The all-weather A-6 Intruder, a jet that looks slow and round, was the first thing that got me interested in military aviation.
I have always had a thing for military aviation, so I enlisted in the US Air Force as a pilot (from which I was medically discharged). I also recall exactly which aircraft first piqued my interest in military aviation. It was not the speedy SR-71 Blackbird, the sentimental P-51 Mustang, or the covert F-117 you would have anticipated. The all-weather A-6 Intruder was a bulbous, sluggish, and docile-appearing jet.
I never had the opportunity to witness the A-6 in action because I was only a young child when it was retired from service in 1997. Also, the plane has started to fade into obscurity in the 25 years since it was retired, which is understandable considering the simple nature of the jet. However, the A-6 was a highly effective assault aircraft that served in the US Navy and US Marine Corps for 36 years.
The Bureau of Aeronautics requested designs for an all-weather assault aircraft with short-distance takeoff and landing capabilities, and here is where the A-6 was born. In addition, the aircraft had to be capable of carrying out long-range interdiction operations for the Navy and close air support for the Marines, where the A-6 was born. In addition, the aircraft had to be capable of carrying out long-range interdiction operations for the Navy and close air support for the Marines. The Douglas A-1 Skyraider was initially intended to be directly replaced by the A-6. However, the A-1 stayed in service longer, coexisting with the A-6 for ten years until 1973, when the World War II-era A-1 had become extinct.
Because the A-1 lacked a turbine engine and could only operate in fair weather, designers were eager to incorporate one when building the A-6. The revolutionary jet would be capable of flying in any weather. Eleven applications were submitted in response to the request for ideas based on turbine engines (from eight companies). Several companies, including Boeing, Lockheed, North American, Bell, and Douglas, entered the race. The Lunar Excursion Module, in which the Apollo astronauts would land on the moon, was the next lucrative and prestigious contract that Grumman would receive.
The A-6, a Grumman creation marketed as the first-ever all-weather attack aircraft, went into service in 1963. The A-6’s arrangement of the two operators was one of its odd features. On the left, the pilot sat. In order to not obstruct the pilot’s field of vision, the bombardier/navigator sat to the pilot’s right. Naturally, the navigator would be directly behind the pilot at the back in most two-seaters.
The Vertical Display Indicator (VDI) was a state-of-the-art device at the time that showed a computer-generated image of the terrain in front of the A-6. It helped the crew find their way in the rough weather they were often asked to fly in.
Strangely, the A-6 could not go faster than the speed of sound, while many of its contemporaries could. Instead, the A-6 limped along at subsonic speeds, reaching a top speed of 640 mph and climbing at 7,620 feet per minute with a service ceiling of 42,400 feet. None of these numbers are particularly spectacular. The maximum g for the jet was 6.5. The A-6 was not constructed to the performance standards required of some air superiority fighters. Instead, regardless of the weather, the A-6 was designed to loft tonnes of weapons over enemy lines.
The A-6 featured five hard points for weapons. Around two tonnes might be supported by each hard point. The A-6 could carry nine tonnes of payload in total. The A-6 was highly reliant on it during the Vietnam War, and the heavy weapons payload proved useful. The Viet Cong shot down 84 A-6s during the Vietnam War, even though the low-flying A-6 was frequently targeted, and many A-6 crew members endured hardships as prisoners of war.