VF-213 Black Lions
|Status: ||re-designated VFA-213, 2 April 2006, flying F/A-18F|
|Callsign: ||"Black Lion"|
|Tailcode: ||NH / AJ|
|Homebase: ||NAS Miramar / Oceana|
VF-213 was established June 1955, being one of only a few, keeping its designation. After F2H, F4D and F3H, VF-213 started flying the F-4B mid 60s. The Black Lions were deployed 9 times to Vietnam, loosing 5 aircraft (4 F-Bs and one F-4J). The unit began its transition to the F-14A in 1976.
164602 / NH-213, F-14D
The first cruise with the F-14A was made aboard the USS Kitty Hawk in 1977. Later multiple cruised were made to the Mediterranean aboard the USS America.
December 1981 the TARPS capability was added to the unit, followed by deployments aboard the USS Enterprise. VF-213 was involved in the 1986 Libya conflict, patrolling the Gulf of Sidra for 2 months, intercepting only a few Libyan aircraft. In 1988 it took part in operation Praying Mantis, a retaliation attack on Iran, for mining the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war.
May 1991, VF-213 was deployed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in support of UN sanctions against Iraq, flying combat air patrols and TARPS missions. In 1993 they flew support on Operation Restore Hope (Somalia) and Operation Southern Watch over Iraq.
The first USN qualified female F-14 pilot was assigned to VF-213. She was sadly killed while her F-14A (160390 / NH-103) crashed during a carrier approach, 25 October 1995. The RIO survived the crash.
In 1997 the unit was the 4th unit to transition to the F-14D, also moving from NAS Miramar to NAS Oceana as their home base. In 1998 they moved to the USS Carl Vinson. In 1998 they participated in Operation Desert Fox, logging 230 combat sorties. 5 January 1999, two tomcats (163903 and 159619) were sent to intercept an Iraqi MiG-23 and MiG-25 south of the “no-fly zone”. Two AIM-54Cs were fired at the MiG-25, missing its target.
After the 2001 September 11 attacks, VF-213 participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, bombing a SA-3 site near Kabul, Afghanistan. Over a period of 10 weeks, the Black Lions flew over 500 combat sorties. They also participated in the Battle of Mazar e Sharif, using their internal 20mm gun. Later in 2001 they joined Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying 198 strike- and air patrol missions.
VF-213 paired up with VF-31 for its final Tomcat cruise aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, receiving ROVER (Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver) upgrades to the aircrafts. This enabled live video transmissions from the LANTIRN sensors. In 2003 the transition began to the F/A-18F Hornet. The unit was re-established VFA-213 on 2 April 2006.
164341 / AJ-201, F-14D
VF-301 Devil’s Disciples
|Status: ||disestablished 11 September 1994|
|Nickname: ||Devil Disciples|
|Homebase: ||NAS Miramar|
VF-301 was activated on 1 October 1970, first flying the F-8L Crusader and in 1974 transitioned to the F-4B. Only one year later the B model was replaced by the N model. In 1980 they received the F-4S.
In 1984 the Devils received the first F-14As. The first deployment, one year later, with 5 aircraft to do air-to-air training at MCAS Yuma. Later a deployment followed to NAS Fallon.
Actual carrier time was limited. First on the USS Ranger and later some training runs on the USS Enterprise. After only 24 years, the Naval Reserve unit was disestablished on 11 September 1994, together with sister squadron VF-302, due to budget cuts.
158997 / ND-110, F-14
|Status: ||disestablished 11 September 1994|
|Homebase: ||NAS Miramar|
159612 / ND-213, F-14
VF-302 was activated 21 May 1971 operating F-8K and later F-4Bs. The B model was replaced soon by the N model, which was replaced by the F-4S in 1981.
The transition to the F-14A began in February 1985. First carrier qualifications began a year later aboard the USS Ranger and later the USS Enterprise, where they stayed 12 days for carrier training.
In 1986 the Stallions were the first reserve unit to pick up the TARPS task. Like its sister squadron VF-302 was disestablished at 11 September 1994, due to budget cuts.
|Status: ||disestablished 30 September 1994|
|Nickname: ||The Evaluators|
|Homebase: ||NAS Point Mugu|
VX-4 was established in 1946 as an experimental and development squadron, evaluation early warning radar systems. The unit was relocated to Atlantic City as Air Development Squadron 4 and later to Patuxent River where it was disestablished in 1951
The second squadron using the VX-4 designation was established in 1952 at Point Mugu to conduct guided missile tests. Through its lifetime the Evaluators flew lots of different aircraft from the Navy arsenal. F7U, F3D, FJ Fury, A-4, F3H, F-8 and F-4 were used to test AIM-7 and AIM-9 missiles.
Early 1970s the F-14A was introduced into the unit. Later newer versions were used, flying along the F/A-18, which was just introduced to the Navy.
January 1990, the unit was also still flying the F-4 Phanton, which was phased out after 3 decades of service, at the same time the F-14D was introduced. With the F-14D, VX-4 was conducting tests with the ALR-64 radar warning receiver and the newly developed AIM-120 AMRAAM. During the Gulf War (1991) VX-4 was conducting tests and fixing issues with weapons systems used during the war.
After Desert Storm evaluation of AMRAAM, Sidewinder, Sparrow and Phoenix missiles continued as well as the BOL Chaff dispenser. AMRAAM testing was completed in 1994.
Like the F-4 Phantom, the Evaluators F-14 was using the striking Black Playboy Bunny color scheme. Next to the Jolly Rogers skull and bones, probably the most famous Tomcat scheme. Although after the Tailhook scandal in 1991 (sexual misconduct on a military convention in Las Vegas), the Playboy Bunny was removed and replaced by a more acceptable Bat design. The bat was later also used by VX-9.
When F/A-18 Hornet testing was winding down, the unit was disestablishment in 1994, its aircraft were allocated to VX-9.
VX-9 The Vampires
|Status: ||Relocated to NAS China Lake, evaluating F/A-18, EA-18 and F-35.|
|Nickname: ||The Vampires|
|Homebase: ||NAS Point Mugu|
Air Test & Evaluation Squadron 9 was founded as VX-5 at NAS Moffet Field 18 June 1955, operating AD (A-1) Skyraiders. In 1956 the united moved to NAS China Lake. January 1985 the unit started testing weapon systems for the EA-6B.
June 1993 the Chief Naval Operations decided to merge VX-5 and VX-4 (The Evaluators) into VX-9. The unit took over the F-14s from VX-4 which were permanently detached at NAS Point Mugu. Until retirement of the Tomcat, the unit operated 4 F-14As, 3 F-14Bs and 4 F-14Ds. It featured the Bat logo, inherited from VX-4. Also, some F-14s were painted in the striking all black color scheme.
VX-9 is currently based at NAS China Lake, flying 25 aircraft including the F/A-18C/D, F/A-18E/F and EA-18G. The Vampires also have a detachment at Edwards AFB evaluation the F-35C.
Naval Weapons Test Squadron / VX-30 The Bloodhounds
|Status: ||Active, evaluating KC-130, P-3 and E-2D.|
|Homebase: ||NAS Point Mugu|
The Naval Weapons Test Squadron (NWTS) was established 8 May 1994 at Point Mugu, and later a second squadron at China Lake. Only the Point Mugu squadron operated F-14s and were part of the Naval Air Warfare Center – Weapons Division (NAWC –WD). Throughout its career the squadron operated the NF-14A, B and D model. The N indication indicating it being a flying testbed. The unit was redesignated VX-30 at 1 May 2002.
With the creation of VX-30 at Point Mugu a sister squadron VX-31 was formed at China Lake. As F-14 units were replaced with the F/A-18, VX-30 only operated the type for four years. The units nickname Bloodhounds was already used in the NWTS days. The aircraft had the three headed bloodhound logo on the tail.
Besides the F-14, the unit also operated the F-4 and later the F/A-18. Today VX-30 still exists and operates a very diverse type of aircraft, including the C-130 / KC-130, P-3 and S-3 till 2016.
Naval Fighter Weapon School, TOPGUN
When the pilots over Vietnam were losing against North Vietnamese Soviet build MiG-17s and 21s it became apparent that training was needed for this new type of jet aerial combat. To train Navy pilots the Naval Fighter Weapons School was created at NAS Miramar, CA 3 March 1969.
The goal of the training, which became known as TOPGUN, was to train in aerial combat against Russian fighters, especially maneuverability was togged as the Russian fighter were smaller than the US F-8 and F-4. Initially the School used the A-4 and T-38 as opponent to represent the MiG-21. Later the F-5E and F replaced the T-38. Later the F-16N was adopted as aggressor, which was replaced by the F/A-18A and B, as the F-16 showed structural fatigue.
When the F-8 and F-4 were replaced by the Tomcat, the training was followed mainly by Tomcat crews. For 30 years the Tomcat played an important role, when In September 2003 the last class flying F-14s completed the course.
After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the following Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) it became apparent that middle eastern opponents operated newer more advanced aircraft. Iran for instance was flying the F-14 which were acquired when the Shah was still in power. Because of this, and the fact that the Tomcat could simulate the heavier Russian fighters operated during that period, TOPGUN took possession of three F-14As in August 1991. The inventory grew to four and later six Tomcats until retirement in the fall of 2003.
The TOPGUN training later moved to the Naval Strike & Air Warfare Center.
Naval Strike & Air Warfare Center
11 July 1996 the Naval Strike & Warfare Center (NSAWC) was formed with the merger of the Naval Fighter Weapon School (TOPGUN) and Naval Strike Warfare Center (NSWS). With this merger, TOPGUN also moved to NAS Fallon. The mission and training syllabus remained the same, being aerial combat against potential enemy aircraft. The TOPGUN F-14s remained with the NSAWC, providing simulation for the Russian MiG-29 and Su-27. New camouflage schemas were applied to represent these aircraft. The NFWS patch remained on the tail with an added lightning bold and NSAWC titles.
Nowadays the NSAWC has been renamed Naval Aviation Warfare Development Center, still operating out of NAS Fallon.
Naval Air Test Center
|Status: ||Active, evaluating F-35C, EF-18F, T-45C and X-47B.|
|Nickname: ||Salty Dogs |
|Homebase: ||NAS Patuxent River|
The main test center at the east coast is located at NAS Patuxent River and is home to the Naval Air Test Center (NATC). NATC is divided in several divisions, responsible for testing different aspects of the aircraft and weapon systems. Although the setup of these divisions changed, the main mission stayed the same. Several squadrons operated as part of NATC, focusing on development and evaluation of aircraft and helicopters.
VX-23 was the test and evaluation squadron operating the F-14. One to five F-14s had been assigned to the Salty Dogs, since 1972 early in development of the Tomcat.
||Crashed after having an engine fire (13 May 1974)
||The strike division also used the “7T” code on the tail.
They all used high-visibility markings including a red-orange tail and in some cases part of the nose cone. For some time, the Strike Division (DFCS) used a black on gray schema with DFCS titles on the fuselage the SD tail code.
Ski jump tests
In 1995 the strike division tested a digital flight control system on a NAWC NF-14D 163412. Unlike a try fly-by-wire system, this systems uses a conventional control, helping the pilot to improve flight characteristics and prevent spins. The tests were successful, but it was decided not to install the system.
A variety of operational tests have been carried out, including ski-jump feasibility tests in 1982 using a six degrees raised ramp.
Naval missile center / Air Warfare Center
The US Naval Air Missile Center was established 1 October 1946 at Point Mugu. In 1959 the name was changed to Naval Missile Center (NMC). Early 1970s the NMC received its first Tomcats. It included several pre-production models as well as early production models.
Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC)
The Naval Missile Center (NMC) was renamed to the Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC), 26 April 1975. All its F-14s also got transferred and got a new paint schema. Instead of the red band in the tail, most pre-production models still had, a blue band was used with a big PMTC emblem and titles.
Over the next 17 years additional aircraft joined the fleet. F-14A 161867 was the first Tomcat to test the F-14D avionics. It was also fitted with the GE F110 engines. After its full update this aircraft was designated NF-14D which remained with the PMTC. Another NF-14D 163416 was added, which was an actual production D model.
Naval Air Warfare Center – Weapons Division (NAWC –WD)
In 1992 the Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC) was replaced by the Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC), with Point Mugu still being their home base. The Weapons Division (NAWC-WD) of the unit operated F-14s. From 1992 till mid 1995 they operated F-14A, B and D models.
The Naval Air Development Center at Warminster, Pennsylvania also operated 2 F-14s. They were assigned with development testing of avionics and instrumentation for the US Navy. When the base closed they center was included in the NAWC.
In 1995 the Naval Weapons Test Squadron at Point Mugu was formed and the Tomcats were transferred.
The NASA at Dryden Flight Research Center also operated the F-14 in two major projects. An F-14A (157991) was used to perform high angle of attack and spin recovery tests. NASA 991 was configured as a single pilot aircraft keeping the rear seat empty. A spin recovery parachute was mounted between the vertical stabilizers. 212 flights were made with lessons learned being incorporated in the F-14D design. F-14A (158613), NASA 834 was used to test laminar-flow studies for the Variable Sweep Transition Flight Experiment (VSTFE) from 1986 to 1987. The F-14 was ideal because of its variable wing design.
Tail illustrations by Erik Hess.