Legends of Vietnam: Shoulder to Shoulder

The Grumman A-6 was ugly, but it sure could cook

On the USS Constellation late in 1968, a catapult crewman gives the signal that an A-6 is ready to launch. A centerline D-704 refueling store augmented the four drop tanks beneath the wings. The D-704’s propeller, driven by wind in flight, powered a motor that extended and retracted its refueling hose. (Naval Historical Center)
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"The Navy and the Marine Corps finally got a plane that could unite the services," says Carr. "You'd never get those guys together, except for their common love of the A-6." He would receive 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Silver Star, and flew in Operation Desert Storm. Carr retired a full colonel in August 1994.

The Intruder's precision strike role was briefly handled by the F-14 Tomcat. The other multi-crew tactical aircraft of today—the F-15E Strike Eagle and the F/A-18F Super Hornet—are, like the Tomcat, tandem seaters, with the weapons systems officer behind, not beside, the pilot. Their fundamental design rule is to be streamlined. These aircraft are expected to do it all: attack, dogfight, recon, electronic warfare. The F/A-18 is a tanker too. They sport broad wings for maneuverability, but they're packed with the tools for ground attack. They're designed to fight their way in, deliver their payloads, and fight their way out.

The A-6's shoulder-to-shoulder cockpit is now a quaint curiosity in the pantheon of aerospace engineering. Another shoulder-to-shoulder workhorse was the General Dynamics F-111, which was retired in 1996. Grumman's electronic warfare version, the EF-111A, was retired in 1998. That leaves the EA-6B Prowler. Though the Marine Corps may fly the Prowler into the next decade, the Navy plans to fully convert to the tandem-seat EA-18G Growler by 2012.

Ruggiero reflects warmly on his airplane. "We didn't have to be supersonic," he says. "Our plane was a good truck and didn't have to be pointy. We had to deliver weapons to the target in all kinds of weather."

Reardon remembers a bombardier/navigator who offered a suggestion for her book's cover that he thought would perfectly suit the airplane and its mission. "He said, 'You should make the cover pitch black, black as the darkest night, and make it sopping wet.' "

Rafael Lima is a writer and documentary video producer based in Coral Gables, Florida.


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