First USAF Airman pilots Navy Growler in combat

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Jonathan Wright became the first Airman to pilot a U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler during a combat mission Nov. 19, 2018, here.

Wright is assigned to the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and attached to the U.S. Navy’s Electronic Attack Squadron 135 “Black Ravens” (VAQ-135). The “Black Ravens” are comprised almost entirely of Sailors from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.

During Wright’s flight, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Steve Shauberger, VAQ-135 commander, served as the electronic warfare officer from the aircraft’s back seat.

“It’s a milestone, the fact that he’s the first Air Force pilot to fly a combat sortie in a Growler,” said Shauberger. “He’s the first pilot we’ve had straight out of undergraduate flight training to do it as well. Hopefully because of these successes we can build up resident knowledge to enhance the Air Force while making the U.S. Navy more diversified.”

It was also Wright’s second flight while stationed at Al Udeid.

“It was a mix of excitement and a little anxiety, said Wright. “It was the first time for me going into country. I was getting to do what I’ve always wanted to do, flying in combat in a fighter jet. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 10 years old. Years of training had led to this moment of doing the real thing.”

Wright is one of three Air Force officers attached to VAQ-135 and the only Airman who pilots an EA-18G in the squadron.

While Wright said learning to operate in a joint environment was difficult at first, he’s embraced the opportunity to learn the electronic attack mission side by side with his U.S. Navy counterparts.

“It was a challenge adapting to how the Navy does things versus the way it was ingrained to me at Shepard Air Force Base [during training],” said Wright. “It isn’t a challenge anymore and I fit right in. Having an Air Force pilot and a Navy electronic warfare officer in the same jet is a great picture of what joint is. Same team, same fight, different assets. When we put them together, it’s effective.”

Becoming the first Air Force Airman to pilot a Growler in a combat role might be considered a milestone, but Shauberger said what Wright gets out of his experience in a joint environment will prove most rewarding.

“We integrate with the Air Force by going to Red Flag and other exercises,” said Shauberger. “It will be easier for that integration to happen in the future once 1st Lt. Wright returns to a regular Air Force squadron and can educate them on Growler capabilities.  He can lay the ground work in advance and provide the, ‘hey these guys can give us this … we can leverage that,’ instead of trying to start from scratch. It’s getting that experience and expertise to take back to the Air Force.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Allen Ferkovich, 390th ECS attached to VAQ-135, said that one intention of assigning 390th ECS Airmen like Wright to units such as VAQ-135 is to bring an Airman's perspective to expeditionary operations.

"This joint collaboration increases mission effectiveness and facilitates 390th ECS Airmen to learn offensive airborne electronic attack and SEAD,” said Ferkovich. “We then bring that expertise back to the Air Force on follow-on assignments."

VAQ-135 is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.