The Raytheon fleet of Skywarriors has been used for radar development for a number of aircraft types including, but not limited to, F-111 Aardvark, F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle, in addition to other research and development programs for the military. The last set of missions for this aircraft was with the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile program.
The time is now up for these resilient platforms and NRA-3B airframe Bu144825 (N878RS) was flown from Point Mugu, CA, to NAS Whidbey Island, WA, on 29 April 2011 on its final flight to be preserved just outside the base, which will allow the aircraft to be viewed by the general public. Whidbey Island has a historical connection to the A-3 as this was the first jet to be based there, and it was also the first station to receive them. This aircraft has low hours at only 5500 as when it operated with the Navy it was assigned to Point Mugu as a test airframe (Snoopy) and was never trapped on a carrier.
Although this aircraft was based at Van Nuys, CA, it flew from Point Mugu for a Functional Check Flight as the runway there is longer and it also allowed them to uplift more fuel for this final flight.
The A-3 Skywarrior Memorial Foundation was instrumental in securing this aircraft via the National Museum of Naval Aviation (Pensacola) and the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) as this aircraft - like its fellow Raytheon operated brethren - is still actually owned by the Navy and operated under a bailout agreement.
At 13:34 local time the Whale performed a close-in pass over the gathered guests and on-looking Navy personnel before returning for a run-and-break on far runway 14 at NAS Whidbey Island, deploying its brake parachute on landing. The old girl was also treated to the traditional water arch from fire tenders before taxying and shutting down for the final time in front of the crowd.
After the pilots alighted there was a moment of standoff while the seasoned A-3 veterans looked on before they were motioned by the crew to approach the aircraft and take a look. Nobody needed a second invitation and it was off to the races as ex-aircrew and ground-crew pawed over their old flame and inundated the ferry crew with stories and questions.
At the controls for this final flight had been Ron Woltman and Greg Bass. Ron has been flying A-3s for a very long time, starting with the Navy in 1971 and only had a one-year break between flying them in the military and their subsequent civilian guise to the present date. Greg is an ex-Marine F/A-18 pilot.
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