a-3-lift-30-apr-09-033(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.

a-3-lift-30-apr-09-037

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:

preflightI 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.

11 Comments

  1. ManlyDad

    Actually, there’s a Whale on board the USS Midway in San Diego. Ranger 007 is the first one on board an active US Navy vessel since 1987.

    I so admired the A-3 aircrew, having seen them when I served onboard Midway in 1971.

  2. Bill the Shoe

    I was CCG2 TAO during what was probably the last Whale carqual, in the Med at night. The aircraft had made two or three traps and was on final when we received an oboe from CNO saying that Whales would no longer operate from carriers. We waved him off and sent him home.

  3. Albert H. Murray, AFCM, CMC, Retired

    Thanks for the kind words about VQ’ers. Though I only spent two years in VQ 2 I still remember the great times. Part of my time there was as a Plane Captain with over 600 hours in 10 months and 58 missions off the coast of Vietnam. A few of those were flown in PR 5. Glad she is on her way home and so thankful for all the help and hard work. God Bless VQ ers everywhere.

  4. Andy (JADAA)

    Shameless plug: All former Whalers, their families and anyone with a love of the giant, whistling, smoking and perpetual PLAT Camera screen star are invited to attend our fourth bi-annual “Last Whale Dance” A-3 Skywarrior Reunion: “Passing the Tradition”, August 27-30, 2009 at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center in San Diego’s Mission Valley.

    Please go to: http://a3skywarrior.com/ for more details.

    Hope to see you all there!

    Whales Forever,
    Andy

  5. Thanks for the warm comments about Whalers.

    My brief time with them (sitting in either Pos 4 or Pos 5 as an incredibly young CTI in flights from Agana, Subic, Okinawa and the USS Kitty Hawk) were transformational personal and professional experiences (and in two instances…nearly permanently so!) for me the late 70s and early 80s.

    Some never got to enjoy the luxury of remembering our Whale time with fondness. Those of us who enjoy the adventure of growing old will remember them…forever young.

    I look forward to visiting this plane in Mobile!

    Thanks.

  6. Jason

    As a crew member of Wasp bringing back this Whale home, I never in my 12 years of naval service and most of that being in VF/VFA squadrons have seen or heard of this aircraft. But after seeing it loaded onboard in Rota, spiked an intrest to learn a little about it and sounds like a work horse durring her carrer, glad to be part of bringing back a great plane home.

  7. Jim Dickinson

    We had one of these babies on board the USS Carl Vinson CVN-70 during both my westpacs in 1984-85 and 1986-87. They sure were huge and loud. Glad to see this one get saved and hope it goes to a good home. I was with Attack Squardon 97 Warhawks flying the just about as old A-7 Corsair. Those were the good old days watching the A-3 land on the deck. A couple of bounces later and she was down, whew!!! Former AE2 remembering old times.

  8. SSgt jonathan d roberts USMC

    I was on the USS Wasp coming back fro Iraq when we stopped in Spain to get the Whale and have lots of pictures of the loading prosses if anyone is interested. Thanks to all who have served there country and for the ones how gave thier lives for it.God bless and Simper Fi.

  9. *Very* much interested — I’ll give full credit if you could pass them to me at: steeljawscribeATgmailDOTcom Thanks!
    w/r, SJS

  10. Alberto J. Recio former AD2 USN

    I was just net surfing this evening over old Naval memories. It’s funny I reenlisted for my last time in Rota, Spain at VQ-2 before going over to AIMD in Rota, circa 1993. The aircraft I reenlisted in front of with my Div O, LT. Merola was Ranger 007, have a picture somewhere(nice to know it was saved). I out processed from the Navy in San Diego at 32nd street July of 1996. The heaviest Aircraft the Navy ever flew aboard a carrier, A-3 Skywarrior (84,000 lbs). No more A-3’s in the Navy, No more VQ-2 in Rota, Spain. I started out in the Navy in San Diego..went through basic there (no more Boot Camp in San Diego) my first duty Station was NAS North Is.(Coronado) with VS-41, Fond memories of North Is and NAB Coronado…no more S-3’s at North Is. I’m starting to feel old and I’m only in my late 4O’s.

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