Whale on the move in Oak Harbor

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Neither wind, nor rain, nor narrow passageways can hold back a Skywarrior, especially an A-3 Skywarrior aircraft bound for display just outside the main gate of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Whale, as the jet is affectionately known, made its way down Ault Field Road to Langley Blvd. with the help of a NASWI staging crew and a tow tractor. A few hardy souls, base commander Capt. Mike Nortier among them, braved the cold, wet conditions to watch a little bit of history go by.

With its wings and tail folded, the aircraft was still a very wide, high load. The A-3 took a zig-zag route as it came down Ault Field road in order to negotiate the power poles on both sides. Most precarious, though, was making the turn from Ault Field onto Langley Blvd. Crews stopped and repositioned several times in order to clear the intersection, at times with mere inches to spare. (Kudos to the staging team and the driver of the tow tractor on what looked to be a hair-raising task.) It took approximately an hour just to clear that intersection.

“After six years, I’m ready for it to be done,” said Bill Burklow, one of the directors of the A-3 Skywarrior Whidbey Memorial Foundation.

Original plans called for the A-3 memorial to be built at the corner of Ault Field Road and Langley Blvd. However, just days after breaking ground at that location, crews discovered an underground fuel tank and all work came to a halt. The tank was removed and NAS Whidbey Island procured funding for a characterization study of the soil at the site. Results of that study were not what members of the Memorial Foundation wanted to hear.

“Because of the extent of the contamination at the old site, it’s going to take the Navy several years to clean it up,” Burklow said. “So, NAS Whidbey offered us a spot at Larkspur and Langley and we took it.”

The new memorial will be located down the Langley Blvd. hill and before the main gate, in the area where old base housing was torn down. The new location is not as visible, but is easy for the public to access.

The new site means there will be some modest changes to the memorial’s design.

“Everything has been re-done, but it’s very similar to the original monument,” said Burklow. The Memorial Foundation is hoping to have a ground-breaking ceremony very soon. When all the proper footings are in place, the aircraft will be moved into its permanent position.

“If all goes well, we will have it displayed very soon,” Burklow said.

The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior was designed as a strategic bomber for the U.S. Navy and is the longest-serving carrier-based aircraft in history, serving from the 1950s until its retirement in 1991. It is also the largest aircraft to serve on a carrier, earning it the nickname “The Whale.” The Whidbey Memorial will serve to honor those who flew, supported and maintained the A-3, as well as those who perished while serving aboard a Skywarrior. More information is available at www.a3skywarriorforwhidbey.org.

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