Three distinct Navy squadrons have called themselves ‘Sundowners’. The U.S. Navy frequently has given the same designation to two or more aviation units, leading to lasting confusion. Officially, the U.S. Navy does not recognize a direct lineage with disestablished squadrons if a new squadron is formed with the same designation. However, historical tradition within the Naval Aviation community is such that a new squadron will assume the nickname, insignia, and traditions of the earlier squadron(s) with its designation.
Originally established as Fighter Squadron 11 (VF-11) on 10th October 1942, it was re-designated as VF-11A on 15th November 1946, re-designated as VF-111 on 15th July 1948 and disestablished on 19th January 1959.
Fighter Squadron 111 (VF-111), also known as the Sundowners, was a fighter squadron of the United States Navy. Originally established as Attack Squadron 156 (VA-156) on 4th June 1956, it was re-designated VF-111 on 20th January 1959, the day after the original VF-111 was disestablished. The squadron was re-designated VF-26 on 1st September 1964, re-designated as VF-111 on 17th September 1964 and disestablished on 31st March 1995.
VF-11 was established at NAS North Island California on 10th October 1942 equipped with F4F Wildcats, and on 23rd October was on its way to Hawaii. To epitomize its spirit and tactical superiority over the Japanese, the squadron decided it would be called the ‘Sundowners’ and its insignia depicts two Wildcats shooting down a Rising Sun.
From April to July 1943 VF-11 downed 55 enemy aircraft in aerial combat at Guadalcanal. After return to the U.S. and re-equipping with F6F Hellcats, VF-11 deployed on USS Hornet in October 1944. From then until February 1945 the squadron engaged in strike and air-to-air combat missions resulting in the shoot down of 102 enemy aircraft with dozens more destroyed on the ground. As a direct result of its combat record, the squadron was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
VF-11A equipped with F8F Bearcats was assigned to Carrier Air Group 11 (CVG-11) aboard the USS Valley Forge for her world cruise from 9th October 1947 to 11 June 1948.
On 9th November 1950, early in the Korean War, Lieutenant Commander William T. Amen scored the first combat jet-on-jet kill in aviation history, downing a Soviet MiG-15 while flying a F9F Panther from the USS Philippine Sea. Two more Korean cruises were made in USS Valley Forge in 1951-52, then USS Boxer and USS Lake Champlain in 1953.
After Korea, VF-111 flew the F9F-8 Cougar and the FJ-3 Fury for three deployments to the Western Pacific aboard the carriers USS Lexington, USS Wasp, and USS Bennington.
VF-111 was disestablished on 19th January 1959. On 20th January 1959, Attack Squadron 156 (VA-156) was re-designated as VF-111, thus continuing the Sundowner tradition, but not the unit lineage.
VA-156, originally known as the Iron Tigers, was established on 4th June 1956 and flew the F11F-1 Tiger. VA-156 was assigned to CVW-11 and made a single deployment aboard USS Shangri-La to the Western Pacific
In 1961 the Sundowners’ traditional mascot, “Omar,” was conceived by squadron enlisted men to mark the transition to the supersonic F-8D Crusader. The triangular stick figure appeared on VF-111 aircraft and squadron spaces. During the 1960s, VF-111 flew four different versions of the Crusader (F-8C/D/E/H).
During the Vietnam War the Sundowners were based at NAS Miramar, California with the squadron (including detachments) making ten deployments to Southeast Asia, flying 12,500 combat sorties.
From 17 October 1963 to 20 July 1964, VF-111 equipped with F-8Ds was deployed on USS Kitty Hawk. From 6 March to 20 November 1965, VF-111 was deployed on USS Midway. On 5 May F-8D #148637 was hit by antiaircraft fire over North Vietnam and crashed into the sea, the pilot CDR James LaHaye was killed in action, and his body was not recovered. On 27 May F-8D #148706 was shot down near Vinh, the pilot CDR Doyle Lynn was killed in action, and his body too was not recovered. On 12 August F-8D #147911 was lost, the pilot LTJG Gene Gollahon was killed, and his remains were returned in March 1974. On 3 November, F-8D #148635 was shot down, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued.
From 26 May to 16 November 1966, VF-111 equipped with F-8Es was deployed on USS Oriskany. On 6 April F-8E #150296 was lost, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued. On 11 August F-8E #150880 was lost due to hydraulic failure, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued. On 13 August F-8E #150866 was hit by antiaircraft fire, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued. On 23 August F-8E #150907 was lost due to engine failure, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued. On 5 September F-8E #150896 was hit by anti aircraft fire, the pilot CAPT Wilfred Keese ejected successfully, was captured and released on 4 March 1973.
From 11 May to 30 December 1967, VF-111 Detachment 11, Omar’s Orphans, equipped with F-8Cs was deployed on USS Intrepid. Nominally an anti-submarine carrier in the Atlantic Fleet, USS Intrepid made three deployments with CVW-10 to Vietnam as an attack carrier. On 12 August F-8C #146993 was shot down, the pilot was rescued from the sea. On 19 September, Lieutenant Tony Nargi shot down a Vietnam People’s Air Force (VPAF) MiG-21 with an AIM-9 Sidewinder.] On 26 October 3 members of the squadron were killed in the USS Oriskany fire.
From 16 June 1967 to 31 January 1968, VF-111 equipped with F-8Cs was deployed on USS Oriskany. On 31 July F-8C #146993 was hit by a SAM-2, the pilot LT Charles Zuhoski ejected successfully, was captured and released on 14 March 1973. On 8 September F-8C #146929 was lost due to electrical failure, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued. On 5 October F-8C #146138 was shot down, the pilot ENS David Matheny ejected successfully, was captured and released on 16 February 1968. On 5 December F-8C #146907 was shot down, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued. On 2 January 1968 F-8C #146989 was shot down near Vinh, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued.
From 4th June 1968 to 8th February 1969, VF-111 Detachment 11 was deployed on USS Intrepid. From 1st February to 18th September 1969, VF-111 equipped with F-8Hs was deployed on USS Ticonderoga. On 6th July F-8H #148636 was lost due to engine failure, the pilot ejected successfully and was rescued.
From 5 March to 17 December 1970, VF-111 was deployed on USS Shangri-La. VF-11 had the highest combat loss rate of the F-8 fighter units deployed to Vietnam : 103 !
From 12 November 1971 to 17 July 1972, VF-111 equipped with F-4Bs was deployed on USS Coral Sea. On 6 March 1972, LT Garry Weigand and LTJG Bill Freckleton engaged and shot down a VPAF MiG-17 near Quang Lang Airfield in North Vietnam. Their aircraft, F-4B, NL 201, BuNo 153019, was restored to the original paint scheme by the current Sundowner squadron and is displayed on a pedestal just inside the main gate at NAS Key West, Florida.
From 9 March to 8 November 1973, VF-111 was deployed on USS Coral Sea.
In 1971, VF-111 joined CVW-15 and transitioned to the F-4B Phantom II. The squadron later transitioned to the F-4N version of the Phantom, but was scheduled to turn these in for the F-4J. In 1975 both VF-51 and VF-111 received six F-4Js but, due to operational considerations regarding their next deployment, the two units reverted to the “N” model.
In late 1976 through early 1977, VF-111 made an Atlantic and Mediterranean deployment, a rare event for a Pacific Fleet squadron, with CVW-19 aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt for that carrier’s final cruise. The squadron returned to NAS Miramar in April 1977 and began transition to the F-14A Tomcat.
By October 1978, VF-111 had fully transitioned to the Block 100 model F-14A. VF-111 subsequently deployed with CVW-15 aboard USS Kitty Hawk from May 1979 to February 1980, a deployment which was extended from its originally planned end date in early December 1979 due to the November 1979 seizure of the American Embassy in Teheran, Iran. During this period, the squadron operated from the USS Kitty Hawk in the Indian Ocean south of the Iranian coast until relieved by USS Nimitz and the squadrons of CVW-8.
In addition to its “extended” deployment during the first two months of 1980, VF-111 deployed a final time on USS Kitty Hawk from April to October 1981. In October 1983, VF-111 returned to its home station of NAS Miramar following a world cruise with CVW-15 on the maiden deployment of USS Carl Vinson.
In the spring of 1986 VF-111 began another work-up cycle, completing a series of training evolution and exercises in preparation for their June 1988 Pacific/Indian Ocean deployment. VF-111’s seventeen month work-up was capped by FLEETEX 88-2, the first time since World War II that a carrier, USS Carl Vinson and a battleship, the USS New Jersey operated as a combined Battle Fleet.
VF-111’s 1988 deployment began in June and ended in December. It included operations in the Northern/Western Pacific, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean, providing support of tanker escorts in the Persian Gulf and included a transit of the Bering Sea, the fourth such transit in four deployments.
In preparation for deployment in 1990, VF-111 deployed aboard USS Carl Vinson from September to November 1989 as participants in PACEX 89. This exercise had the Sundowners operating in the Bering Sea, the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan as a part of the largest naval exercise since World War II.
The Sundowners next deployed from February to July 1990. VF-111 received the 1990 Boola Boola award for success in exercise missile firings, as well as the 1990 Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) derby, awarded to the best tactical air reconnaissance squadron on the West Coast.
On 15 October 1991, VF-111 returned to USS Kitty Hawk for her two-month cruise from NAS Norfolk, Virginia “around the horn” of South America to NAS North Island, California following the carrier’s comprehensive, multi-year Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Multi-national exercises with Venezuela, Argentina and Chile were conducted in various air-to-air and strike scenarios. The Sundowners returned to NAS Miramar in December 1991.
In 1993, VF-111 deployed to the Pacific, Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf and flew in support of Operation Restore Hope and Operation Southern Watch. In 1994 VF-111 deployed again to the Pacific. Following this deployment, the squadron was disestablished on 31 March 1995 as part of post-Cold War force reductions of the Navy’s F-14 community, with its aircraft reassigned to other F-14 squadrons.
In November 2006, Fighter Composite Squadron 13 (VFC-13) Detachment Key West was established as Fighter Composite Squadron 111 (VFC-111), thus continuing the Sundowner tradition, but not the unit lineage.
In 1985, VF-111 was one of several NAS Miramar based squadrons to participate in the filming of the film Top Gun. Some VF-111 and VF-51 aircraft were repainted in fictitious squadron markings for the film. To be able to film the sequences, the F-14s were fitted with cameras mounted in pods attached to the underbelly Phoenix pallets and the under wing pylons, as well as using ground mounted cameras. Also, one of the fictional RIOs in the film, played by Clarence Gilyard, uses the call sign “Sundown” and wears a VF-111 styled helmet and squadron patch on his flight suit.
Latest Hobbymaster Release HA5213 Grumman F-14A Tomcat “Miss Molly” VF-111 “Sundowners”, USS Carl Vinson 1989
The latest Hobbymaster Tomcat release is available to pre-order now. Not too many coming into the U.K. Be quick with this one!
Hobbymaster latest photos added to website.
I have updated the website with the latest photos on the following models. Please click on each image or link to go straight to the model of your choice all of which are available to pre-order now.
New Hobbymaster Announcements available to Pre-order
I have just added the latest aircraft models available to Pre-order. Please click on the images or links below and it will take you straight to the model of your choice, or, CLICK HERE to see them all.
That’s all for this week. The next delivery of Hobbymaster will be w/e 12th August and will include among others the long awaited release of HA5301 MiG 23 Flogger !
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