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The Grumman KA-6D Tanker Fact Sheet

The KA-6D was a tanker version developed from the A-6 Intruder by means of converting an existing Intruder airframe.

VA-95 Green Lizard KA-6D taxing out on cat 4 USS Enterprise 1989
VA-95 Green Lizard KA-6D taxing out on cat 4 USS Enterprise 1989

Grumman had tried out a buddy midair refueling pod underneath a conventional A-6A (BuNo 147865). In addition, Grumman also fitted an internal refueling package into BuNo 149937. These tanker projects did not go any further due to the lack of perception for a tanker Intruder.

In 1968 the Navy changed its mind and gave Grumman the authority to proceed with a tanker version, which was designated the KA-6D. The first KA-6D was built by modifying BuNo 151582. BuNo 151582 (KA-6D) flew its flight as a KA-6D tanker on April 16, 1970, crewed by Chuck Sewell and D. R. Cooke.

The KA-6D was fitted with an internal hose-and-reel refueling package, with the drogue fairing protruding from underneath the rear fuselage. It could also carry a D-704 refueling pod or buddy store on the fuselage centerline. The D-704 acts as a backup to the internal refueling system, and provides its own power via a ram air turbine mounted on the front.

The radar and most of the DIANE equipment was removed, but the KA-6D still retained a visual bombing capability (which was seldom exercised). There were only minimal controls provided for the second crew member, whose duties were now navigation and the monitoring of the refueling operation.

A total of 90 KA-6Ds were produced by modifying existing Intruder airframes. Although all of the planes used airframes that were originally built as A-6As, 12 of them had previously been upgraded to A-6E standards. When rebuilt from A-6As, the KA-6Ds received all new fuel tanks, with two fuselage bulkheads being replaced. There was extensive rework of the outer wing panels. The aircraft was completely rewired. The Omega global inertial navigation system was fitted, with the entire suite being controlled by an ASN-41 navigational computer.

For typical missions, the KA-6D caries four fuel tanks on the wing pylons. The buddy store is sometimes carried as a backup to the primary hose-drum unit, or as a means of ferrying the pod to other units.

The first deployable Intruder squadron to receive the KA-6D was VA-176, which received its first tankers on September 25, 1970. Each deployed Intruder squadron typically had 4 KA-6Ds assigned to it for the tanker mission. When the Intruder squadron was outfitted as a "heavy" outfit, an extra KA-6D and two A-6E's was added to the inventory. This gave a A-6 squadron 12 (10) bombers and 6 (5) tankers for a total of 18 aircraft. On 1988 WesPAC, VA-95 deployed as a "heavy" Intruder outfit.

VA95 Green Lizard KA-6D Tanker refueling a VAQ-133 Wizard EA=6B Prowler
VA95 Green Lizard KA-6D Tanker refueling a VAQ-133 Wizard EA-6B Prowler

There was always the ever-present danger that the refueling hose could become stuck in the deployed position after a refueling operation and could not be reeled in. While the refueling hose is deployed, the carrier arrester hook could not be extended and it would be impossible to land on a carrier. The unfortunate aircraft would have to find a land base very quickly or the crew would have to eject. In order to prevent this from happening, there was an emergency explosive cutter which severed the hose and allowed it to drop into the sea.

Lizard KA-6D Tanker refuleing a Lizard Bomber up Close
Lizard KA-6D Tanker refueling a Lizard A-6E Bomber up Close (pic curtesy of Jerry Punkiewics Collection)