(NAVSTA Rota) 30 April 2009 – an EA-3B Skywarrior is loaded aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1) for transport back to the U.S. This marks the first time in over twenty-years a Whale is chocked and chained to the flightdeck of a USN warship. How it got to that point is an extraordinary story of one community’s dedication, passion and memory of those who once flew an ancient aircraft in difficult conditions on missions the importance of which few at the time, and even today, did not understand.
The latest journey of Ranger 07 (ex-BuNo 146457) began in July 2007 with notification from the then-CO of NAVSTA Rota to the A-3 Skywarrior Association’s president that becuase of long-term plans for the installation, that the EA-3 presently located on display outside the Rota BOQ would need to be relocated to the US or end up being scrapped. The Association mounted a “Save the Whale” campaign and through the efforts and contributions of indivuals and corportations, Ranger 07 began it’s halting redeployment to the US and (hopefully) final home as part of the USS Alabama Memorial Park.
Say what you will about Americans in general and those associated with naval aviation in particular, but we do tend toward sentimentality. How else would one explain the outpouring of money and volunteer time from people half a world away to bring an aircraft that hasn’t flown in almost twenty years from its foreign perch to the US? Indivduals, some on limited incomes, who gave from a few dollars to several thousand – over $18,000 in individual contributions by the start of this month. People who both flew the aircraft or worked on it and others whose sole link was a brother, son or husband who went away for months at a time on dets they could neither write or talk about. Others actually made the trip overseas to work on the aircraft to prepare it for shipping, working mechanisms that hadn’t been exercised in nearly a couple of decades – all on their dime, their time. And some corporate help has also been forthcoming, notably from Raytheon, the current and last operator of the Whale (it is a terrific avionics test bed) which has contributed needed parts.
And what of Ranger 07 itself? It has had a long and illustrious carrier, beginning with VQ-1 in Guam in the early 1960s:
I will also confess an affinity for the Whale and those who flew and worked on it – both from a personal and professional basis. The Whale was one of the first naval aircraft I recall seeing in my (no long past) youth, but moreover, as a VAW NFO I spent many an hour in planning and flying with VQ folks ( including time in the Whale itself), especially when we hosted a det while I was in VAW-126. I have friends from VQ and have lost some over the years – including some I knew in Ranger 12, lost on the Nimitz in January 1987. While there is a Whale on display at the National Security Agency’s memorial park (in Ranger 12′s markings), this one has the potential to be seen by many more people, giving wider understanding of the sacrifices, that went necessarily publically unrecognized, to keep us free.
Now after all those years, all those flights, one more Whale is finding its way back home. The Wasp is due in Norfolk later in May where it will be off-loaded by volunteers and brought over to the air side pending further transfer South. Whether by barge or truck, it will not be inexpensive. If you are so inclined, you can aid in this effort by contacting the A-3 Skywarrior Association directly or via this form.
Major-league h/t to CAPT Andy Niemyer, USN (Retired) for the pics and tip.