'The prettiest ugly you're ever going to see'
U.S. Navy retires fabled A-6 warplane
July 4, 1996
Web posted at: 6:10 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Navy is about to say goodbye to a venerable warplane that has served the United States for more than 30 years. The A-6 "Intruder" has been the Navy's deep-strike bomber in wars from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf. Now the last of the of A-6's have embarked on their final cruise aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Enterprise.
The Intruder is not a glamourous plane with contours that dazzle the eye. In fact, "Some people say it's ugly," said one its pilots, Lt. Cmdr. Ron "Rhino" Wise.
Despite the refueling probe sticking out of its nose, and a hulking form, A-6 pilots are smitten, "It is an ugly airplane, but that's what we love about it," said Lt. J.J. De Bellis, another pilot. "It's not pretty, and neither are we. So we're kind of proud of that fact".
It's too old, too costly to fix, and not stealthy enough for the '90s, according to U.S. Navy planners. But retirement of the A-6 will leave a hole that -- for now -- no one carrier-based plane can fill. Said Enterprise Air Wing Commander (CAG) Jim Gigliotti: "It can do close air support. It can do war at sea, surface combat, combat air patrol, in-flight refueling. It can lay a minefield. It's just an all-around workhorse." (563K QuickTime movie)
A gap hard to fill
The Intruder's long-range bombing chores will have to be picked up by F-18s, and newly refitted F-14s equipped with thermal cameras and smart bombs. "The close air support and things like that will go to the F-18 Hornets," said Master Chief Petty Officer William Waller. "The F-14 Tomcat has recently increased its capabilities ... so it can drop laser-guided weapons. The in-flight refueling is being moved over to the S3 Viking."
Still, no Navy plane can carry as big a payload as the A-6, and pilots swear by its night and foul-weather capability.
"Going through flight school, most guys wanted to fly 'pointy nosed' fighters," said pilot Lt. Kevin "Grace" Kelly. "But the way I saw it, the A-6 has been on the vanguard of naval aviation for 30 years, from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf and everywhere in between."
"And when we finally hang the last one of these up, it's going to be a sad day," Gigliotti said. "I'm bringing tissue because there's going to be a tear in my eye when we finally turn the last one off. I'm not looking forward to the last flight."
As the last of the A-6 Intruders fly into the sunset, they ready themselves for one more mission, just in case they get a final curtain call over Bosnia.
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