The “Tic”

As the magnificent Grumman A-6A Intruder was accepted for service with the Navy and Marine Corps as the premiere all-weather/night attack aircraft, the Navy began to prepare to transition aviators from older platforms to this state of the art jet.

The first squadron to be equipped with any new type aircraft is always the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). For historical reasons, the FRS is commonly referred to as the RAG, from the old World War II era “Replacement Air Groups”* The FRS is the “schoolhouse” for any given type of aircraft, responsible for transitioning squadrons from older aircraft into the new type, training maintainers, and eventually ensuring a steady stream of trained aircrew to fleet squadrons.  Aviators graduate from flight school knowing how to fly. The FRS teaches them how to fight.  Attack Squadron 42 (VA-42) (.pdf) was the first of eventually three FRS Intruder squadrons.

While the Navy had long operated multi-place tactical aircraft, the highly complex nature of the Intruder meant its two man crew shared far more of the workload than in previous aircraft. The Bombardier/Navigator (B/N) wasn’t just nice to have, but the very key to exploiting the heart of the Intruder, the Digital Attack Navigation Equipment (DIANE), the complex of radars and computers that gave the Intruder its all weather capability. At about this time, non-pilot flying officers were just transitioning from the designation as Naval Aviation Observers to Naval Flight Officers (NFO).  No longer second-class citizens in the Naval Aviation hierarchy, NFOs would be equal partners, eventually becoming eligible for squadron command, carrier command, higher rank.**

Training a Naval Aviator to fly the A-6 posed no new challenges. An instructor pilot could simply occupy the B/N’s seat, and offer instruction. But training an NFO in the A-6 was a little harder. Instructor pilots were poorly suited to training B/N’s on DIANE, and in any event, were a little too busy flying the plane to offer meaningful instruction. And Instructor B/N’s weren’t pilots, so they couldn’t fly the plane.  And until student B/N’s had achieved a certain basic proficiency with the complex navigation and attack systems, it was unwise to pair them with a student A-6 pilot to begin actual crew training.

So the training of student B/N’s became something of a chokepoint in the FRS pipeline. What was needed was a way to provide them with hands-on training on the actual equipment, under the instruction of a competent B/N instructor, while airborne, but without having to put them up in an Intruder.

At the same time, Grumman had just started producing one of the very first purpose built “executive transports,” the Gulfstream. The Gulfstream was a twin-turboprop powered low wing transport that could offer luxury seating for 8 or a commuter passenger layout for up to 28. 

Grumman and the Navy grafted the nose of an A-6 onto the Gulfstream, and added additional Bombardier/Navigator instrument panels in the back, and the TC-4C Academe was born.

Right click to greatly embiggenfy.

The first of an eventual total of nine TC-4C aircraft was delivered in January 1968 to VA-42. The great B/N bottleneck was no more. And while the TC-4C was officially name Academe, it was almost always referred to as the “Tic.”

With the exception of one tragic accident that killed 12, the Tic had a good reputation as easy to fly and maintain, and a highly effective training tool for the Intruder community. Each of the three Intruder FRS, VA-42 for East Coast Navy squadrons, VA-128 for West Coast Navy squadrons, and VMAT-202 for Marine Intruder squadrons, would operate three TC-4C.

As the Intruder was modified and developed from the A-6A to the A-6E TRAM, the Tics were modified to match the capabilities of the Intruder. The Tic remained in service until 1995, when the retirement of the A-6 rendered it surplus.

The Gulfstream family, of course, would go on to become the jet-powered, swept wing business jet of the rich and famous, and just about the ultimate status symbol.


*Similarly, the commander of a Carrier Air Wing (CVW) is still popularly called the “CAG” from “Carrier Air Group.”

**Which makes sense. If the next Nimitz or King is denied a worthwhile career just because he doesn’t have 20/20 vision, the Navy is just shooting itself in the foot. And in a lot of communities, such as the E-2 and EA-6B, arguably, the pilot is just there to drive the bus, while the NFOs in back get on with the real work.