Whidbey foundation seeks a Skywarrior

For Whidbey Island airplane buffs, this opportunity is too sweet to pass up.

They just need a little gas money.

The Whidbey Island A-3 Skywarrior Memorial Foundation is working to secure one of half a dozen retiring Douglas Skywarriors for NAS Whidbey.

Since 1991, the airplanes have been used by Raytheon Co. in California to test electronic equipment.

Foundation adviser and Vietnam veteran Jim VanderHoek said retired Navy aircraft are first offered to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla.

“The museum then can direct the aircraft to sites that have requested it for display,” VanderHoek said. “NAS Whidbey has already requested the airplane and the funds raised would provide for fuel to fly the aircraft from California, refurbishing it for display, and for site construction.”

He said it would give him a feeling of pride in establishing a fitting memorial for the air station and the men and women who served during the difficult time surrounding the Vietnam War.

“I have been thanked for my service many times recently, but at the time military service was not highly regarded. There are many from that era that will never have the opportunity to be thanked for their contribution and service.”

The airplane was built by Douglas Aircraft in the 1950s and was nicknamed the “Whale.”

“The aircraft was stationed at NAS Whidbey Island and was one of the air station’s legacy aircraft that operated in support of the Pacific fleet carriers,” VanderHoek said. “As the bombing mission was transferred to newer aircraft in the 1960s, the A-3 found new missions as an aerial refueler.”

It preceded Grumman’s A-6 Intruder and EA-6B Prowler. Boeing’s EF-18 Growler is now replacing the Prowler.

VanderHoek was selected to attend the first class of the Aviation Reserve Officer Candidate School at Pensacola, Fla.

After college graduation, he graduated from Naval Flight Officer School and was assigned to NAS Whidbey. He deployed to the USS Oriskany in 1967 to the Gulf of Tonkin in support of Naval operations in Vietnam.

Returning from that deployment, he was transferred to the replacement air group for training in the A-6 Intruder. He returned to the Gulf of Tonkin in 1970 on the USS Kitty Hawk. He retired from active duty in 1975 and served in the Naval Air Reserve until 1992.

During the Vietnam War, three Skywarriors were credited with 69 “saves” during a six-month cruise in 1967. A save meant that the tanker supplied enough fuel to have the aircraft safely return to the carrier. Without the additional fuel the aircraft would have been lost, VanderHoek said.

Foundation spokesman Bill Burklow is sentimental about the Skywarrior. NAS Whidbey was his first duty station in 1965. He raised a family in Oak Harbor, retired after 23 years in the Navy, then worked for the Boeing Co.

The possible Skywarrior display would fill an important chapter in the history of the naval air station, Burklow said. “This aircraft provided the emphasis to keep the air station open as a key part of the Pacific Fleet support when they were first assigned here in the mid-1950s.”

The loaned plane could be displayed at Ault Field Road and Langley Boulevard, on the hill outside of the main gate to NAS Whidbey.

“It was the first Navy jet I worked on when I reported here in 1965,” Burklow said. “It will be a fitting memorial to those who served and those that continue to serve in the United States Navy.”

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.

How to help

The A-3 Skywarrior Memorial Foundation needs money to bring an A-3 Skywarrior to Whidbey Island. For more information, visit www.a3skywarrior.com.

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