Grumman A-6 Intruder
Operational History:

The Intruder received a new standardized DOD designation of A-6A in the fall of 1962, and entered squadron service in February 1963. The A-6 became the USN and USMC'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). This role was served in the USAF by the F-105 Thunderchief and later F-111 which was also later converted to a radar jammer as the EF-111 Raven. The A-6 first saw combat in Vietnam and in later engagements in Lebanon and Libya. The Intruder saw further duty during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, as well as over Bosnia in 1994, but it was phased out of service quickly in the mid-1990s in a Navy move to reduce the Type/Model/Series aircraft in the carrier airwing. It was intended for replacement by the A-12 Avenger II, but that program was canceled. The Intruder was left to soldier on for a few more years before retiring in favor of the LANTIRN equipped F-14 Tomcat, which was in turn replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Many questioned the shift to a shorter ranged strike force compared to the older generation aircraft. However, the availability of USAF tanking assets in all recent conflicts put a lesser premium on self contained range.

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 lb/8,170 kg) coupled with its ability to fly in all weather made it invaluable during the war. However, its effectiveness in flying low and delivering its payload made it especially vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire and in the eight years the Intruder was used, the U.S. Navy and Marines lost 84 Intruders to all causes during the Vietnam War. The first loss occurred on 14 July 1965 when an Intruder from VA-75, flown by LT Donald Boecker and LT Donald Eaton, from the carrier USS Independence 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. On 21 August 1967 four A-6 Intruders from the carrier USS Constellation (Squadron VA-196) attacked a railway in North Vietnam, one A-6 piloted by CDR Leo Profilet and LCDR William Hardman was hit by a surface to air missile (SAM), their aircraft cartwheeled, and both crewmen ejected, becoming POWs. The three other A-6s continued their mission, then suddenly two of the three Intruders became separated from the third aircraft, and possibly due to the thunderstorms and low clouds, headed directly across into Communist China. They were attacked and shot down by Red Chinese Mig-19s (J-6s). LTs(JG) Dain Scott and Forrest Trembley, and LCDR Jimmy Buckley did not survive. LT Robert Flynn became a POW, and was repatriated on 15 March 1973.

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 (as noted above), 16 were lost to operational causes, and 56 were lost to conventional ground fire and AAA. Most U.S. Marine Corps A-6 Intruders were shore based in South Vietnam at Chu Lai and Da Nang. The last Intruder to be lost during the war was from Squadron VA-35, flown by LTs C. M. Graf and S. H. Hatfield, from the carrier 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.

A-6 Intruders were later used in support of other operations, such as the International forces in Lebanon (1983). One Intruder and one A-7 Corsair II were downed by Syrian missiles on 4 December.

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

During Operation Desert Storm, Navy and Marine Corps A-6s logged 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 Navy's primary strike platform for delivering laser-guided bombs. The U.S. Navy operated them from the aircraft carriers Saratoga, John. F Kennedy, Midway, Ranger, America, and Theodore Roosevelt. Four A-6s were shot down in combat by SAMs and AAA.

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

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".

Although the Intruder could not match 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.The last Intruders were retired 28 February 1997.

A number of retired A-6 airframes were sunk off the coast of St. Johns County, Florida to form a fish haven entitled Intruder Reef. Surviving aircraft fitted with the new wings were stored at the AMARC storage center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and not sunk as artificial reefs.

Wikipedia: A-6 Intruder