“I remember looking up out of the canopy at the cars passing under us on Highway 20. After we landed and got out of the plane I was really hyped – my first flight in the A-6 Intruder, the best plane in the known universe.”
The A-6 Intruder was the world’s first fully all-weather attack bomber capable of detecting and identifying tactical or strategic targets, and delivering both conventional and nuclear ordnance on them under zero-visibility conditions. While the Intruder may not win any beauty contests, it clearly excelled in its assigned mission. The A-6 was capable of carrying all US and NATO air-to-ground weapons in its five external store stations–a total payload of 18,000 pounds.
The Intruder was manned by a crew of two, pilot and bombardier-navigator (BN), seated side by side.
The A-6A first entered service in February 1963. Dedicated KA-6D tankers were modified from high-time A-6A models early on, replacing the KA-3B Skywarrior in the aerial refueling role. Buddy stores eventually enabled any A-6 to serve as a tanker.
As told by Mark Morgan & Rick Morgan in their book Intruder the Operational History of Grumman’s A-6, Cmdr. Arthur N. “Bud” Langston, known as “Buffalo, – or “Buff,” was something of a legend in the Intruder community, considered by many to be larger than life, and occasionally known for doing interesting things with the aircraft … and his B/Ns. During a tour with VA-52 in the mid-1970s he’d taken a “stash Ensign” [After receiving your commission as an officer in the Navy or Coast Guard, you must be stoked. But sometimes, there’s no room or money to train you and you get stashed doing odd jobs. Sometimes you can get stashed places you would like and then suddenly it’s awesome] up one day for a fam hop in one of the Knightriders’ tankers. Years later the future B/N – who, like all stashes, was spending time in a fleet squadron while waiting for his school date at Pensacola – recalled a most unusual introduction to Naval Aviation courtesy of the Buffalo:
“The other two Ensigns and I took turns getting hops in the KA-6D. Actually, one other guy and I fought for flight time; the third guy wasn’t really interested in the Intruder and wanted to fly E-2s. Anyway, we both flew with several pilots and quickly determined who our favorites were, but generally they were all good. They treated us well, like regular members of the squadron, made sure we had Sierra Hotel flight jackets and name tags, and ensured we were properly trained, both professionally and socially … usually at the O’ Club.
“The day of my first flight with the squadron our schedules officer, Bob Gibson, put me in a plane with Langston. I didn’t know much about him, but hell, flight time was flight time, even in the right seat of a KA. I don’t remember much of the flight; I think we just took off and tooled around Puget Sound and the Cascades for about an hour, then started back for Whidbey [Naval Air Station Whidbey Island]. Then it got interesting.
“Some of the pilots had us try communications, while others let us just sit in the right seat and take it all in,” he continues.
“On this hop Langston did all the work. We lined up for final to runway 31 at NUW [3-letter code for NAS Whidbey Island], dirtied up – flats, slats, gear, etc – and then he called out a checklist item: ‘Ensure controls are free to the left,’ or some-thing to that effect. Wham! He slams the stick over and we quickly roll inverted, with everything normally hanging down now hanging up. I believe I thought something to the effect of, `Hey! This is neat!’ After we rolled around he called out, ‘Check controls to the right’ and around we went again. I remember looking up out of the canopy at the cars passing under us on Highway 20. After we landed and got out of the plane I was really hyped – my first flight in the Intruder, the best plane in the known universe, and all that. I felt like a true Knightrider and fairly bounced into the hangar. There was our skipper, Daryl Kerr, standing with his hands on his hips, looking out toward the ramp. With a big smile I walked up and waited for him to congratulate me on my first hop in the Intruder, but without shifting his gaze he just quietly said, ‘Go wait inside.’ I thought it was kind of curious, but didn’t say anything. In retrospect, I did get some strange looks from the other officers and some of the enlisted men after I got back in the squadron spaces.
“It was some time later I learned Skipper Kerr felt the need to have a private session with Lt. Langston; safety of flight issue or something like that. All I know is I didn’t fly with Langston again, and I don’t think the other two stashes did either.”
“Buffalo” survived his “go forth and sin no more” session with the skipper and went on to bigger and better things, assuming command of VA-145 on Dec. 7, 1984. Over the following years he occasionally added to the legend as he moved up the career path, eventually making flag rank.
Intruder The Operational History of Grumman’s A-6 is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Rob Schleiffert from Holland via Wikipedia and U.S. Navy