In order to increase the versatility of its carrier air wings, the Navy sought to develop an all-weather attack capability that would enable strikes against targets under most any conditions, an effort that picked up momentum in the years following the Korean War with the development of advanced radar, bombing, and navigation equipment. The Navy received 11 design proposals in response to a 1956 call for a strike aircraft capable of striking a target in any weather at long range and low altitude, the winner a proposal for a mid-wing subsonic jet by Grumman Aerospace Corporation.
Designated the A2F (later A-6) Intruder the aircraft entered fleet service in 1963. The world’s first all-weather attack aircraft, the Intruder carried a crew of two in side-by-side seating and featured Digital Integrated Attack Navigation Equipment (DIANE), which provided an electronic display of targets and geographical features even in low visibility conditions. Introduced on the A-6E version of the aircraft, the Target Recognition Attack Multisensors (TRAM) system combined Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR)/laser sensors with an onboard computer. Located in a ball turret beneath the nose of the aircraft, TRAM enabled a higher degree of bombing accuracy by locating targets and ascertaining their ranges and allowed the A-6 crew to detect ground undulations as small as a plowed field.
Despite initial difficulties in Vietnam, including premature detonation of bombs, the A-6 proved itself in the murky weather conditions over Southeast Asia, oftentimes carrying out single-plane or two-plane nocturnal raids with devastating accuracy that produced disproportionate results. This was dramatically illustrated when two A-6s of Attack Squadron (VA) 85 made a night strike dropping 26 500 lb. bombs against a North Vietnamese power plant. The damage was such that the enemy high command was convinced that B-52 heavy bombers had been at work! Another notable mission occurred on October 30, 1967, when the crew of Lieutenant Commander Charles Hunter and Lieutenant Lyle Bull executed a daring single-plane raid against the Red River ferry docks in Hanoi, flying at altitudes as low as 50 ft. and evading 10 surface-to-air missiles. Both officers received the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism on the mission.
The aircraft also represented the aircraft carrier’s “big stick” in combat strikes over Lebanon, Libya, and Iraq. During Operation Desert Storm, Navy and Marine Corps A-6s logged more than 4,700 combat sorties, providing close air support, destroying enemy air defenses, attacking Iraqi naval units, and hitting strategic targets. All told, 687 A-6s were delivered to the Navy, including the KA-6D that provided aerial refueling and the EA-6A electronic countermeasures version that provided the foundation for development of the EA-6B Prowler. Despite efforts to prolong the aircraft’s service with advanced versions and the rewinging of older Intruders, the last A-6 retired from front-line service in 1997.
The aircraft on display (Bureau Number 155610) is painted in the markings of VA-196, the squadron in which it spent ten years of operational service, including deployments in Enterprise (CVN 65), the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The aircraft also served in VA-128, VA-95, and VA-145 during its operational career. It arrived at the museum in 1994.
Manufacturer: Grumman Aerospace Corporation
Dimensions: Length: 54 ft., 9 in.; Height: 16 ft., 2 in., wing span: 53 ft.
Weights: Empty: 26,746 lb., Gross: 60,400 lb.
Power Plant: Two 9,300 lb. static thrust Pratt & Whitney 352-P-8A or –8B turbojets
Performance: Maximum Speed: 644 M.P.H. at sea level; Service Ceiling: 42,400 ft.; Range
(with maximum bomb load): 1,110 miles
Armament: 18,000 lb. of ordnance, including laser guided bombs, Harpoon anti-ship missile,
High-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM), Stand-off Land Attack Missile (SLAM),
and air-dropped mines.
Crew: Pilot and Bombardier-Navigator