MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Feb. 24, 2012) --
The EA-6B Prowler has long been a staple in the skies above Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and on Feb. 17, the 35th anniversary of its arrival, a mix of retirees, active duty Marines and Department of Defense civilians gathered around the Marine Corps’ first Prowler to celebrate.
The famed first Prowler now resides retired on the air station’s flight line to commemorate its noteworthy service.
“There’s not too many jets that served the Marine Corps as this one did,” said David J. Peel, who was at the air station when the Prowler first arrived. “It’s part of Marine Corps history.”
It served in all four Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadrons, flew more than 8,000 flight hours and may be the oldest tactical jet in the Marine Corps, said Peel. It is the only Prowler to serve its entire career in the Marine Corps, never with the Navy.
“When an aircraft is done being [maintenanced at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast], it will either go to the Marine Corps or the Navy depending who needs aircraft to fill real world requirements,” said Peel, an aircraft coordinator for Marine Aircraft Group 14. “Many times the Navy was in need of jets, but we worked it out where we’ve given them a different jet so we could keep this one in the Marine Corps. We wanted one to call our own.”
It served in Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous other conflicts. Peel and others are working to collect the history of the aircraft for a plaque to place with the aircraft when it’s placed on static display.
Retired Col. Wayne Whitten flew in the arriving flight as a crewmember and came to commemorate the event. He looked back on his part of history with fondness, saying he wouldn’t have driven all the way from Florida if the experience wasn’t worthwhile. Whitten remembered the aircraft’s flexibility as part of what made it special.
“Electronic warfare is always changing by its nature,” Whitten said. “The airframe was capable of being updated over the years and that’s why it was able to stay around for so long. Thirty-five years later, they’re still doing another evolution to keep up with the threat.”
The aircraft was designed to suppress enemy air defenses so Marine aircraft could traverse hostile airspace in relative safety. However, in the past 10 years, the Prowler has flown almost exclusively in support of infantry. Whitten said it is unique for an aircraft to fulfill completely different roles as the Prowler has.
While it has numerous abilities, the Marine Corps still plans to cycle the Prowler out of service for the F-35B, which will perform some electronic warfare roles. According to Whitten, the Prowler may be the last Marine aircraft dedicated solely to electronic warfare.
“I don’t think it will be a complete one for one replacement and timing is of the essence as to how we’re going to gain and maintain an electronic warfare capability in the long term future of the Marine Corps,” said Lt. Col. Todd M. Caruso, the executive officer of Marine Wing Support Group 27. “What we really want to get is Marine Air-Ground Task Force Electronic Warfare capability with all of the things the Prowler does on a single platform.”