Photo / U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons
The EA-6 Prowler is a twin-engine, mid-wing aircraft manufactured by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Corp. and is a modification of the basic A-6 Intruder airframe.
Badly damaged aircraft, as well as those at the end of their service life, are often returned to Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) at Naval Air Station Jacksonville where the valuable parts are harvested and recycled back to the fleet.
Marsha Childs of FRCSE Public Affairs told us “Components or whole sections, such as the cockpit enclosure or the wings, are also used at intermediate-level depots for repairs with the remainder sent to the Navy’s supply system as readiness-based spares.”
She added, Getting a downed aircraft back to a repair facility can be problematic,” and she noted in late 2009, five FRCSE “artisans” traveled to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq to prepare a broken down Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler for transport back to Florida.
“After evaluation, the aircraft was tucked in the belly of an Air Force C-5 Galaxy transport for its flight” to Jacksonville.
Planner and estimator Chuck Smithson, who served as the team lead, said “The Marines were swapping good parts for bad to keep their aircrews flying.”
The team from Jacksonville was confronted with harsh working conditions during their brief stay in the desert.
“We had to get special permission from the post commander to work on flag day which meant the temperature was 103 degrees or better,” said Smithson.
Sheet Metal Mechanic J.R. Brantley said they worked 12-hour days with temperatures reaching as high as 106 degrees. The sandstorms were equally unforgiving.
“The sky would turn black like in the movie, The Mummy,” said Clinton Johnson, also a sheet metal mechanic. “You could see it coming across the desert. It was brutal.”
Nevertheless, the team prepared the aircraft for transport in record time.
“We took it apart and helped load it,” said Sheet Metal Mechanic Andrew DeStefano. “It took us three days to do it, which has never been done before. We spent another two weeks waiting for the C-5 to arrive.”
Sheet Metal Mechanic John End, a retired chief petty officer, also volunteered to transport the defunct jet downed by a broken bulkhead. He and the team built a wooden ramp to move the Prowler on and off the Galaxy.
Back in Jacksonville, it was determined that the valuable platform could not be saved. However, many of the aircraft components – estimated to be worth more than $14 million – were salvageable.
The Navy’s Stricken Aircraft Reclamation and Disposal Program (SARDIP) funds the reclamation of parts and demilitarizes the remainder of the aircraft. The Naval Inventory Control Point (NAVICP) identifies needed parts and supplies the fleet, the Marine Corps, and Joint and Allied Forces with components that keep combat forces mission ready.
SARDIP Program Manager Tony Pudoff said, “We receive funding from NAVICP to harvest the Prowler parts. Sometimes they have requests for ‘hot fill’ items like the landing gear or flight controls. By not having to wait for a part here at the depot, we take out any scheduling risks. Our return on investment is huge.”
FRCSE artisans recover about 300 parts from each stricken aircraft at a cost avoidance of about $9 million to the Navy. For every dollar spent to salvage the Prowler’s reusable items, the Navy recovers nearly $113 worth of materials.