In 1986, the Naval Institute Press published Flight of the Intruder, the debut novel of Vietnam veteran Stephen Coonts. The book was an immediate hit. It held a place on the New York Times Bestsellers list for weeks on end, just as Tom Clancy’s debut thriller, The Hunt for Red October, had done a couple years earlier, in 1984. The true star of that novel (apologies to Jake Grafton, the leading human in the story) was the Grumman A-6 Intruder, an all-weather attack plane.
The Hunt for Red October was made into a film and it was a smash hit. So, it seemed only natural that the movie adaption of Flight of the Intruder was a sure thing, too. It hit theaters in January, 1991. It cost $30 million to make and grossed less than half of that at the box office, managing a paltry $14,587,732. Top Gun, it was not.
From that moment on, airmen had a new motto: “Fighter pilots make movies, attack pilots make… sh*tty movies.”
But it’s not right to assume that a sh*tty movie is the lasting legacy of the A-6. In fact, it’s downright unfair. The Intruder had a long, distinguished, and honorable career as an all-weather, carrier-based attack plane, that spanned 37 years. It took flight for the first time during the last year of the Eisenhower administration (1960) and coasted into retirement by 1997.
The A-6 Intruder was intended to replace a legend, the A-1 Skyraider — and it was equipped for the job.
The A-6 had a top speed of 644 miles per hour, a maximum range of 1,081 miles, and five hardpoints capable of carrying up to 18,000 pounds of bombs. The Intruder, at various times, also packed laser-guided bombs, like the GBU-12 and GBU-10, AGM-45 Shrike anti-radar missiles, AGM-78 Standard ARM anti-radar missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
However, by the time Flight of the Intruder hit theaters, the A-6 was on its way out the door. The A-12 Avenger had been cancelled by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, but not before he had also axed the A-6F and A-6G, improved versions of the Intruder. The plane was retired in 1997 and replaced by the F/A-18 Hornet.
Learn more about this all-weather attack plane that went on to bomb at the box office in the video below.