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VAQ-141 ‘FrankenProwler’ rejoins the fleet

Photo by Lt. Travis Inouye
FrankenProwler makes its first trap aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt.

In an email from USS Theodore Roosevelt, Maintenance Master Chief AVCM(AW) Bud Betz wrote, “On a warm, cloudy, humid day in the mid-Atlantic on March 23, 2005, (Bureau Number) 158542, FrankenProwler, rejoins the carrier fleet with VAQ-141”.

Many watched to see if the Shadowhawks would be successful.

Quite a few had bet against FrankenProwler making it to the ship on VAQ-141’s detachment to the Roosevelt, but they were proven wrong. A sigh of relief went through the maintenance department as FrankenProwler taxied from its first trap to the catapult for its initial launch off the ship. It successfully completed both tasks as advertised.

VAQ-141’s third jet, Bureau Number (BUNO) 158542, was dubbed the FrankenProwler because its unique conception was the construction from three different EA-6Bs, in mothballs, patched together to build one fully functional Prowler. With the last built EA-6B rolling from production in 1991, Prowler fleet inventory was dwindling. Looking for a way to increase inventory in 1999, the novel idea of using jets from the Advanced Capabilities program was devised and implemented. The three jets, BUNO 156482, BUNO 158542 and BUNO 158547, were originally fleet aircraft off of the production line in March 1970, March 1972 and September 1972, respectively. The fifth, 20th and 25th EA-6Bs in inventory were sidelined from the Prowler community between 1988 and 1990 to become test platforms in the ADVCAP program.

The three Prowlers were heavily modified and in testing phase by 1993 until the ADVCAP program was later terminated that year. The ADVCAP program fell to its demise due to funding reallocation during Department of Defense program reductions. And since the EA6B had performed so well during Desert Storm, the improvement program was determined to be unnecessary. Deemed cost prohibitive to maintain the three Prowlers in their present status, they were dissected of parts and shipped to long-term storage in various locations.

Congress approved $20 million in the fiscal year 2000 budget and in October 1999, the FrankenProwler was brought to the operating table and work commenced. Over a four-year period, the aircraft were de-modified and usable pieces were patched together, in addition to a newly manufactured wing center section. The biggest difficulty in the operation was alignment of the airframe out of structural pieces from different stages of life, but in the end, FrankenProwler was, in fact, better aligned than the three pre-existing aircraft.

The re-manufacturing portion of the process lasted from February 2001 until September 2004 when FrankenProwler stumbled to life and reached for the skies once again.

FrankenProwler was then delivered in October 2004 to VAQ-141 where it was received by many with trepidation and skepticism. This January, the Shadowhawks attempted to use FrankenProwler to Carrier Qualify on Roosevelt with limited success. Minor problems plagued the jet and prevented it from actually touching the ship’s deck.

Two months and 1,696 maintenance actions from receipt later, cheers could be heard from the VAQ-141 Maintenance Control shop as FrankenProwler touched down on CVN 71.

Everyone watched on closed-circuit TV as the squadron’s newest pilot Lt.j.g Steve Vitrella, ECMO 1 Lt. Warren Van Allen, ECMO 2 Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Todd and ECMO 3 Lt. Laura Krueger brought the EA-6B safely aboard.

VAQ-141 is extremely proud of its maintenance team for the hard work and effort that went into making the aircraft an asset to the Prowler community. FrankenProwler is performing well for the Shadowhawks and is now a well-groomed, fleet available aircraft.

Some would even say, “It’s alive!”

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