The Fly In
I’m an Army guy. Through and through. Even if I’ve been out for ten years, I’m all Army, all the way. So why am I cluttering up The Flight Deck?
Two reasons. One, I couldn’t decide what to put up on my blog. And second, I grew up on a Navy base. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA to be exact.
Whidbey Island is the plug that almost fills the top of Puget Sound. It is the largest island in the lower 48 (the Supreme Court ruled long ago that Long Island isn’t really an island, since it is connected to the mainland by a causeway). During the early days of WWII, the Navy was looking for a good place to stage anti-submarine patrols over the waters of the Northwest and to train airgroups for the Pacific. Whidbey was actually two fields. The first was the seaplane base. A marina, pier and an enormous parking area were built on the shores of Crescent Harbor. Soon after, a land plane base, later named Ault Field was constructed just north of there. The base was a boomtown set in what was formerly a very sleepy little farming town.
After the war, the base was still used for patrol planes, but much of the activity had died down. Whidbey was something of a backwater to Naval Aviation. So it remained for decades. But as the Vietnam war began to heat up, a major decision was made that would bring NAS Whidbey back to some prominence. The A-6 Intruder was entering into the fleet. The Navy’s Master Jet Base concept said that instead of grouping entire airwings at a station, each station would be the consilidated home for a type of jet. Typically, there would be a base on the East and West Coast for each type. Thus, while NAS Lemoore was home to the A-4 Skyhawk (and later the A-7 Corsair II and our humble host’s beloved F/A-18 Hornet) the decision was made to base all West Coast A-6 squadrons at NAS Whidbey. As the war grew in size, so did the A-6 community. With the seaplanes gone, that part of the base was turned into housing for dependents.
Towards the end of the war, the need for a dedicated electronic warfare aircraft saw the development of the EA-6B Prowler. The powers that be figured if NAS Whidbey made a good home for Intruders, it would make sense to have its close cousin the Prowler stationed there as well. But there would be no East Coast homebase. Oceana, the East Coast home of the Intruder was getting crowded, and there was plenty of room at Whidbey to fit all the Prowlers.
And so it came to pass that in late 1973, my dad was sent to NAS Whidbey. I was a youth of 6 whole years. I liked Whidbey. I lived Right. On. The. Beach. which is pretty dang cool for a kid. All kinds of trouble to get into. But my favorite thing was to go to Ault Field when they had fly-ins.
When a carrier was returning from a Westpac deployment, they would launch all the planes a short distance off the coast of the carrier’s home port. Each carrier had a squadron of 12 or so Intruders and a squadron of 4 Prowlers. These squadrons would fly up the coast and return home to NAS Whidbey, where wives, sweethearts, children, parents, and well wishers would gather to greet them. In the days leading up to their return, the squadron wives would put up “Burma Shave” signs with cute sayings to welcome their sailors home. But the big event was gathering at the squadron hangar and watching an entire squadron come into the break at high speed before splitting up and landing. After taxiing in, shutting down, and dismounting, the aircrews would be greeted by a crush of family rushing to squeeze them in hugs 9 months in the making. Cake and puch were there, but I’m not sure I ever saw anybody partake (besides me, of course. I never say no to free cake!)
This is all a pretty long post, especially since the whole point was I wanted to put up this youtube of a real plane, not some plastic bug.