"Jellyfish Beneath the Waves"

For three decades the major heavy attack aircraft of the US Navy, the A-6 Intruder was created to fill a post-Korea requirement for an aircraft that could strike targets by day or night, in all weather conditions.

It was readily apparent that the A2F was built for load carrying and range rather than outright speed. The wing was swept at 25 degrees, and side by side seating for the crew gave the aircraft a "tadpole" type appearance. The powerplants were a pair of J52s without afterburning, although the A2F would still be capable of high subsonic speeds on the deck. Each wing had a pair of hardpoints, in addition to a fuselage station that would generally be used for carrying fuel.

As prosaic as the Intruder outwardly appeared in an era when Mach-2 fighters were the cutting edge in aerospace design, the A2F's electronic "guts" were as advanced for their day as anything that had flown. The Digitally Integrated Attack Navigation equipment (DIANE) suite combined an INS, computer, and radars for ground mapping and target tracking, giving Intruder crews the ability to autonomously find their way to, and then attack targets, despite adverse conditions. The center of DIANE was the ASQ-61 computer, which interpreted data from the radars, combining this with coordinates for waypoint navigation and weapons data to provide steering and release during strikes.

VA-42 at NAS Oceana was to become the A-6 training squadron, receiving its first aircraft in February 1963, although the first Intruder with the full-up electronics suite did not arrive until June of that year. VA-75 would be the first operational Intruder squadron; the "Sunday Punchers" transitioned to the new aircraft from the AD-6 Skyraider, and after conducting carrier qualifications aboard the USS Forrestal made their first deployment with the Intruder in March 1964.

Perhaps unglamorous in contrast to the F-4s and RA-5Cs it shared carrier decks with, the Intruder soon began establishing itself as a potent weapon. A-6As were able to reach targets in weather conditions that would keep other aircraft on the ground, and deliver up to 15,000lbs of ordnance.

The Intruder had proven its worth in Southeast Asia, but the early operational experience with the type pointed out the need for much more reliable electronics. Introduced in 1971, the resulting A-6E was fitted with the multimode APQ-148, this replacing the separate search and

The USN deployed a total of eight Intruder squadrons during Desert Storm; VA-115 aboard USS Midway, VA-35 aboard USS Saratoga, VA-145 and -155 board USS Ranger, VA-85 aboard USS America, VA-36 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt, VA-196 aboard USS Independence, and VA-34 aboard USS Eisenhower. The Marines contributed VMA(AW)-224 and -533 of MAG-11, which conducted land-based operations from Sheikh Isa AB.

VA-115 Eagles carried out the last Pacific deployment of the A-6, operating from the USS Independence. During this cruise, the squadron lost an aircraft to surface fire, albeit of a "friendly" variety. The aircraft in question was towing a banner target when the Intruder, rather than the target, was hit by 20mm CIWS fire from a Japanese destroyer during an exercise. Both crewmen ejected and were rescued.

 

KA-6D Intruder

KA-6D tanker on display at an airshow at Cleveland, early 1990s.

A-6F Intruder II
The A-6F was proposed as an interim replacement for the A-6E, pending the arrival of the A-12 Advanced Tactical Aircraft. A major emphasis of the A-6F program was to make the new Intruder more compatible in terms of system with other carrier-based aircraft, allowing more common spare parts to be carried. Central to this was the substitution of the A-6E's J52 engines with unreheated GE F404s; aside from being far easier to maintain than the 1960s-vintage J52, the F404 would also have many common components with the FA-18's afterburning version.

Electronically, a new cockpit with multiple heads-down displays would be fitted, as would a new radar. To counter new Soviet SAM threats, the A-6F was to have the Advanced Seld Protection Jamming system, as well as the ALR-67 warning receiver. An extra set of wing pylons would be added, allowing AIM-9s to be carried for self-defense against fighters without sacrificing air-to-ground weapons. The A-6F would also be compatible with the AIM-120 AMRAAM, giving the Intruder a BVR air to air capability for the first time.

A total of five A-6F FSD aircraft were contracted for, with the first example being rolled out at Grumman's Calverton plant in August 1987. This was not a full-up Intruder II, having the F404 engines but lacking the composite wings and new radar and cockpit fit.

A-6 Bibliography
"Intruder has many Features" Naval Aviation News May 1960 p.28 2 photos. Unveiling of the then-new Grumman A2F Intruder.

"Intruder" Air Pictorial February 1961 p.56-57 Photo report on the A2F-1 prototype; shows the tilting tailpipes to good effect.

Photo: "A2F Shows Herculean Strength" Naval Aviation News May 1961 inside front cover. Large view of an Intruder in banking flight while carrying thirty 500lb bombs.

"First A-6A Squadron Prepared for Flight" Naval Aviation News November 1963 p.11-13 6 photos

"Marines get A-6A Intruder" VMA(AW)-242 becomes the first USMC Intruder unit. Naval Aviation News December 1964 p.3

"VA-85 makes Intruder transition" Naval Aviation News January 1965 Covers the transition of the Black Falcons from A-1H Skyraiders to A-6As.

Lt. James Mulquin, USNR. "The amazing Intruder - Aircraft proves itself in Vietnam" Naval Aviation News June 1967

Photo: A-6 testing C-13-1 catapult at NATF Lakehurst Naval Aviation News November 1967 p.34

"Intruder Squadron Returns- VA-196 Completes Vietnam Tour" Naval Aviation News February 1968 p.2

Photo: A-6C BuNo 155647 with TRIM pod on centerline. Air Pictorial May 1970 p.157

Photo: A-6 BuNo 151784 with underwing BQM-34s   Aviation Week & Space Technology  December 31, 1973  p.16

Photo: Tomahawk test vehicle on an A-6. Air Pictorial January 1978 p.13

Illustrations (2): A-6 with Augmentor Deflector Exhaust Nozzle (ADEN) AW&ST September 21, 1981 p.73

Robert R. Ropelewski  "Sensor System Adds to A-6E Reliability"   Aviation Week & Space Technology  April 16, 1984  p.59-62  Includes an in flight photo of BuNo 161111/VA-165, cockpit shot, TRAM turret.

"Grumman's Full-Scale Development A-6F Makes First Flight at New York Facility" 1 photo AW&ST August 31, 1987 p.24

Color profiles of A-6s from VA-128, VA-65 Tigers, and VMA(AW)-121 Green Knights. Air International September 1987

Photo: A-6 air launching a Northrop NV-144 RPV AW&ST October 26, 1987 p.20

1/72 scale plans of the A-6E TRAM, with side views of the A-6A and KA-6D.   Air Forces International  August 1989  p.240-241

Photo: PMTC A-6E launching a Block 1D AGM-84. Naval Aviation News Nov-Dec 1991 p.7

Books
"Modern Military Aircraft Anatomy" edited by Paul E. Eden and Soph Moeing
p.184-185 Cutaway diagram of an A-6E TRAM, plus a color photo of a VA-134 A-6E refueling from a KC-135E.

"Encyclopedia of World Military Airpower" p.187 A large color 3-view illustration of A-6A BuNo 152940 of VA-35 "Panthers" aboard USS Enterprise.

"Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft" p.181 Color 3-view of A-6E/TRAM BuNo 160431 of VMA-533


Scale Models
Manuel Guajardo "Improved Intruder" FineScale Modeler November 2003 p.40-43. Detailing and adding folding wings to the Revell 1/48 scale A-6E.

Garry F. Prettyman  "Take the TRAM: Second Time Intruder"  Building the 1/48 HobbyBoss A-6E as an VA-35 aircraft from USS Enterprise   Model Aircraft  October 2014

Angelo Picardo  "TRAM Intruder"   Scale Aviation Modeller International  February 2017  Building the 1/48 HobbyBoss A-6E TRAM kit as BuNo 162190

Bri Wakeman   "Fight of the Intruder"   Model Aircraft  July 2017  The 1/48 Hasegawa E-model Intruder as BuNo 159574 of VA-95.

EA-6B Prowler

Aviation References