The Grumman EA-6B Prowler came from the Grumman "Iron Works" on Long Island, New York. This company was justly famed for its long procession of superb fighters, from the first, the XFF-1, to the latest modification of the F-14 Tomcat. Less well known, but equally important, was the long series of multipurpose combat aircraft that began with the TBF Avenger and extends down to the apparently irreplaceable EA-6B Prowler.
The Grumman EA-6B Prowler is a perfect symbol of the Jet Age's remarkable syntheses of engines, airframes, and electronics. Whereas in the past new engines were developed for new airframes, and vice versa, the continual introduction of more capable electronics has changed the process.
Because the new electronic systems -- whether navigation, reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures, bombing, or anything else -- are not only more effective, but generally smaller in size and weight than their predecessors, they have had the effect of extending the service life of military aircraft. In cruelest terms, electronics have turned airframes into mere platforms, in which improvements in performance are sought primarily through the improvements in the avionic equipment.
Thus it is that three of the United States' military services -- Navy, Marines, and Air Force -- now depend upon the Grumman EA-6B Prowler, an aircraft that resulted from a design competition held in 1957.
Developed from the Grumman A-6 Intruder, which made its first flight on April 19, 1960, the Grumman EA-6B Prowler's array of external stores and bulging antennas give it an awkward look that simultaneously reveals its heritage and belies its capabilities.
The Intruder had served brilliantly as an attack bomber, carrying a huge ordnance load into combat in Vietnam. As the KA-6D, it performed well as a tanker, and as the EA-6A it conducted reconnaissance and electronic warfare missions. A much more sophisticated version of the Intruder, the A-6E, first flew on March 22, 1974. It was so versatile that it bore the brunt of the Navy and Marine attack missions until the arrival of the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet.
Fewer than 1,000 of the original Intruders were manufactured, and these were continuously modified to take advantage of developments in electronic systems. The Intruder's forte was its capability to navigate at low level, in weather, to a distant target, execute a strike and withdraw, again hugging the terrain all the way home. Despite being more than 20 years old, the Intruder performed well in the Persian Gulf War.