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Prowler has landed: Navy now has plane in airpark

Joshua Harvey of the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Servicing Section watches as crane operator Michael Youngberg weighs the Prowler before moving it into the airpark. Even without its two J52-P408 turbofan jet engines and its avionics, which had previously been removed, the Prowler still weighed 25,000 pounds. (Air Force photo by April McDonald)

Joshua Harvey of the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Servicing Section watches as crane operator Michael Youngberg weighs the Prowler before moving it into the airpark. Even without its two J52-P408 turbofan jet engines and its avionics, which had previously been removed, the Prowler still weighed 25,000 pounds. (Air Force photo by April McDonald)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The United States Navy has been a resident of Tinker Air Force Base for 21 years, and now it also has an aircraft in the airpark at the base entrance at Air Depot Boulevard.
A Navy EA-6B Prowler was moved from the 185-acre Navy Area on the south side of Tinker AFB to the airpark behind the base commissary, directly east of Tinker Gate. Completion of the permanent display took place over three consecutive days this week.
A tug slowly towed the aircraft on its own three wheels Sunday afternoon from the Navy ramp to Taxiway G, north to Industrial Blvd., onto Perimeter Road, west to 5th Ave. and into the north parking lot at the Base Commissary. Personnel of the 72nd Security Forces Squadron blocked traffic during the move.

The jet was parked in the commissary parking lot overnight, and Monday a crane assigned to the 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group's crash recovery unit lifted the aircraft to its assigned site in the air park; the crane is capable of lifting up to 40 tons, according to Billie Forest of the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Servicing Section. Although its two J52-P408 turbofan jet engines and its avionics had previously been removed, the Prowler still weighed 25,000 pounds, officials said.

The static display was finished Tuesday when the front landing gear and the two main landing gears were attached to fabricated steel pedestals with pins -- each 1¾ inches in diameter and 7¼ inches long -- and the pedestals were welded to steel plates embedded in three concrete pads.

The entire project involved a host of individuals and organizations, military and civilian alike: the 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate, Tinker Support Services, 76th Maintenance Support Group, 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group, Strategic Communications Wing ONE, including active-duty Seabees and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 22 (Oklahoma City Navy Reserve Detachment).

Naval Reserve Seabees performed the dirt work at the site and built the concrete pads that support the steel pedestals on which the aircraft rests. The Navy Seabees also plan to construct sidewalk around the aircraft and place lava rock landscaping around the site, according to Ensign Steven C. Johnson, Officer in Charge of the Oklahoma City Detachment for NMCB 22.

Senior Chief Petty Officers Jeremy Parks and William Bitner, both of Strategic Communications Wing ONE, were responsible for removal of the jet's engines and avionics, painting and preparation of the aircraft, and ensuring that the plane was transported to its destination in the airpark. Chief Petty Officer Wesley Depue from SCW-1 was responsible for demilitarization of the aircraft and coordination of its refurbishment. "They are the custodians of the aircraft," Ensign Johnson said.

The 72nd ABW/CE headed by Brad Beam had "the coordinating responsibility," Ensign Johnson said.

Assisting on the project were Anton Saleeby and Tim Hutto from Tinker Support Services. Besides Mr. Forest, others who worked on the plane project were John Cheatwood, 76th AMXG; Anthony Rice, 544th PMXS; Robert Harbin, crane operator Michael Youngberg and Section Chief Shawn Moon, all of the 566th AMXS.

Retired Rear Admiral Greg Slavonic said the 35 yards of concrete for the pads and the sidewalk, along with the steel for the pedestals plus the lava rock for the landscaping, were donated for the Prowler project. The Air Force 76th MSG fabricated the steel for the pedestals and provided manpower to weld the pedestals into place.

Admiral Slavonic, of Oklahoma City, said he got the idea for installing a Navy plane in the air park in late 2009. He enlisted support from Capt. Tim Pedersen, who then was the deputy commander of Strategic Communications Wing ONE and Task Force 124, and secured the approval of then-Col. Allen Jamerson, former commander of the 72nd ABW. "The Navy aviation centennial is in 2011," Captain Pedersen pointed out in an email to Colonel Jamerson. "A static display would be an awesome reminder to folks of the Navy's air force."

The retired Prowler came to TACAMO from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, about 30 miles north of Seattle, Wash. "They were phasing out a squadron and its aircraft,"
Admiral Slavonic said.

The Prowler line of aircraft, an electronic warfare jet, has been in service with U.S. armed forces since 1971. The Navy is phasing out the Prowler, but the Marine Corps will keep the aircraft in service for several more years, said Senior Chief Parks, who worked on Prowlers while stationed at NAS Whidbey Island.

The plane was flown to Tinker, stripped of its engine and avionics. It also received a tactical paint scheme "because the Prowler is a carrier-based aircraft," the admiral explained. "If you were to view the aircraft while in flight, looking up, it would blend in with the sky above. If you were looking down on the aircraft while in flight, it would look like the ocean below."

In addition, "I wanted it to be fleet-oriented and have the name of an aircraft carrier stenciled on its side," the admiral said. Accordingly, the airplane now bears the name of the USS Constellation, a ship on which the admiral served.

The Prowler is situated between a World War II-era C-47 Skytrain and a C-135 Stratolifter that's painted in the color of the president's Air Force One.

Other aircraft in the Charles B. Hall Airpark include an A-7D Corsair II, an F-105D Thunderchief, a B-47 Stratojet, a B-29 Superfortress, an F-4D Phantom II, a B-52 Stratofortress, and a B-1 Lancer. Also in the park is an AGM-129 advanced Cruise Missile, a POW/MIA memorial, a bust commemorating "Rosie the Riveter," and a memorial honoring Maj. Charles B. Hall and the Tuskegee Airmen.

Jim Ruth of the 72nd ABW is the airpark custodian. Admiral Slavonic serves on the board of directors of the Navy League, a nationwide civilian organization that supports the Navy and its Sailors and the Junior Naval ROTC.