VFA-31

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Strike Fighter Squadron 31
Felix VF-31 logo.svg
VFA-31 Insignia
Active July 1, 1935
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Type Fighter/Attack
Role Close air support
Air interdiction
Aerial reconnaissance
Part of Carrier Air Wing Eight
Garrison/HQ NAS Oceana
Nickname "Tomcatters"
Motto "We get ours at night."
Colors Yellow and Black
Mascot Felix the Cat
Engagements World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Enduring Freedom
Aircraft flown
Fighter F/A-18E Super Hornet

VFA-31 or Strike Fighter Squadron 31 is known as the Tomcatters, callsign "Felix", a United States Navy strike fighter squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana flying the F/A-18E Super Hornet. The Tomcatters are the second oldest Navy Fighter Attack squadron operating today.

Squadron insignia and nickname[edit]

The squadron was originally known as the Shooting Stars. The original "Felix Cat Squadron" was VF-3. When the two squadrons swapped designations, both squadrons claimed the "Felix" mascot and call sign, which caused controversy for the coming three years. Finally in November 1946, VF-6 was decommissioned and the Chief of Naval Operations approved the adoption of the Felix the Cat name and call sign for VF-3A’s exclusive use.

The emblem and mascot is the famous cartoon character Felix the Cat, running with a large spherical bomb with a lighted fuse. The yellow field and outline were omitted from the aircraft and four stars at the end of a pair of sweeps were added. This emblem can be seen on the fuselage of the aircraft above the wing.

Several well-known aviators have flown with Felix on their shoulders, including Charles Lindbergh and Butch O'Hare.

The nickname Tomcatters was adopted in 1948.

History[edit]

Two US Navy squadrons have held the designation VF-31. The first to be designated VF-31 was in existence from May 1943 to Oct 1945 and is not related to the subject of this article. The second VF-31 has a direct lineage to the current VFA-31 " Tomcatters".[1]

Early years[edit]

VFA-31, originally established as VF-1B on July 1, 1935 flying the Boeing F4B, is the second oldest active US Navy squadron behind VFA-14 (1919).

On 1 July 1937, the squadron combined with VF-8B and was redesignated VF-6, flying the Grumman F3F. Between the years 1937 and 1943 VF-6 flew the F3F-1 and two variants of the Grumman F4F and ended with the F4F-4.

On 15 July 1943, VF-6 swapped designations with VF-3 and began flying the F6F Hellcat.

An F8F-1 Bearcat aircraft parked on the flight line with other aircraft during a Fighter Squadron 31 (VF-31) reunion.

Through the years the Tomcatters and their predecessors have served on many of the Navy's aircraft carriers, including the first, the USS Langley; the second, USS Lexington; and the sixth, USS Enterprise. They were aboard Enterprise during the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as the battles of Wake Island, Marcus Island, Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Eastern Solomon Islands. The squadron also saw aerial combat over the Philippines, Formosa, Okinawa, and China.

On 7 August 1948, VF-3A was redesignated VF-31 Tomcatters. For almost four years, the Tomcatters flew the F9F Panther, the squadron's first jet aircraft.

1950s[edit]

In 1952, the squadron transitioned to the F2H Banshee, and then switched to the F3H Demon in 1957, flying it through 1962.

1960s[edit]

An F-4J Phantom II from VF-31 aboard USS Saratoga (CV-60).

VF-31 transitioned to the F-4 Phantom in 1964, flying the B model for two years before transitioning to the F-4J.

1970s[edit]

In 1972, flying the F-4J Phantom, Tomcatter aircrew shot down a MiG-21 over North Vietnam and in doing so made VF-31 the only Navy fighter squadron to achieve aerial victories in three wars - World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

1980s[edit]

An F-14D Tomcat from VF-31 at Naval Air Station Oceana.

In 1980, VF-31 and USS Saratoga concluded a 24-year period of continuous service together, the longest in naval history. VF-31 received the F-14 Tomcat in early 1981. The squadron's first cruise was on board USS John F. Kennedy. In 1983, VF-31 embarked on its fourth cruise with Kennedy. The cruise took the carrier and its air wing to the southern Mediterranean off the North African coast. VF-31 regularly flew over Lebanese and Syrian positions in support of multi-national peacekeeping operations, often being fired at by Syrian AAA. During a mission in early December 1983, heat-seeking SA-7 SAMs were launched at two squadron F-14s. Although both Tomcats were able to return safely to Kennedy, this incident led to US Navy retaliatory strikes. On December 4, both carriers in the Mediterranean Sea, Kennedy and USS Independence, launched strikes against Syrian SAM sites, losing one A-7 and one A-6.

VF-31 shifted carriers and air wings in April 1985 and was now on board USS Forrestal along with its sister squadron, the VF-11 Red Rippers. In June 1986, VF-31 and the rest of the Forrestal battle group set sail for the Mediterranean. While deployed the squadron participated in numerous fleet exercises. In August 1986, VF-31 participated in joint exercises with the Egyptian Air-Force and Navy.

In September 1987 VF-31 and the Forrestal battle group participated in North Atlantic exercises above the arctic circle. In April, 1988 VF-31 and the Forrestal battle group set sail for a six month Indian Ocean cruise which lasted for six months. While heading home from the "IO", the battle group once again participated in North Atlantic NATO exercises before coming home to Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

1990s[edit]

VF-31 F-14 tail markings

VF-31 stayed with Forrestal until 1992, when the squadron switched carriers, planes, and home bases at concurrently. VF-31 (and VF-11) moved from NAS Oceana to NAS Miramar and to the USS Carl Vinson, and exchanged its F-14As for the new and improved F-14Ds.

In late 1996, VF-31 returned from its second Western Pacific deployment aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), flying missions in the Persian Gulf and over southern Iraq in support of Operations Southern Watch and Desert Strike.

VF-31 moved back to Oceana in 1997. The squadron then sent a single F-14D and crew to the 1997 Paris Air Salon, primarily to promote new F-14 LANTIRN.

In 1998 they made a deployment to the Persian Gulf with USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) supporting Operation Southern Watch.

2000s[edit]

An F-14D Tomcat makes a near-supersonic low-level fly-by above the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).

2000 began with a WESTPAC deployment on board the Lincoln.

VF-31 deployed aboard USS Abraham Lincoln in July 2002, operating over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and again over the skies of Iraq supporting Operation Southern Watch. During their return home, the entire battle group was turned around on 1 January for the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Flying from the first night of combat, VF-31 was responsible for delivering ordnance to targets in Baghdad and the southern vicinities in direct support of coalition forces. During that deployment, VF-31 had the dubious distinction of having the longest cruise in the last 30 years of the Navy’s history, returning to Oceana on 2 May 2003. The squadron flew 585 sorties, dropping 239 LGB/JDAM/MK 82.

In 2004, VF-31 and CVW-14 embarked on USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) for a WESTPAC cruise. This was the last time the F-14 would fly over the skies of the Pacific. They returned to the US on October 31, 2004. The squadron became the last unit to fly F-14 Tomcats with the Pacific Fleet.

A 'Felix' F/A-18E Super Hornet makes an arrested landing.

In December 2004, VF-31 transferred from Carrier Air Wing Fourteen to its current home with Carrier Air Wing Eight and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).

In September 2005, the Tomcatters deployed aboard Theodore Roosevelt for the final Tomcat deployment, again to the Persian Gulf. February 7, 2006 marked the last recovery of an F-14 Tomcat from a combat mission. While operating from Theodore Roosevelt in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, VF-31 was credited with being the last F-14 unit to drop a bomb in combat. VF-31 returned to NAS Oceana on March 10, 2006 for the final F-14 fly-in.

F/A-18 Super Hornets of VFA-31 fly a combat patrol over Afghanistan, 15 December 2008

VF-31 remained operational aboard Theodore Roosevelt until July 28, 2006 when the last Tomcat trap and catapult launch took place off the Virginia Capes, with journalists from around the world (Mexico, UK, Holland, Germany and US) witnessing. VF-31 was the last Tomcat squadron, with the last F-14 flight occurring on October 4, 2006 as BuNo.164603 flew from NAS Oceana to Republic Airport. After spending a year at the American Airpower Museum, the aircraft is now on public display outside of Northrop Grumman headquarters in Bethpage, NY.

VF-31 transitioned to F/A-18E Super Hornet and was redesignated VFA-31 in (date) late 2006.

VFA-31, along with CVW-8 and Theodore Roosevelt, participated in Joint Task Force Exercise 08-4 Operation Brimstone off the coast of North Carolina between July 21 and July 31, 2008. The British carrier HMS Ark Royal, the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima with associated units and the Brazilian Navy frigate Greenhalgh (F-46) and the French submarine Améthyste also participated in the event.[2]

On 8 September 2008, VFA-31 and the rest of CVW-8 deployed on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt on a regularly scheduled deployment.[3] On October 4, the Roosevelt Carrier Group arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, the first visit by an American aircraft carrier since 1967 and three days later the carrier left Cape Town.[4] CVW-8 and CVN-71 supported Operation Enduring Freedom and flew more than 3,100 sorties and dropped more than 59,500 pounds of ordnance while providing Close Air Support for ISAF-forces in Afghanistan. On March 21, 2009 it was reported that USS Theodore Roosevelt was relieved by USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69).[5]

2010's[edit]

On May 11, 2011, the squadrons of CVW-8 embarked on USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)'s maiden deployment, scheduled to conduct operations in the US 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operations.[6] The Tomcatters have since returned to Naval Air Station Oceana in December, 2011, days before the return of the USS George H.W. Bush.

F/A18E VFA 31 color scheme

Awards[edit]

During its long history, the Tomcatters have received the Commander Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Battle "E" Award for the best fighter squadron in the Atlantic Fleet, the prestigious Admiral Joseph Clifton Award for the top fighter squadron in the Navy, the prestigious Admiral C. Wade McClusky Award for the top attack squadron in the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations Safety "S" award, and the Arleigh Burke Award, which is awarded "to the ship or squadron with the most improved battle efficiency". In 1974, VF-31 WAS AWARDED THE "Presidential Unit Citation" for excellence in combat during deployment to Viet nam in 1972 - 1973

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Video clips[edit]