The Navy has launched an investigation into the jet that sky-painted a giant penis over western Washington on Thursday.
“The actions of this air crew were wholly unacceptable. These actions were irresponsible, inexcusable, immature and antithetical to the core values of naval aviation and the Navy,” said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, spokesman of the North Island-based Naval Air Forces.
Authorities have not named the crew of the EA-18G Growler crafting the phallic contrails, but Flanders indicated that the pilot was a lieutenant assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 130, the “Zappers” out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.
Although the two-seater aircraft often includes a naval flight officer tasked with suppressing enemy radar and communications, the Navy has not said whether two sailors were involved in the incident or just the pilot, who has been grounded.
The Navy’s “Air Boss,” Vice Adm. Mike “Shoe” Shoemaker in Coronado, and Adm. John Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon, have been briefed on the controversy, Flanders said.
Flanders apologized “to anyone who was offended by this” and said any aviators or ground crew found to have engaged in wrongdoing by investigators will be held accountable.
“The American people rightfully expect that those who wear the Wings of Gold exhibit a level of maturity commensurate with the missions and aircraft with which they’ve been entrusted,” said Shoemaker in a message sent out by Naval Air Forces on social media. “Sophomoric and immature antics of a sexual nature have no place in Naval aviation today. We will investigate this incident to get all the facts and act accordingly. This event clearly stands in stark contrast to the way our aviators and sailors are performing with utmost professionalism, discipline and excellence from our carrier flight decks and expeditionary airfields around the world today.”
VAQ-130 returned to Whidbey Island in December, following a seven-month tour aboard the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower that included air operations over Iraq.
Typically, the Navy will convene a special board to determine the fates of aviators involved in aerial tomfoolery.
A Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board — pronounced “fee-nab” in the Navy — is an administrative panel designed to evaluate the performance, motivation and future potential for uniformed aviators. Often convened at the wing level, these boards can end the careers of naval pilots and flight officers.
Neither the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Electronic Attack Wing at Whidbey Island nor Carrier Air Wing 3 in Virginia has announced the convening of a board, however, and the decisions often are secret.
The latest incident recalls the massive phallus discovered in early 2014 painted on a trailer at the Blue Angels winter training grounds at Naval Air Facility El Centro. The image was so large, it could be photographed by satellites in space.
Capt. Gregory “Stiffy” McWherter, who commanded the Navy’s aerial acrobatic team in two tours between 2008 and 2012, was fired as the executive officer of Naval Base Coronado and later received a punitive letter of reprimand that ended his career.
Investigators found that the Blue Angels during McWherter’s second tour beginning in 2011 operated more like a boozy frat house than an elite jet squadron, saying they “openly engaged in sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior.”
That included peppering their jokes with homophobia, papering their cockpits with pornography and hazing junior enlisted sailors during the “cresting process” of their orientation to the team, according to a disciplinary report released in 2014.
While the misconduct began as “juvenile and sophomoric” high jinks, it degenerated into a “destructive, toxic and hostile” workplace, investigators found.