‘My old girl, the EA-6B Prowler, 4 aircrew, 2×2. During an ejection, we would have to get everyone out but how can we do it without impacting each other?’ Adam Daymude, EA-6B Prowler pilot.
In 1960, as part of the development of the new A2F (later A-6) Intruder all-weather attack aircraft, Grumman engineers began evaluating an ECM version of the airplane. The result was the EA-6A Intruder, which entered service in Marine Corps squadrons in December 1965. Concurrently, Grumman developed a Tactical Jamming System and defined the requirements for the airplane to serve as a platform for it. The result was the EA-6B Prowler, which built upon the success of the EA-6A, but differed in some respects including size to incorporate a four-man crew consisting of one pilot and three electronic counter-measures officers (ECMO).
The first Prowlers arrived at VAQ-129 at NAS Whidbey Island, WA, in December 1971, and the initial fleet squadrons equipped with the new airplane flew combat missions over North Vietnam as part of Operations Linebacker I and II. This began a lengthy service that lasted over four decades with the Prowler developing into the foremost electronic attack platform in the US military arsenal, supporting combat missions in Grenada, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan and other crises around the world.
Another unique feature of the EA-6B was that its four crew members didn’t eject simultaneously.
‘My old girl, the EA-6B Prowler, 4 aircrew, 2×2. During an ejection, we would have to get everyone out but how can we do it without impacting each other? Sequential ejections.
‘What would happen when any of the ejection handles was pulled was it initiated the ejection sequence: aft cockpit right seat at time 0, aft left at time 0.4 seconds, front right at 0.8, and finally the pilot in the front left at 1.2 seconds after initiation.
‘The two seats in the most danger are the first and last to go: ECMO 3 in the aft right seat and the pilot. ECMO 3 was in danger because if there wasn’t time to setup for the ejection, he/she could be in a bad body position and get seriously injured by the force of those ejection rockets. The pilot is actually in the most danger though. I’ve spoken to a couple of Prowler pilots that had to eject and that 1.2 seconds is an eternity. You’re almost certainly out of control, otherwise you wouldn’t be ejecting. You could initiate ejection while still within the safety envelope and by the time it gets to be your turn to get out, you might be out of the envelope, especially at low altitude.’
‘But low altitude ejection is dangerous for all involved.’
The following video echoes Daymude’s words: filmed from aboard USS America (CVA-66) aircraft carrier on Jul. 10, 1984 features EA-6B Prowler BuNo. 158651/’AB-607′ of VAQ-135, crashing and being destroyed due to a failed catapult launch off the carrier, which was on station at “Gonzo Station”, an area of the Northern Arabian Sea, off the coast of Yemen.
According to Aviation Safety Network, Of the four crew members all four ejected, but Lt (JG) Michael J. DeBartolomeo (pilot) died of injuries sustained. The other crew members – who all ejected and survived were Lt Commander Ken L. Blanford (ECMO 1 seat), Lt D. W. Yip (ACMO-2) and Lt (JG) Gene E. P. Sullivan (ECMO-3 seat).
Photo credit: Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Chris Otsen / U.S. Navy