Strike Fighter Squadron 103 (VFA-103), nicknamed the Jolly Rogers is an aviation unit of the United States Navy established in 1952. VFA-103 flies the F/A-18F Super Hornet and is based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia (USA). The squadron’s radio call sign is Victory and it is assigned to Carrier Air Wing Seven.
The original VF-103 squadron insignia was a cloverleaf, and the aircraft tail fins had a horizontal yellow arrow outlined in black. Later a stylized aircraft darting through the leaf was added, along with a baseball bat. The baseball stemmed from an early skipper who often carried one with him. In 1991, VF-103’s aircraft used the squadron insignia for tail-art, in place of the bold arrow. When the Sluggers became the Jolly Rogers they adopted the famous white skull-and-crossbones. The Jolly Rogers have always displayed some of the most recognizable squadron markings in the world: sinister white skull-and-crossbones on all-black tails, with gold bands wrapped around the tip of the tail fins, and black bands with gold chevrons (known as vagabonds strips from the Crusader days of VF-84) run down the sides of the forward fuselage.
Three distinct U.S. Naval Aviation squadrons have used the name and insignia of the Jolly Roger: VF-61 (originally VF-17), VF-84, and VFA-103. While these are distinctly different squadrons that have no lineal linkage, they all share the same Jolly Roger name, the skull and crossbones insignia and traditions.
The first incarnation of the Jolly Rogers was established on 1 January 1943 at NAS Norfolk, as VF-17, flying the F4U Corsair. Inspired by the piratical theme of the aircraft’s name, VF-17’s commanding officer Tommy Blackburn selected the Jolly Roger as the squadron’s insignia.
VF-17 was re-designated as VF-5B in 1946, and as VF-61 in 1948.
While in existence, VF-61 flew the F6F-5 Hellcat, F4U-1 Corsair, F8F-2 Bearcat, F9F-2/4 Panther, F9F-8 Cougar, and F3H-2M Demon, and was disestablished on April 15, 1959.
The second squadron to be called Jolly Rogers was VF-84, activated on 1 July 1955. This squadron was initially known as the Vagabonds, but assumed the Jolly Rogers name on 1 April 1960. This squadron flew the FJ-3 Fury, F-8C Crusader, F-4B/J/N Phantom II, and F-14A Tomcat before deactivation on September 29, 1995.
After disestablishment of squadron VF-84, the Jolly Rogers name and insignia was adopted by VF-103, which later became VFA-103. There has been only one squadron designated VF-103.
VF-103 (the “Sluggers”) was activated on 1 May 1952 and equipped with the FG-1D Corsair. The squadron was assigned to Carrier Air Group 10 (CVG-10) and made a short cruise aboard USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39) in late 1952. Thereafter, VF-103 transitioned to the Grumman F9F-6 Cougar and adopted the nickname “Flying Cougars”. CVG-10 went aboard USS Randolph (CVA-15) for her shakedown cruise following her reactivation to the Caribbean between August and November 1953. The air group was then reassigned to the USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) and VF-103 was equipped with the F9F-8B. The carrier was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea between August 1956 and February 1957. This was the last time that VF-103 operated from a straight-deck carrier.
In 1957, VF-103 was one of the first squadrons to transition to the supersonic Vought F8U-1 Crusader, and was renamed “Sluggers”. Once the transition was completed they were teamed up with VF-102 on board USS Forrestal (CVA-59). Prior to the introduction of the Crusader jets, U.S. Navy carrier battle groups were often embarrassed by British bombers during allied exercises as the RAF English Electric Canberras had always been able to make mock attacks on U.S. carriers with impunity. At the time, the U.S. fighters simply could not put up much resistance. During the 1958 Mediterranean cruise, British pilots were surprised when VF-103 tore through their formation of Canberras before they even had a chance to start their simulated attack.
USS Forrestal and VF-103 were deployed to the Mediterranean Sea during the 1958 Lebanon crisis but the crisis had abated before the carrier reached its station. A regular deployment followed between September 1958 and March 1959. Future astronaut John W. Young was a squadron member during this cruise.
VF-103 was reequipped with the F8U-2 (F-8C after 1962) and reassigned to CVG-8, although still assigned to the Forrestal. Three other deployments to the Mediterranean followed in 1960, 1961 and 1964-1965. The squadron was reequipped with the F-8E in 1964.
The 1964-1965 cruise was significant, as VF-103 flew both the F-8E and the newly introduced McDonnell F-4B Phantom II. VF-103 would fly the Phantom for 19 years. From 1965 to 1980, VF-103 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 3 (CVW-3). Even longer was the assignment to the USS Saratoga (CVA-60), from 1965 to 1994, since 1984 as part of CVW-17. VF-103 was aboard Saratoga for 15 deployments to the Mediterranean Sea, plus a single one aboard Forrestal in 1982.
VF-103 flew the F-4B until transitioning to the F-4J in 1968. In 1981, the squadron was reequipped with the F-4S.
When North Vietnam launched its Easter Offensive invasion of South Vietnam, Saratoga was deployed to the coast of Vietnam to participate in Operation Linebacker. On 10 August 1972, Lieutenant Commander Robert Tucker and Lieutenant Junior Grade Stanley Edens shot down a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 with an AIM-7 Sparrow missile during a night interception. It was the first and only night MiG kill by the US Navy.
In January 1983, VF-103 was among the last fighter squadrons to transition to the Grumman F-14A Tomcat. The squadron conducted the first East Coast fighter squadron’s low altitude AIM-54 Phoenix missile shoot a month later. In October 1985, VF-103 and VF-74 participated in the interception of the Egyptian Boeing 737 carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers. During a long range night intercept by VF-74 and VF-103, the 737 was forced to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily. The terrorists were taken into custody and then set free by Italian authorities. VF-103 and the rest of the air wing participated in Operation Attain Document and Operation El Dorado Canyon in the spring of 1986. In 1989, VF-103 transitioned to the F-14A+ (later re-designated F-14B).
In August 1990 when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, Saratoga was in the Mediterranean and soon joined USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) in the Red Sea. VF-103 and VF-74 worked together to develop the fighter tactics which were during the 1991 Gulf War. When the war started in January 1991, VF-103 conducted fighter escort for the air wing’s strike packages, reconnaissance and bomb damage assessment and combat air patrols. On the fourth day of the war, while on an escort mission, a VF-103 F-14A+ was shot down by what is believed to be an SA-2 “Guideline” surface-to-air missile. After ejecting from his aircraft, the RIO (Radar Intercept Officer), Lieutenant Larry Slade, was captured by Iraqi troops and held in Baghdad as a POW until the end of the war. The pilot, Lieutenant Devon Jones, was able to evade capture and, after eight hours deep in enemy territory, was rescued by USAF Special Operations Forces.
On 1 October 1995, VF-84 was disestablished bringing an end to the Jolly Rogers. Not wanting the Jolly Rogers insignia to fade away, VF-103 requested to do away with their “Slugger” moniker and adopt the Jolly Rogers name and insignia.
Also in 1995, VF-103 conducted the fleet feasibility testing of the Air Force’s LANTIRN targeting pod in a rapid prototyping initiative that led to adoption of the LANTIRN for the Tomcat community. When they deployed with Enterprise in the summer of 1996, VF-103 became the first Tomcat squadron to introduce the LANTIRN targeting pod to operational service. The LANTIRN radically improved the F-14’s strike capabilities by providing an autonomous precision strike capability.
In 1997 VF-103 transferred from Enterprise to Dwight D. Eisenhower, and set sail to former Yugoslavia in June 1998 in support of NATO operations in Kosovo. In November, the carrier moved to the Persian Gulf in response to aggressive Iraqi posturing.
In June 2002, VF-103 and its carrier George Washington deployed to the North Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch. VF-103 supported Coalition forces in Afghanistan flying Close Air Support, Forward Air Controller and TARPS missions. VF-103 was already on their way home by the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003.
VF-103 returned to the Persian Gulf for its final Tomcat cruise with John F. Kennedy on 10 July 2004 and ten days later the squadron bombed an insurgent position. The unit participated in Operation Phantom Fury in October 2004 to provide aerial support over Falluja for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Iraqi Army soldiers. During one mission an F-14 from VF-103 provided laser designation for an AH-1 Cobra helicopter’s AGM-114 Hellfire missile to destroy a building where insurgents had taken cover. This operation had never previously been attempted with a Hellfire, but the missile successfully hit the building, neutralizing the enemy fire that the US troops were receiving. The F-14 crew was ordered to two drop additional GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on the building, levelling the structure.
After a last deployment on John F. Kennedy with CVW-17 and returning to NAS Oceana in December 2004, VF-103 gave up their F-14B Tomcats and began transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet and transfer to Carrier Air Wing Seven. The squadron was officially re-designated as VFA-103 in February 2005.
The first deployment with the F/A-18F commenced in 2006 and ended in the spring of 2007. During the cruise with USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, VFA-103 and VFA-143 supported Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and operations off the Somali coast, and combined with VFA-131 and VFA-83, they dropped 140 precision guided weapons and performed nearly 70 strafing runs. For their outstanding performance on this deployment, VFA-103 was awarded the AIRLANT Battle “E” for both 2006 & 2007, as well as the Wade McClusky Award as the best Attack Squadron in the US Navy for 2007.
VFA-103 temporarily embarked with CVW-17 in 2008 as USS George Washington sailed to the Pacific Ocean to replace USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) in Japan. On 21 February 2009 VFA-103 and CVW-7 embarked aboard Eisenhower for a deployment supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf. On 21 March 2009 it was reported that USS Theodore Roosevelt was relieved by “Ike”. On 30 July 2009, the Eisenhower returned to Naval Station Norfolk after almost a six-month deployment.
VFA-103 and the rest of CVW-7 embarked on board the USS Eisenhower on 2 January 2010 for a six-month deployment in support of 5th and 6th Fleet operations. On 27 July 2010, the squadron returned home to NAS Oceana after completion of their latest deployment.
After a successful maintenance and workup cycle, VFA-103 embarked with CVW-7 on board USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on 22 June 2012 for a scheduled nine-month deployment in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations. However, due to changes in operational requirements, VFA-103, CVW-7 and the Eisenhower returned to NAS Oceana on 21 December 2012, to perform maintenance in preparation of returning to sea shortly thereafter. VFA-103 returned to sea on 21 February 2013 after the short turnaround, and along with the rest of CVW-7 and Carrier Strike Group Eight, supported operations in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations. After a combined eleven months at sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Persian Gulf presence operations, the Jolly Rogers returned to NAS Oceana on 3 July 2013.
In honour of the Jolly Rogers’ 70th anniversary, the squadron undertook a massive redesign of the immensely recognizable skull and crossbones insignia, choosing to feature the original VF-17 patches, colours, and tail fin.(see above).
Latest Hobbymaster 1/72nd scale HA5203 Grumman F-14A BuNo 160393/AJ 200, VF-84 “Jolly Rogers” US NAVY, 1977
Hobbymaster have announced the third in the series of F-14 Tomcats to their range. Please click on the link HERE or on the image and link below to take a close look. This is available to pre-order now. I have limited stocks available on the first in the series(HA5201) , and only a few on the second Tomcat (HA5202) which are due to arrive soon. Very few are making it to the U.K. Please click on the images/ links below to take a look.
I have also added the latest Century Wings Tomcats available now and also to Pre-order.
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Offers of the Week
This week’s offers of the week are only available in limited quantities so don’t delay. Please click on the images below to go straight to the models.
That’s all for this week.
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