Gardner Native Helps Keep Advanced Aircraft Flying.


Gardner native helps keep one of the Navy’s newest, most advanced aircraft flying

by Chief Petty Officer Bill Steele, Navy Office of Community Outreach

(WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash.) – A 2002 Gardner High School graduate and Gardner, Kansas native is serving with a U.S. Navy electronic attack squadron that flies one of the Navy’s newest and most technologically-advanced aircraft, the EA-18G Growler.

Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Nichols is an aviation structural mechanic with the famous “Black Ravens” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 135, one of 14 Navy electronic attack squadrons based in Whidbey Island, Washington.

As an aviation structural mechanic, Nichols is responsible for the hydraulics, flight controls, landing gear and other structural systems on the EA-18G.

“Working on the hydraulics is the most interesting part of the job for me but I’m also interested in how this jet evades radar detection,” said Nichols. “The advances in the low observable material is pretty amazing.”

Taking off from and landing on Navy aircraft carriers, as well as supporting expeditionary land-based operations around the world, Growler crew members engage in electronic warfare, one of the most important components of modern air combat, according to Navy sources.

The EA-18G Growler is the fourth major variant of the F/A-18 family of aircraft that combines the proven F/A-18F Super Hornet platform with a sophisticated electronic warfare suite, complete with advanced receivers, jamming pods and satellite communications. The electronic warfare mission involves jamming enemy radar and communications systems to render air defenses ineffective.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 3, 2014) An E/A-18G Growler from the Shadowhawks of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 prepares to make an arrested landing on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chris Cavagnaro/Released)

“This squadron is a good, tight community here,” said Nichols. “I’m having fun. The best part is the deployments we get to go on are awesome—we don’t go on ships, we fly to our deployments.”

As a member of one of the Navy’s squadrons with the newest aircraft platforms, Nichols and other VAQ-135 sailors are proud to be part of a war fighting team that readily defends America at all times.

“We’re in the war fighting business, and we’re here to win,” said Capt. Tabb Stringer, Commodore of Commander, Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “We operate the most advanced and capable electronic attack aircraft in the world and our sailors are the most highly trained, innovative, and critical thinking teammates I have ever worked with.”

Sailors’ jobs are highly varied at VAQ-135, according to Navy officials. Approximately 65 officers, 400 enlisted men and women, and 110 civilian contractors make up and keep all parts of the squadron running smoothly — this includes everything from maintaining airframes and engines, to processing paperwork, handling weaponry, and flying the aircraft.

Serving in the Navy, Nichols is learning about being a more responsible leader, sailor and citizen through handling numerous responsibilities.

“Coming to work every day and knowing that you are making a difference is what this is all about,” Nichols added.