Northrop-Grumman's Chris Solter, left, talks to Navy pilots at Republic...

Northrop-Grumman's Chris Solter, left, talks to Navy pilots at Republic Airport who flew in the EA-18G Growler, Thursday. (June 10, 2010) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

The sleek gray airplane shimmered in the distance well before appearing over the treetops at Republic Airport Thursday, carrying a crew of two and the future of Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Long Island operations with it.

At noon precisely, the gray Navy EA-18G Growler touched down at the East Farmingdale airport. Its pilot, Navy Cmdr. Scott Bunnay, and the electronic warfare officer, Capt. Christopher Shay, hopped onto the tarmac.

"It handles like a sports car," said Bunnay. The plane was flown from the Midwest to Republic so Northrop Grumman employees at the company's nearby Bethpage facility could get a look at it.

The EA-18G represents much of the future for the Navy and the company. The Growler is an electronic-jamming aircraft, capable of shutting down hostile radar and communications systems.

Modern warfare is almost totally reliant on high-technology systems. The Navy hopes to build as many as 114 EA-18G airplanes in the next few years; 29 EA-18Gs have been delivered to the Navy so far. Northrop Grumman's Bethpage facility designs the Growler's improved capability system, known as ICAP III. The plane is to replace the Navy's EA-6B Prowler, which the former Grumman built in the 1970s.

The Growler program could help add to Northrop Grumman's 2,000-member workforce, the company has said. Bunnay said Navy pilots are still learning about the new plane.

"We've barely scratched the surface of the aircraft's" capabilities, he said. Northrop Grumman spokesman John Vosilla said the two Navy fliers would be taken to Bethpage where they will brief employees on the plane's performance, while being served fresh pizza.

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