During early May 2011 AeroResource were invited to visit the Naval Air Facility Washington to photograph their based aircraft and meet with our host squadron for the day, Electronic Warfare Squadron 209 (VAQ-209) “Star Warriors”, which operates the Grumman EA-6B Prowler aircraft.
The base was formerly Andrews AFB, but due to the Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) plans in 2005 the base was transferred to a Joint Services facility on the 1st October 2009, and became known as Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility, Washington. The facility is situated some 10 miles East of the United States capital Washington DC (District of Columbia). JB Andrews is best known as home to the Presidential Airlift Group or “Air Force One” which operates the Boeing VC-25A aircraft and transports the President or Vice President and their advisors around the globe.
JB Andrews falls under the control of the host 11th Wing which provides support for six wings, two headquarters and more than sixty tenant organisations. Main Wings based at JB Andrews are the 89th Airlift Wing, 79th Medical Wing, 459th Air Refuelling Wing, 113th Wing District of Columbia Air National Guard, Army and Marine Corps aircraft detachments and finally, the Naval Air Facility, Washington.
Naval Air Facility Washington (NAFW), which is named “Crossroads of the Navy”, is a Naval Reserve base and one of only five spread across the whole of the United States.
NAFW provides all navy reservists full time access to most of the navy’s current weapons and operating systems. Support and training is provided to more than 100 Reserve units and over 4,000 personnel. NAFW has some 120 full-time support staff, and is fully integrated into the United States Navy (USN). All commands are consolidated into one central function, which provides mobilisation and deployment quickly and effectively.
NAFW has four based squadrons and two aviation detachments, being;
Fleet Logistic Support Squadrons
VR-1 “Starlifters” Coded – JK Aircraft – C-20D and C-37A/B
VR-48 “Starliners” Coded – JR Aircraft – C-20G
VR-53 “Capitol Express” Coded – AX Aircraft – C-130T
Tactical Support Wing and Electronic Warfare Squadron
VAQ-209 “Star Warriors” Coded – AF Flying – EA-6B
VMR UC-12B Coded – 7M USN & USMC
VMR UC-35D Coded – VM USN, USMC & Army Jet
A Journey to the “dark side” with the “Star Warriors”
VAQ-209 has a very famous mascot as their squadron emblem – Darth Vader the evil villain from the Star Wars franchise of blockbuster films made famous by George Lucas. For any Star Wars fan, such as Ian and myself are, this squadron with its specially painted EA-6B with “Vader’s” helmet painted on the tail was one of the must visit units on our East Coast USA tour. We were not disappointed as the Commander Air Group (CAG) aircraft was on show for us to photograph.
Our guide and point of contact for the visit was Lieutenant C. Passerella – Call Sign “Dino” and Public Affairs/Safety Officer. Lt Passerella was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer any questions we had on the squadron and its operational deployments around the world. All information has been provided by Lt Passerella for this article.
The squadron was established in the 1st October 1977 flying from Naval Air Station Norfolk (NAS) Virginia with its Grumman EA-6A Intruder aircraft. By 1990 the squadron relocated to NAFW and transitioned to the EA-6B Prowler aircraft which it will continue to fly until it transfers to the Boeing EA-18G Growler during 2015.
The primary mission role of VAQ-209 and any VAQ squadron within the USN is to perform Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) which then supports strike aircraft and ground troops by denying, degrading and delaying the enemies use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The EA-6B is also used to gather electronic intelligence.
VAQ-209 forms part of the Tactical Support Wing of the United States Navy Reserve has regularly been called upon to serve alongside with or temporarily relieve active component forces in major worldwide operations. The majority of members in the squadron maintain civilian jobs, which requires a great deal of flexibility. The wealth of experience brought to the squadron is second to none with many officers having important roles prior to their transition, which include the test stages of the EA-6B and the weapons systems development; many have thousands of flight hours on the EA-6B. The main reason for VAQ-209 not being home based, out of NAS Whidbey Island, Washington State as all the other VAQ squadrons are is because the majority of the American electronic warfare defence industry is located around the Washington DC area and some reserve personnel pursue their civilian careers with large defence corporations and electronic warfare divisions.
Operation DENY FLIGHT and DELIBERATE FORCE attached to Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) aboard the Aircraft Carrier Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) during operations over Bosnia – 1995.
Operation NORTHERN WATCH Incirlik Air Base Turkey – 1998
Operation ALLIED FORCE Aviano Air Base Italy – 1999
Operation NORTHERN WATCH Incirlik Turkey – 2000
Operation SOUTHERN WATCH Prince Sultan Air Base Saudi Arabia – 2001
Operation NORTHERN WATCH Incirlik Turkey – 2002
Pacific Command tasking Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Japan – 2005
Operation IRAQI FREEDOM AL-Asad Air Base Iraq – 2006
Operation ENDURING FREEDOM Bagram Air Base Afghanistan – 2008 to 2010
Battle Efficiency “Battle E”
VAQ-209 was assessed throughout the year to have the best overall mission readiness to carry out wartime tasks and best maintenance readiness levels as an individual unit within the Tactical Support Wing (TSW) – Something the men and women of the “Star Warriors” are very proud of.
“Fortune Favours the Brave – Fortuna Fortes Juvat”
To close a fantastic visit with the NAFW we were given the chance to photograph a preserved McDonnell Douglas F-4D “Mig Killer” and a Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, which has a motion sensor attached to it, so the dummy pilot sitting in the cockpit turns to look at you as you approach – and the aircraft turns the same way as the pilot is looking, this was very eerie when your not expecting but a great sense of amusement to our on looking Public Affairs Officer and base guide for the day Clifford Davis. Our hats are raised to Clifford for coming in on a Sunday morning (his day off) to escort us around the facility and providing much amusement throughout our little tour. Clifford knows more about British culture and beers than we do.
Finally a big thank you to the Reservists of VAQ-209 and especially Lt Passerella for making us feel most welcome throughout the visit and also allowing us to part with our US dollars in the Squadron shop, the tee shirts and hats were worn with pride that night at the evening meal. Ian French and John Astley must also be thanked for their assistance in planning and co-ordinating the visit.