More than 40 years ago, Jack Metrock took his last ride in an EA-6A Intruder as he headed back from Vietnam.
The 69-year-old retired Marine got another flight, of sorts, last week when he took a ride in an EA-6B Prowler simulator at his old home base at Cherry Point.
Metrock was an electronic countermeasures officer with Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron 1 and had been trained at Cherry Point at VMCJ-2. His training then and the training today’s pilots receive is worlds apart, he said.
“There is just no comparison,” Metrock said after piloting a simulator flight from Cherry Point. “We didn’t have any simulators. We had just a stock A-6 cockpit, and we just learned the switches. This is something.”
Metrock said technicians would remove units from the cockpit and teach pilots the operations.
“They would take the boxes out and put them on a workbench and teach you how to use it,” he said.
Part of the job of an ECMO was to detect and identify the unique sound of a particular type of radar.
“We used our ears,” Metrock said. “We listened to the spectrum. You had to pass a test to where you could identify them.”
While today’s simulators create the various radar signatures for the ECMO, in the 1960s Metrock’s training included listening for the real thing.
“We actually had to take an airplane and fly it down to Cuba and get Fidel (Castro) to fire up his radar to see what we were going to experience in Southeast Asia,” he said. “He had the same radars and missile systems that we would be facing in Vietnam. We had to get close enough to push the subject so the subject would fire his radars up and play with us.”
The EA-6A had a pilot and an ECMO, but the EA-6B has a pilot and three ECMOs.
Metrock had a chance to sit in the back seat where the 3 and 4 positions are in the EA-6B training simulator but wasn’t able to see the unit turned on because it is classified.
“I wish I could see what the ECMOs are seeing but I understand,” he said.
He was able to “fly” the EA-6B in the simulator though, taking off from Cherry Point, heading out over the Atlantic and experiencing conditions of a thunderstorm. He then returned to the base and was able to land the jet on his third approach.
“I was impressed. I was blown away by the actual realness of the event,” he said. “I tell you what: This would have made life a whole lot easier.”
Ricky Johnson, a former EA-6B pilot who is now a CUBIC Corporation contractor who instructs Marine pilots on the EA-6B, said the simulator can create the environment for airfields around the world.
“You name it, we can take them there,” Johnson said.
He said any type of emergency can be created in the simulator, with the pilots and ECMOs benefitting from the pressure they receive in training.
“They come out sweating like you wouldn’t believe. It’s just like the real thing,” Johnson said.
All of it impressed Metrock.
“This is like Star Trek to me,” he said. “It’s state-of-the-art.”
Metrock is a member of the Marine Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Association, an organization of active-duty and retired Marines from the electronic warfare community.
“We’re looking for new members,” he said. “One of our missions is to support Marine Corps electronic warfare.”
For more information on the Marine Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Association, go online to the organization website at www.mcara.us.