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Sun, May 10, 2009

Rota's Last 'Skywarrior' Hitches Ride on USS Wasp

Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota's last EA-3B (A-3) "Skywarrior" departed southern Spain with the help of the crew of multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) May 5. Rota Sailors, Airmen and Spanish military members worked with Wasp personnel in transporting the "whale" across the Atlantic Ocean as the ship returns to its homeport in Norfolk, Va.

"I spoke with several people on Wasp," said Brennan. "They told me they would be happy to help, and that this would be a great evolution for them." The "whale" earned its nickname because at one time it was the heaviest type aircraft on board a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. For more than 16 years this particular "Rota Whale" sat on the lawn of the Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) as a memorial to the men who flew these aircrafts and played an important role during the Cold War. The Skywarrior was retired in 1991.

"The A-3 was the first jet aircraft to land at NAVSTA Rota back in 1958 and it flew there for more than 30 years," said retired Cmdr. Tom Brennan, A-3 association representative and project manager for the Rota A-3 move. "This is the last A-3 to leave Rota and these airplanes got me back home, so I'd like to return the favor and help this one get back home to the States too."

The A-3 was moved form the BOQ in 2008 and sat in a hangar at Rota waiting for a ride to its final destination at the Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Ala. The park is located along Mobile Bay, and is home to a collection of notable aircraft and museum ships including the South Dakota-class battleship USS Alabama and Gato-class submarine USS Drum.

"It was a lot of work," said Brennan a former A-3 co-pilot. "We spent a lot of time cleaning up the aircraft. We had to fold down the wings and the tail. We also replaced the tires, and for the first time in 16 years the aircraft sat on its own wheels."

The whale was originally designed for the Navy as a bomber, which explains its large size. Due to financial limitations, hiring a large crane to lift the aircraft onto a normal cargo ship was not feasible. When Brennan heard that Wasp was making a port visit to Rota, he got in contact with the ship to see if they could help.

"If the Wasp hadn't come along, we were not sure when the right opportunity would come up again," said Brennan. "When they were raising the aircraft with the crane, I had butterflies in my stomach. But when it finally sat down on the elevator, I knew it was done and in the hands of flight deck professionals and I could finally relax."

Wasp is expected to offload the aircraft onto a barge when it arrives in Norfolk. From there, the barge will carry the "whale" to its new home in Alabama. [ANN Salutes Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Ebalo, Naval Station Rota Public Affairs Office, and Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Edward Kobobel, USS Wasp Public Affairs]



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