OAK HARBOR'S 'NOSEY' NEIGHBOURS
published in Air NORTH Vol.50 No.1 January 2010

A-6E Intruder 152623/NJ-803 of VA-128 'The Golden Intruders' at Whidbey Island NAS on 1st May 1987.

Whidbey Island is one of nine islands located in the aptly named Island County, in the north-west corner of Washington State, in the USA's Pacific Northwest. Located approximately thirty miles north of Seattle, the island is the fifth largest in the contiguous United States, and forms the northern boundary of Puget Sound, the complex of inland waterways - and a fantastically picturesque area - which stretches south past the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, ending at the Washington state capital at Olympia. The island proved to be another memorable part of a 'west coast' trip undertaken during the spring of 1987 (which also included the first part of our Edwards AFB 'trilogy' touched on in last month's issue), thanks to another superb base tour and, to this day, still my only encounter with a unique and rare aircraft type.

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is located approximately three miles north of Oak Harbor at the northernmost tip of the island it is named after, close to the point at which the island 'connects' to the mainland - by the rather sinisterly named Deception Pass Bridge, an impressive structure which I have to be honest I don't remember driving over! At the time of our visit in May 1987 Whidbey Island NAS was notable for housing a good proportion of the US Navy's P-3 Orion fleet, however our tour request had been picked up by one of the based A-6 Intruder squadrons, and so our visit was to be guided by one of attack squadron VA-128's Intruder pilots! Once again a memorable tour for more than just the number of aircraft seen - we did actually only log twenty or so A-6s and a handful of Orions - its highlight was surely the 'flight' the three of us took (one by one) in the right-hand seat of an A-6 flight simulator for a simulated night-time carrier landing! While it was a static (non-motion) simulator it was still a highly authentic experience (not that any of us had ever landed on a carrier before of course however!), and it clearly recreated the difficulty of landing on an aircraft carrier, as our 'instructor', obviously not concentrating fully as he was describing the aircraft to us as he flew it, didn't exactly gain a 100 per cent record on his three attempts, my 'landing' culminating half way up the ship's stern! The tour also included a tour of the squadron's ramp which not only held many examples of the one-of-a-kind A-6 Intruder, but another of the unit's aircraft types, another quite unique shape and a training aid which would undoubtedly be replaced in time itself by new technology simulators.

The US Navy ordered nine TC-4Cs from Grumman in December 1966 to fill the need for a training airframe for A-6 Intruder bombardier-navigators - the aeroplane's 'right-seater' - in the role of radar target interpretation and other all-weather attack functions. A modified Grumman G-159 Gulfstream I with a new nose fitted with the Intruderís radar installation, it also differed from the civilian Gulfstream in that it had an additional auxiliary power unit to provide air conditioning for the simulated Intruder cockpit inside the fuselage - officially called the Academe, naval aviators regularly referrred to it as the 'Tic'. Of the nine TC-4Cs built one was lost in a tragic crash during a landing attempt at MCAS Cherry Point on 16th October 1975 which killed all nine crew on board, the remaining eight continuing in service until 1995 and then going into storage at the Aerospace Maintenance & RegenerationCentre (AMARC) at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. The example shown below, 155722/NJ-850 of VA-128, is now displayed at the Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola NAS, Florida.

GRUMMAN TC-4C PRODUCTION/FATES

Bu No. C/N Final Unit/Code Fate
155722 176 VA-128 NJ-850 Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Fl.
155723 178 W/O 16/10/75
155724 180 VA-42 AD-576 AMARC (Inventory Number AN4G0002)
155725 182 VA-128 NJ-852 AMARC (AN4G0007)
155726 183 VA-128 NJ-851 AMARC (AN4G0006)
155727 184 VA-42 AD-575 AMARC (AN4G0004)
155728 185 VA-42 AD-574 AMARC (AN4G0003)
155729 186 VA-42 AD-577 AMARC (AN4G0001)
155730 187 VA-128 NJ-853 AMARC (AN4G0005)

The first TC-4C, 155722/NJ-850 of VA-128 at NAS Whidbey Island on 1st May 1987 - only one other example was noted during the base tour, the last to be built 155730/NJ-853.

After our base tour we drove south along the full length of Whidbey Island, eventually taking the ferry from Clinton back to the mainland at Mukiteo - a spectacular way to travel across Puget Sound on a beautiful, bright spring afternoon. The road taking us back to the Interstate for the short journey to our hotel near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was named Boeing Way - sure enough within a mile we were back in amongst what is the huge Boeing production site at Everett, where we had left to travel north to Canada a few days previous. A great way to end another memorable day's aeroplane spotting in the USA!

Acknowledgements: www.amarcexperience.com

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