USS JOHN C. STENNIS, At Sea -- The flight deck shakes, an arresting wire is caught and twin turbojet engines roar as an EA-6B Prowler from the "Wizards" of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 133 lands on the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during its current deployment in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
It is the end of an era for the Prowler, an aircraft that has been in use by the military since July 1971. After completing its final deployment as a Prowler squadron, VAQ-133 will transition to the EA-18G Growler and join Carrier Air Wing 8 aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).
"It's a huge technical leap for us," said Cmdr. Michael Bisbee, executive officer of VAQ-133. "The aircraft offers us better situational awareness in electronic warfare."
Bisbee will also take the reins as commanding officer of VAQ-133 by the time they finish the transition. "I'm really excited," said Bisbee. "We're going to be learning an entirely new system."
A big change will be transitioning from a crew of four to a crew of two. Growlers will have one pilot and just one electronic countermeasures officer instead of three.
Based on the F/A-18F Super Hornet platform, the Growler is developed by the Boeing Company and began integration into the Navy in August 2009 with VAQ-129. Since then, six more squadrons have transitioned to the Growler.
VAQ-133's transition was originally scheduled for January 2014, but due to schedule changes and mission requirements the squadron will start the transition process immediately following deployment.
In order to prepare for the transition, some squadron Sailors will be sent to rate-specific schools to learn how to operate and maintain the new aircraft, while others have already attended Growler school. Aviation Machinist's Mate Airman Tony Svezzese, of Bel Air, Md., joined the squadron in November, having just completed Growler "C" School.
"When I arrived at C school, I already had my orders to VAQ-133 and the instructors told me 133 was still flying Prowlers, so I'm learning this [Prowler] aircraft too," said Svezzese.
Now that the transition is being moved up, Svezzese will have a chance to train his fellow Sailors when the squadron returns to Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island in Washington, where all Navy Electronic Attack squadrons are stationed.
To help Sailors plan for their future after the transition, VAQ-133's career counselors, chiefs and mentors are conducting special career development boards (CDB).
"There is some uncertainty with which Sailors will be staying with the squadron for the transition, and the CDBs are helping us make those decisions," said Bisbee.
While the Prowler is the last aircraft in service made by Northrop Grumman, the company will still provide the electronic warfare capability in the jamming pods that are attached underneath the wings of the Growler.
Lt. Roy Walker, from Greenburg, Penn., a pilot from VAQ-133, said he is looking forward to the transition, but added that it will be bittersweet.
"I knew eventually I would transition to Growlers, but not that soon," said Walker. "At the time [I was finishing flight school] I was excited, but now that I've gotten a chance to really learn the system, it's sad to leave it."
VAQ-133 will turn in two of the Prowler aircraft to NAS Whidbey Island and conduct final checks on the remaining aircraft when they return from deployment. As Sailors attend schools and officers start the qualification process, the fleet replacement squadron, VAQ-129, will be training with VAQ-133 until they are qualified on the new aircraft, which is expected by March 2014.
"It's a rarity for pilots today to change platforms, but this is exciting to have this experience in my career," said Walker.
The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, consisting of Stennis, Carrier Air Wing 9, Destroyer Squadron 21, and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility to strengthen regional partnerships, sustain maritime security, and support combatant commander requirements for assets in the area.