(Photo visual: Staff Sgt. Lee O. Tucker, 14 August 2004)
During the 80s and 90s, the F-14 Tomcat was the backbone of the US Navy. The F-14s seen combat action in Vietnam, both Gulf wars, missions against Libya and even in the Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. The Tomcats were divided amongst 31 fighting squadrons, most of the time carrier-based, and several test- and training units. These squadrons included the famous Wolfpack, Sundowners and Jolly Rogers.
In this in-depth article AviaMagazine will look into the history of all US Navy Tomcat equipped squadrons.
|Deactivated 1 October 1993
Fighter squadron 1 was established in 1922, but decommissioned after the war in the Pacific. October 1972 VF-1 was re-established at NAS Miramar together with VF-2. The first F-14As arrived July 73.
The squadron was assigned to CVW-14 aboard the USS Enterprise and saw combat action over Saigon in April 1975, the final days of the Vietnam War.
September 1980 the squadron was assigned to CVW-2 aboard the USS Ranger and later the USS Kitty Hawk.
When on 16 January 1991 the Gulf War began, VF-1 was back on the USS Ranger and on station in the Persian Gulf. 6 February 1991, F-14A 162603 / NE-103 shot down an Iraqi Mi-8 using a sidewinder during operation Desert Storm. After the war, VF-1 assisted in Operation Southern Watch, patrolling the southern Iraqi no-fly zone.
At the end of 1992 and beginning of 1993 VF-1 assisted in close air support during Operation Restore Hope, a relief effort for starving Somalis.
161294/NE-106, Tone down c/s
157990, YF-14 March Field museum
The squadron was disestablished on 1 October 1993, shortly after the USS Ranger was decommissioned as well.
VF-2 Bounty Hunters
|Re-designated VFA-2 with F/A-18s
|NK / NE
|NAS Miramar / NAS Oceana (from 1995)
Like VF-1, the Bounty Hunters were re-established October 1972. The first F-14As arrived in July 73. The 12 aircraft were initially deployed on the USS Enterprise with which they took part in the evacuation of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
During the 80s the unit was deployed on the USS Ranger and from 1984 on the USS Kitty Hawk, returning frequently to the Ranger. VF-2 was the first using the Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) developed especially for the F-14. The pod contained three camera bays for aerial reconnaissance.
In 1990/91, the unit participated in Operation Desert Storm (first Gulf War) with over 500 combat missions mostly reconnaissance and Air Patrol missions. In 1994 VF-2 was one of the few units to transfer to the upgraded F-14D aboard the USS Constellation.
163418/NE-105, Tone down c/s
In 1991, during Operation Southern Watch, monitoring the no-fly zones in Iraq, the unit attacked SAM sites around Basra and engaged in a fight with two Iraqi MiG-23s. The AIM-54s used were unable to score a hit. From 96 the F-14s were equipped with LANTIRN (laser designation) pods, enabling all weather precision strike capability.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom (the second Gulf War or Iraq War) from 2002-2003, VF-2 participated in Close Air Support, reconnaissance and strike missions. VF-2 threw the first F-14 JDAM (guidance kit fitted to a traditional Mk 84 bomb). In all, 483 sorties were flown.
1 July 2003, VF-2 was re-designated VFA-2, operating F/A-18Fs of which the first aircraft arrived October 2003.
VF-11 Red Rippers
|Re-designated VFA-11 with F/A-18s
|AA / AC / AE / AG
|NAS Oceana / NAS Miramar (1992-1995)
1980 the squadrons began the replacement of their F-4Js with F-14As. During their first cruise onboard the USS John F. Kennedy, combat mission were flown in 1983 against Syrian Forces over Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.
Mid 1980 VF-11 transferred to the USS Forrestal until 1991. The F-14As were moved VF-24 and VF-111 while new F-14Bs arrived for VF-11. In 1994 VF-11 was deployed on the USS Carl Vinson in support of Operation Southern Watch. Later in 1996 VF-11 returned and supported B-52 cruise missile strikes against targets in the Southern No-Fly zone, during Operation Desert Strike.
In 1997 LANTIRN infrared targeting pods were fitted. Deployments followed on the USS John C. Stennis and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, again in support of Southern Watch.
A few hours after the September 11 attacks, VF-11 scrambled all aircraft in support of Operation Noble Eagle. Just five month later the unit moved to the Middle East to support Operation Enduring Freedom (War in Afghanistan) with bombing missions using JDAM smart bombs.
2004, what would be the last deployment of the F-14s onboard USS George Washington in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in which VF-11 F-14s bombed Fallujah.
20 April 2005, the last F-14 was flown to Davis-Monthan. By the end of 2005 the unit was re-designated VFA-11 and operated the F/A-18F.
VF-14 Top Hatters
|Re-designated VFA-14 with F/A-18s
|AE / AJ
The oldest still active squadron in the Navy. Fighting squadron 14 (than called Pacific Fleet Air Detachment) was formed in 1919, and began carrier operations in 1926. Over its career it flew with 23 different aircraft types with the F-14A replacing the F-4 in 1974.
During the early 80s, VF-14 was deployed on the USS John F Kennedy and later on the USS Independence, mostly in the Mediterranean Sea.
End of October/November 1983 the Top Hatters participated in the invasion of Grenada during operation Urgent Fury. This was the squadrons first combat action since Vietnam and the first with the F-14. Directly thereafter VF-14 moved back to the Mediterranean to assist in operations off the coast of Lebanon. In December 1983 combat air support was giving during multi-national operations in Beirut. In 1986 the squadron was again involved in Lebanon during the hostage crisis.
Like many squadrons, VF-14 was deployed to the Red Sea, after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, aboard the USS John F Kennedy. In the months leading up the to Gulf War, VF-14 assisted in controlling the Iraqi embargo (Operation Desert Shield). 17 January 1991, VF-14 jointed the air attack on Iraq. The Top Hatters stayed until the end of Operation Desert Storm, flying numerous strike and support missions. After 8 months at sea, they returned to the US.
After training ground attack mission at NAS Fallon, the squadron returned to the Mediterranean in October 1992. The unit flew air superiority and reconnaissance missions against former Yugoslavia. They also provided support in Operation Provide Comfort, defending Kurds fleeing from Northern Iraq.
162691 / AC-101, F-14
At the end of the 90s, VF-14 moved to the USS Theodore Roosevelt and participated in Operation Allied Force (NATO bombing of Yugoslavia) and Operation Southern Watch (controlling the No-fly zones in Iraq).
In 2001, the final F-14 cruise was made on board the USS Enterprise in support of Operation Southern Watch. After September 11, VF-14 joined Enduring Freedom (War in Afghanistan) and flew combat strikes, attacking radar installations near Kabul. In November VF-14 returned home after dropping 174 laser guided bombs. Directly after their homecoming, the squadron transfer to the F/A-18 and were designated VFA-14.
|Disestablished 31 January 1996
Originating back to WW2, VF-21 transferred from the F-4S to fully F-14A operations in 1984. Its first cruise was onboard the USS Constellation.
In 1990 the unit moved onboard the USS Independence to the Persian Gulf. VF-21 was one of the first on station after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. They were involved in Combat Air Control (CAP) throughout Operation Desert Shield. They returned to the US before the Gulf War broke out. The Independence with VF-21 returned for support during Operation Southern Watch.
In August 1991 the USS Independence moved to Yokosuka, Japan to replace the USS Midway. End 1995 the unit moved home, while the Independence assisted in the US show of force during the third Taiwan Strait Crisis.
The squadron was disestablished 31 January 1996.
VF-24 Fighting Renegades
|Disestablished 31 August 1996
|Fighting Renegades (previously Red Checkertails)
VF-24 originates back to 1955 when the squadron was established at NAS Moffett Field as Fighting Squadron 211. From 1959, now called VF-24 was deployed to the Pacific on several aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam war, the squadron marked four MiG kills.
The unit began converting to the F-14A in December 1975, replacing its F-8J Crusaders. They were deployed once again to the Pacific aboard the USS Constellation.
160689 / NG-207, F-14
During the early 80s, VF-24 made cruises in the Indian Ocean onboard the USS Ranger and USS Kitty Hawk. In 1988 the squadron joined USS Nimitz and provided security for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. After a cruise through the Bering Strait they begin the transition to F-14B after arriving in San Diego. Being one of the first Pacific Fleet squadrons flying the F-14 B model.
November 1990, the unit began preparing for deployment to the Persian Gulf, begin one of two operating the F-14B. Support for Operation Provide Comfort over Iraq and Kuwait began April 1991. The squadron was detached to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
In 1992 VF-24 Tomcats participated in Red Flag at Nellis AFB as “red air” aggressors.
Their last cruise was onboard the USS Nimitz, before the squadron was disestablished on 31 August 1996.
|Re-designated VFA-31 with F/A-18s
|NAS Miramar (NAS Oceana until 1992)
Fighting 31 has a long history as second oldest Navy squadron founded in 1935. The squadron saw action in the Pacific during WW2, Korea and Vietnam. It was the only Navy squadron with aerial kills in three wars.
The unit transferred from F-4Js to F-14As in 1981. The first cruise was aboard the USS John F. Kennedy. In 1983 while stationed in the Mediterranean Sea the squadron flew missions over Lebanon, often being fired on by Syrian AAA. December 4 this led to US strikes against Syrian SAM sites.
In 1985 the unit moved to the USS Forrestal and was stationed again in the Mediterranean Sea.
1992 Fighting 31 moved to the USS Carl Vinson, switched home base to NAS Miramar and exchanged the F-14A for the F-14D Super Tomcat. While on deployment in the Gulf the squadron flew mission during Operation Southern Watch and Operation Desert Strike in Southern Iraq. 2 years later VF-31 returned onboard USS Abraham Lincoln in support of Operation Southern Watch.
164340 / NK-200, F-14
In 2002 VF-31 briefly supported Operation Enduring Freedom (War in Afghanistan) before moving back to the Middle East for Operation Southern Watch. The unit was on its way back to the states when they were ordered to turn around for Operation Iraqi Freedom. VF-31 flew combat mission from the first night of fighting attacking targets in Bagdad and Southern Iraq. During what was to be the longest cruise in Navy history, VF-31 flew 585 sorties over Iraq.
Later the unit was transferred to the USS John C. Stennis and Theodore Roosevelt. With the latest the last F-14 deployment was made to the Persian Gulf. VF-31 was the last F-14 unit to drop a bomb in combat.
28 July 2006, VF-31 made the last F-14 carrier landing and catapult takeoff and 164603 making the last F-14 flight. The squadron, re-designated VFA-31, transferred to F/A-18Es late 2006.
|Re-designated VFA-32 with F/A-18s
|AB / AC
The origin of VF-32 dates back to WW2 VBF-3 flying F6Fs Hellcat. Other types flown were the F-8 Crusader and F-4B Phantom, when the F-14A was introduced in 1974. First deployment was with the Atlantic fleet aboard the USS John F. Kennedy.
During the early 80s deployments were made on the Kennedy and later on the USS Independence. In 1982 three Tomcats were fitted with the Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS). 4 December 1983 VF-32 supported the air strikes on Syrian positions in Lebanon with TARPS imagery and combat air patrol.
Deployments to the Mediterranean followed aboard the John F. Kennedy. 4 January 1989 while patrolling the Gulf of Sidra, Libya, two MiG-23s were intercepted near Tobruk. The Floggers didn’t respond and were armed. An AIM-7 Sparrow was fired, which destroyed one MiG. The other MiG was downed by an AIM-9 Sidewinder, fired by the other VF-32 F-14 involved.
1990, VF-32 was rushed to the Red Sea aboard the Kennedy in support of Operation Desert Shield. January 1991, when the Gulf War began (Operation Desert Storm), VF-32 Tomcats were in the first wave flying Combat Air Patrol in Western and Central Iraq. 403 missions were flown, including 38 TARPS mission, flying supersonic over Al Qa’im. March 1991 the squadron returned to NAS Oceana after a nine month deployment.
October 1992 the unit was back on cruise in the Adriatic Sea in support of Operation Provide Promise. A humanitarian relief operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Yugoslav War. They returned to Oceana April 1993.
In September 1994, while deployed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a small detachment supported Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti. After that they were back in the Balkan, in support of Operation Deny Flight and Iraq in support of Operations Southern Watch. In November 1996, VF-32 switched to the USS Theodore Roosevelt for another tour in support of the same operations. By that time the TARPS was fitted with digital camera’s, resulting in real-time reconnaissance capabilities.
Early 1998 the squadron transferred from F-14A to the F-14B. A deployment to the Persian Golf and Mediterranean Sea onboard the USS Enterprise followed. Again to support Southern Watch, but also Operation Deliberate Force, a NATO intervention in Bosnia. 16 December 1998 VF-32 took part in Operation Desert Fox, a four day bombing campaign in Iraq, as the country didn’t comply with a UN resolution to allow weapon inspectors in the country. The squadron flew 16 strike missions and 38 sorties before returning home.
November 2000, the unit was onboard the maiden voyage of the USS Harry S. Truman in support of Southern Watch. Later also Operation Noble Eagle (response of the September 11 attacks) and Operation Northern Watch were supported.
In 2003 VF-32 was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea when the second Gulf War started (Operation Iraqi Freedom). The unit flew strike missions and missions in support of special forces. During this period, a F-14 mistakenly drop a laser guided bomb on friendly forces, killing 23 and wounding 80. Before returning home, 275 sorties were flown.
The final F-14 deployment was in 2004 again in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This time the LANTIRN pods were used in Close Air Support. October 2005 the squadron transitioned to the F/A-18F and was designated VFA-32.
|Disestablished 1 October 1993
VF-33 was founded during WW2 and decommissioned after the war. Shortly before the Korean War it was reinstated October 1948.
159428 / AB-201, F-14
The unit transitioned from F-4J to F-14A in 1981 and was assigned to the USS America. For the coming decade, VF-33 made 12 cruises aboard the America, mainly to the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean See and Indian Ocean.
March 1986, VF-33 was involved in combat for the first time, since operation the F-14. They took part in Operation Attain Document, the US answer to Libya claiming the complete Gulf of Sidra as their territory. VF-33 engaged two Libyan MiG-25s, outmaneuvering them but didn’t get permission to fire.
15 April 1986, after the Berlin “La Belle discotheque” terrorist attack, president Ronald Reagan ordered retaliatory strikes against Libya. Operation El Dorado Canyon was carried out by Lakenheath F-111s and US Navy A-6 Intruders. VF-33 flew cover for the main strike force.
In 1987 the unit made a cruise on the, at that time brand new carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
The unit was aboard the USS America again when in January 1991 Operation Desert Storm (first Gulf War) began. VF-33 flew combat missions, providing air cover to allied aircraft, from both the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
1 October 1993 the squadron was disestablished once again. This after one of the F-14s in the unit made the 5000 flying hours marker, being the first F-14 in the Navy to do so.
159429 / AB-207, F-14
Tail illustrations by Erik Hess.