attack systems in the A4D and the adverse impact of the A3D's large size in carrier operations -- led to studies showing that the application of new avionics technology could produce a carrier-based, all-weather attack aircraft capable of long-range conventional or nuclear strike missions flown at low terrain clearance altitudes, below radar interception. The complex avionics would require a second crewman for its effective use.

An operational requirement was established by the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in 1956 for an all-weather tactical airplane, combining the carrier attack mission with the Marines' close-support, short-field capability. Early in 1957, BUAER set forth the demanding mission and operating performance requirements, along with appropriate current design features, such as ejection seats for the aircrew. With range and short-field/carrier takeoff and landing requirements, either jet or turboprop engines would be acceptable in the design. Typically, various system components and equipment, such as the engines, would be Navy procured and furnished and the proposed contract would require the winning contractor to be responsible for the totally integrated weapon system.

Eight companies submitted 11 designs, ranging from turboprop-powered designs to a supersonic jet and a vertical/short takeoff and landing airplane. Grumman's proposal was selected in December 1957, with contract go-ahead for the now designated A2F-1 early in 1958.

The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air Warfare) staff, the Bureau of Aeronautics (BUAER) personnel who prepared the type specification for the airplane's design, and the Grumman team who put together the winning proposal all played a part in creating a configuration that remained almost unchanged through 30 years of production. Extensive internal changes and replacement of the original wings with new composite construction made little difference in the basic external appearance -- once some initial design quirks were ironed out.

The adage "form follows function" is appropriate in the Intruder's case. The Grumman A-6 Intruder could never have won a beauty contest. With its engines and exhaust nozzles at mid-fuselage instead of at the rear end, an ample cockpit canopy over the crew and a bulbous radome nose, it was often described as being pointed at the wrong end. But if a warplane should sport aggressive lines, especially when carrying its lethal weapons, the Intruder measured up with a beauty all its own.

The first Intruder featured long span flaps, tilting exhaust nozzles and black speed brakes which opened into the retracted tail pipes' exhaust. A unique feature of Grumman's design that played a role in its selection was tilting exhaust nozzles on the mid-fuselage J52 engines. These exhaust outlets angled down 23 degrees for short-field or carrier take-offs and landings without producing undesirable pitching moments. Initial design and wind tunnel testing led to the mockup inspection in September 1958. Many changes in design details would follow, but the overall airframe configuration was well established.

Development and construction of initial aircraft was contracted in April 1959. The first aircraft (BuNo 147864) was rolled out in early 1960 and after ground testing at Bethpage, NY, was transported to Calverton, NY, for its first flight in April. As flight testing proceeded, various changes-several of which fortunately improved the Intruder's overall appearance-were made. The tilting exhaust nozzles didn't give enough improvement to justify their weight, complexity and cost and were eventually replaced with straight tail pipes. The vertical tail shape was changed to correct predicted marginal spin recovery characteristics, and the horizontal stabilizer was revised to a slab which was moved aft to correct a hinge moment problem without redesigning the fuselage attachment components. The speed brakes were perforated to reduce buffeting and supplemented with wing tip brakes for adequate dive-bombing effectiveness. Later, the familiar fixed centerline in-flight refueling probe in front of the windshield was added.

While airframe characteristics, including those of the new nose gear tow catapulting system, were worked out, the new avionics systems were a different story. Not only were there difficulties with individual compo-nents, but the Digital Integrated Attack and Navigation Electronics (DIANE) system was almost unworkable and the unreliability of the components was multiplied in the full system. A combined Grumman-Navy effort to redesign components gradually brought hope of a system capable of use for normal flight and led to solutions for its attack mode problems.

First used in the A2F Intruder, the Vertical Display Indicator (VDI) was a forerunner in equipment designed and adapted to fit the way a pilot functions. The VDI was a head-down cathode ray tube display which simulated real-world conditions, enabling a pilot to fly an aircraft during takeoff, navigation, attack maneuvering and landing modes as though in visual contact with his surroundings. This display technique is known as Contact Analog. The revolutionary "highway in the sky" concept was developed under the Army-Navy Instrumentation Program in response to a need for simplified cockpit instrumentation and all-weather flight capability. Kaiser Aircraft & Electronics (now Kaiser Electronics) built the first instrumentation system in the late 1950s. The original operational display presented ground and sky texture to the pilot with a well-defined horizon for attitude, "highway in the sky" for steering and numerous other symbols for execution of various attack maneuvers. In the mid-seventies heading, radar altitude, vertical speed, angle-of-attack and landing needles were added to the display. Both versions of the VDI provided ground contours for low-altitude terrain avoid-ance maneuvering while in Terrain Clearance mode.

The A2F-1 became the A-6A in 1962 designations. The A-6 carried twice the bomb load of the A-7 and was faster. It could pull 6 Gs with a full bomb load and it wouldn't rip the wings off. With its inertial navigation system, the Intruder could fly in any weather conditions, anywhere in the world and know its exact position all the time.

By early 1963, it was possible to initiate avionics Board of Inspection and Survey trials and at the same time to deliver airplanes for replacement training to Attack Squadron (VA) 42 at NAS Oceana, Va. The initial airplanes did not have fully operable avionics, but were adequate to start instructor pilot training. Initial day carrier qualifications were conducted on Forrestal (CV 59) in July. Full system airplanes began to arrive soon after and full training for both pilots and bombardier navigators (BN) began. While avionics systems reliability and maintenance continued to be a major concern, the first A-6 fleet squadron, VA-75, started its training.

Soon after VA-75 completed its training with VA-42, the events of August 1964 in the Tonkin Gulf led to the America's direct military involvement in the Vietnamese war. By spring 1965, preparations to take the new A-6s to war had progressed to the point where VA-75 deployed with Carrier Air Wing 17 on Independence (CVA 61) in May, flying its first missions against North Vietnamese targets in July. The A-6's initial combat record was anything but auspicious the Intruder suffered problems typical of a new combat aircraft entering operational use and combat simultaneously. Premature explosion of bombs soon after release accounted for the first, and some subsequent, "combat" losses. This and the unreliability and excessive maintenance of the complex integrated avionics systems on which its all-weather bomber capability depended were tackled head on. The first was solved by fusing and wiring changes and adding multiple ejector racks on the five-store pylons. The second was more pervasive and was a continuing problem. These technical aspects led to indecision on operational mission assignments: whether to assign A-6 missions based on large bomb-carrying capability or on all-weather capabilities.

The Intruder played a critical role in the Vietnam War with over 35,000 combat sorties by 1973. The A-6 worked around the clock in Vietnam, conducting attacks on the targets with a pinpoint accuracy unavailable through any other aircraft at that time. In Vietnam, a lot of missions at night were truck hunting with F-4s. The Intruder would locate a truck using the Airborne Moving Target Indicator -- equipment unique to the A-6 which sensed movement on the ground. The A-6 would drop a flare over a target and the F-4s would then roll in and bomb. Another thing the A-6's equipment allowed was flying in between hills, at night, in fog. The A-6 Intruder's arrival in the fleet began a new era in Naval Aviation. The US Navy had achieved a remarkable ability to "hit the enemy deep in his homeland" in all kinds of weather, day or night.

Over the next several years, as subsequent A-6 squadrons rotated through Seventh Fleet duty, both the technical and operational problems reached resolution. Changes were made to various DIANE components, and successful missions in monsoon season weather dispelled planning for follow-on models with reduced avionics systems capabilities. With less emphasis on close support dive-bombing, the fuselage dive brakes were disabled and locked closed, finally being replaced in production by plain skin.

Other special-purpose versions, with systems optimized for surface-to-air missile site attacks with Standard anti-radiation missiles and for around-the-clock attacks against traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, were built in smaller numbers -- 19 A-6Bs and 12 A-6Cs, respectively. These were integrated into regular A-6 squadrons.

Today in History: Born on June 21

William Sydney Smith, British seaman during the Napoleonic Wars.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, African-American painter.

Arnold Lucius Gesell, psychologist and pediatrician.

Rockwell Kent, artist, book illustrator.

Reinhold Niebuhr, Protestant theologian.

Jean-Paul Sartre, French philosopher and existentialist.

Albert Hirschfeld, illustrator.

Mary McCarthy, American novelist (Memories of Catholic Girlhood, The Group).

On Jun. 3, 1996 a Japanese destroyer accidentally shot down a US Navy A-6E Intruder with a Phalanx Close-in Weapons System (CIWS) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) training exercise off Hawaii. The Intruder crew from then Attack Squadron 115 (VA-115) ejected and were recovered. It was the first plane shot down by Japanese forces since 1945.

The A-6E was towing a gunnery target. According to The Seattle Times, the Japanese vessel Yuugiri fired at the target but hit the plane, which crashed in the Pacific.

The accident took place 1,550 miles west of Hawaii, or about 730 miles southwest of the Midway Islands, the scene of a major naval battle between the United States and Japan during World War II.

The pilot, Lt. Cmdr. William Royster of Kansas City, Mo., and bombardier-navigator, Lt. Keith Douglas of Birmingham, Ala., were rescued by the Yuugiri.

VA-115 was then based on the carrier USS Independence, which operated out of Atsugi, Japan.

A helicopter took the men to the Independence for treatment. Royster had facial lacerations and was listed in good condition Douglas was treated for abrasions and returned to duty.

The Japanese Defense Agency apologized to the U.S. military and decided to halt shooting practice using live ammunition, said spokesman Tomohide Matsumura.

This was the first such accident involving Japan since it began participating in the RIMPAC exercises, Kobayashi said.

Japanese officials said the A-6E was towing the target at the end of a 100-yard-long cable.

The Jun. 3, 1996 accident represented the second time in less than eight months that Japan mistakenly shot down a friendly aircraft. In November 1995 in fact, a Japanese F-15 fighter shot down another Japanese F-15 training in the Sea of Japan when an armed air-to-air Sidewinder missile accidentally went off.

Beginning with the TBF/TBM Avenger, the “Eagles” of today Strike Fighter Squadron 115 (VFA-115) have flown some of the most storied aircraft in carrier Aviation including the Douglas A-1 Skyraider, the Grumman A-6 Intruder, and the Boeing F/A-18C Hornet. In 2002, VFA-115 again made history in becoming the first squadron to fly the Navy’s most advanced Strike-Fighter today, the F/A-18E Super Hornet. Today, VFA-115 is based at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan and deploys with Carrier Air Wing FIVE onboard the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), America’s only forward deployed carrier. Through their annual deployments in the FDNF, the Eagles of VFA-115 continue in their squadron’s rich legacy of defending the Pacific and carry on its tradition of excellence in Naval Service.

This is Without a Doubt the Weirdest Ejection in US Navy History

A good friend of mine who, in his younger days, flew the Grumman A-6 Intruder strike jet for the US Navy once gruffly told me: “They don’t make ’em like the the A-6 … that baby handles so good it could fly itself”. I casually dismissed that claim as bias. Madman, my former naval aviator friend, flew Intruders and even has a few bumper sticker to boot how could it not be bias? After viewing the video you’re about to see below, however, I was thoroughly convinced that Madman might be onto something.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Robert “Rocket” Rabuse and Ensign Al Hux were newcomers to the Intruder community, back in 1987. Rocket was a pilot while Al was a Bombardier/Navigator (B/N), the officer responsible for managing the weapons payload of the Intruder as well as assisting with navigation while on-mission. The A-6E would be Rocket and Al’s first fleet assignments as brand new officers in the Navy, and before the brass would allow them to deploy on an aircraft carrier, they would have to prove themselves on their airframe. To do so, they were sent out aboard the USS Lexington (CV-16) with their squadron, VA-42 “Green Pawns”, to qualify in launching and recovering aboard the carrier.

On May 12th, Rocket and Al launched in an A-6E (BuNo. 155657/AD) from the Lexington, about 50 miles south of Naval Air Station Pensacola in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Lexington was operating as a training carrier. After getting into the landing pattern, Rocket made his final preparations to “trap” on the Lexington’s angled deck. A trap is essentially Navy terminology for a recovery, where the aircraft is trapped aboard the carrier after its tailhook snags one of the arresting cables strung across the deck.

Gear down, flaps, spoilers armed, no lights flashing that shouldn’t be flashing… everything seemed to be going according to plan. Rocket centered his jet, bringing it onto the glide path and keeping it there. As the deck of the carrier grew larger and larger in his windscreen, Rocket kept adjusting the Intruder’s position to keep it in line with the center of the deck, and thus in the best position for a perfect touchdown and trap. Now for a pilot to have performed optimally, the third wire needs to be hooked during the trap. In this case, Rocket caught the fourth wire after briefly dipping below the glidepath.

Ordinarily, that isn’t usually much of an issue, though to be at the top of the squadron’s leaderboards for traps, a pilot needs to record consistent third wire traps. When a tailhook snags one of those thick wires, it tends to roll to a quick stop, having rapidly depleted its momentum. Upon hitting the deck of the carrier, pilots still push their throttles up, adding power, so that in the event that something goes wrong and a trap is incomplete (known as a bolter), the aircraft can hopefully still lift off for a go-around (i.e. second try). In this case, Rocket and Al were in for a rude surprise and an unplanned swim in the Gulf of Mexico

The Landing Signal Officer (LSO), typically a seasoned naval aviator who “coaches” pilots during traps noted first with fascination that the hook end of the tailhook managed to snap off during the trap. A microsecond later, that fascination turned to horror when he realized what had happened and immediately called out “EJECT, EJECT, EJECT!” into his radio. As the Intruder rolled off the edge of the Lexington’s angled deck, Al was the first to punch out, pulling his ejection seat’s handles a split second before Rocket punched out as well. Instead of falling into the cold bluish green waters of the Gulf, the Intruder decided that it wanted to resume flying.

Rocket, had earlier pushed his throttles up during the landing to prepare for a possible bolter. Now free from its human overlords (and their collective weight), the Intruder carried on its merry way, pitching upwards and flying off at full power without anybody at the controls. All of this happened within a little less than six seconds. Flight deck crew in their multicolored sweaters and vests stopped for a minute to feast their eyes upon the pilotless Intruder, while the Airboss up on the Lexington’s island (the carrier’s superstructure) probably uttered a confused “what the ****” as he too watched the Vietnam-era attack jet fly off into the sunset while sipping from the ever-present crusty old Airboss coffee mug.

The Intruder’s flight from slavery to its Nomex-clothed naval aviator masters was short-lived. As it climbed in an arc away from the Lexington, it began to slow down and bleed off airspeed. Now at the peak of its climb, it entered a stall and dropped like a rock. Now it was the Lexington’s bridge crew’s turn to freak out. The carrier was pointed directly at the falling Intruder and was steaming ahead at a steady pace to ensure that there was enough wind over the flight deck for flight ops. They couldn’t steer the massive warship out of the way of the Intruder, which was now apparently tired of flying around on its lonesome. Luckily, the wayward aircraft impacted the water directly in front of the Lexington, a mere 300 feet away. In comparison, a regulation football field is 360 feet. Way too close for comfort.

An “angel” helicopter was scrambled to pick up Rocket and Al, who were treading water off the port (left) side of the Lexington. If the Lexington steamed into the descent of the Intruder, things would have rapidly devolved from bad to horrific, as the aircraft would’ve likely killed and wounded many on the deck from the impact that’s not saying anything about the millions upon millions of dollars in damage it would’ve caused. A subsequent board of inquiry cleared Rocket and Al, the former of whom went on to have a highly successful career in the Navy.

Would Rocket have been able to save the Intruder had he stayed with the plane, even after the LSO ordered the crew to punch out? Chances are that if he and Al stayed, they would’ve either died or been horribly injured. The Intruder was able to pitch upwards and fly off only because its center of gravity had shifted when Rocket and Al exited. Their combined weight, along with the weight of the ejection seat, was enough to keep the cockpit/nose section down. Without them, the nose pitched up and thanks to the Intruder’s lowered stall speed (due to the flaps being deployed fully for landing), sufficient lift was generated to send the plane up and back into the air.

So Madman, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure you are because I emailed you a link just in case), you were right, I was wrong, gloat away.

A-6E Intruder

The A-6 is a jet-powered, carrier-based, medium duty aircraft that entered service during the Vietnam War. It is the first aircraft to offer the United States Navy an option for combat operations in any weather, day or night. Before the A-6, combat flight operations were severely limited in inclement weather, low cloud ceilings, or low light. Technologically advanced for its time, an integrated suite of avionics and sensors allowed Intruder crews to carry out missions, even when visibility was extremely limited. The flight crew sat in side-by-side configuration, further improving visibility to the bombardier/ navigator and improving crew communication.

While it may not be considered the sleekest design, the A-6 had ample power and range complimenting its all-weather capability. It could carry 18,000 pounds of ordinance, including nuclear weapons, on missions over 500 miles away without refueling. Its design meant it was adaptable as technology advanced and capable of a variety of missions, including refueling via the “buddy store” system, laser targeting, electronic warfare, and other specialized missions. However, its slower speeds and low-level roles meant that it was one of the most vulnerable aircraft to enemy anti-aircraft weapons. During the Vietnam War, 68 were shot down by enemy forces.

The A-6 (Bu # 155648) on display at the Aviation History & Technology Center started its life as an A-6A in November 1968. In June of 1969, it became one of only twelve intruders, out of 693 built, to be converted to an A-6C. The “C” variants were specially equipped with additional sensors and avionics to improve their attack capabilities on convoys moving equipment and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War. It was later converted to an E model in 1977 and was station with VA-205 at Naval Air Station Atlanta before retirement in 1994.

A-6E Specifications


First Flight
April 19, 1960

U.S. Usage (all models)
*An extremely modified variant known as the EA-6B Growler served with Marine units in limited numbers until 2019.

54 ft. 9 in.

53 ft. 0 in.

Empty Weight
26,660 lbs.

Max. Takeoff Weight
58,600 lbs. (carrier)
60,400 lbs. (airstrip)