The U.S. Navy’s Electronic Warfare community marked the end of an era as the last EA-6B Prowler flew off into retirement.
More than 1,000 registered guests attended a farewell ceremony at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Ault Field. Guests attending the weekend events could stroll through a history hall, and see up close a Prowler on display.
“This weekend, the Prowler Sunset Celebration, has been fantastic,” said retired Capt. Fred Wilmot. Wilmot served as a test pilot for the Navy Prowler, and delivered the first Prowler to Ault Field in January 1971. Wilmot continued, “We’ve been able to see people we haven’t seen in 35, 40 years or so, including some of the original people from Grumman who designed the system. It’s really a fitting end to the Prowler era.”
Wilmot credited the lengthy service of the Prowler to multiple factors.
“The fact that the Prowler stuck around for 45 years is testimony to how well it was designed and built, and the thousands of men and women who have maintained and operated it,” said Wilmot. “My hat is off to them. You don’t find any more professionalism than in those personnel.”
The farewell ceremony, held at Whidbey Island’s Prowler Memorial, featured speeches by leaders in the Navy’s Electronic Warfare community, as well as a recitation of the names of those Electronic Warfare sailors who sacrificed their lives in service. A “missing man formation” was an emotional experience for those in attendance.
“There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the audience during the ‘missing man’ formation,” said Capt. Darryl Walker, commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet Electronic Attack Wing.
Wilmot rode in the formation for the fly off of the last Prowler bringing this piece of naval aviation history full circle. “I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to take the opportunity to fly in the last flight away since I brought the first flight in,” said Wilmot.
While the U.S. Navy Prowlers have flown into the sunset, the Marine Corps will continue to fly them. Current plans have Marines starting to replace the EA-6B with a medium-to-high endurance drone sometime during 2016.