Whidbey Growlers ready for service

OAK HARBOR — The Navy has taken another step in the transition from Prowler to Growler.

Just more than a year after it welcomed its first EA-18G Growler jet to the base, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island has been given official notification that Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-132 is now “safe for flight.”

The Growler is a radar-jamming jet that by 2012 is scheduled to replace the EA-6B Prowler, which first went into service in 1971. Like the Prowler, the Growler can fly from the decks of aircraft carriers.

The squadron got the word last week that Capt. Tom Slais, commander of Electronic Attack Wing of the Pacific Fleet, is satisfied that the local Navy fliers and their crews are ready to go.

The VAQ-132 Scorpions plan to commemorate the milestone with a ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday in hangar 5 at Ault Field. Slais plans to speak at the event, which is set to include a Growler fly-over.

The squadron recently returned from a successful aircraft carrier detachment aboard the USS Harry S. Truman off the Virginia coast with a 100 percent qualification rate, NAS Whidbey spokeswoman Kimberly Martin said. Each pilot completed a series of day and night landings to become certified to fly the fleet’s newest jet aboard Navy aircraft carriers.

Since February, VAQ-132 has been working on the transition to the Growler under the guidance of personnel in the VAQ-129, the fleet’s replacement squadron in charge of training the transition aircrews.

The Navy rolled out the new Growler during a big ceremony in June 2008.

The Growler is based on Boeing’s two-seat, twin-engine F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jet, with electronic systems built by Northrop-Grumman for the aircraft’s airborne electronic attack missions. The Growler is used to jam enemy radar and radio communications in the air and on the ground. The Growler, with its advanced technology and easier maintenance, has an onboard crew of two, smaller than the Prowler’s crew of four.

Eventually, when the transition is complete, training flights over Island, Skagit and Snohomish county neighborhoods should be a littler quieter, Navy personnel have said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427, gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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