VF-111

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Fighter Squadron 111
Vfc-111.png
VF-111 squadron patch
Active October 10, 1942 - March 1995
Country United States
Branch United States Navy
Motto Illegitimi Non Carborundum
Mascot Omar
Engagements World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War

Fighter Squadron 111 (VF-111), also known as the Sundowners, was the designation held by two U.S. Navy fighter squadrons from 1942 to 1995. The first squadron, initially designated VF-11, served as an active Pacific Fleet Fighter Squadron until its disestablishment in 1959. At that time, another squadron then assumed the designation until its disestablishment in 1995. In November 2006, VFC-13 Detachment Key West was redesignated as VFC-111, taking on the 'Sundowner' insignia and callsign.

History[edit]

3 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 US Navy does not recognize a direct lineage with disestablished squadrons if a new squadron is formed with the same designation.[1] Often, the new squadron will assume the nickname, insignia, and traditions of the earlier squadrons.

1940s[edit]

The First VF-111[edit]

VF-11 F6F Hellcats aboard the USS Hornet in 1945

The 1st VF-111 began operating as VF-11 at NAS North Island California on October 10, 1942, and on October 23 was on its way to Hawaii with Grumman F4F Wildcats. To epitomize its spirit and tactical superiority over the Japanese, the squadron decided it would be called the 'Sundowners' and its insignia (which persists to this day) depicts two Wildcats shooting down a Rising Sun.

A VF-111 F9F-2 dropping bombs over Korea, 1951-52.
A VA-156 F11F-1 Tiger.

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 in USS Hornet (CV-12) 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. Two postwar redesignations occurred: VF-11 became VF-11A in 1946 and VF-111 in July 1948. In 1949 the Sundowners transitioned to the F9F-2 Panther jet.

1950s[edit]

On November 9, 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 Panther from the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47). Two more Korean cruises were made in USS Valley Forge (CV-45) in 1951-52, then USS Boxer (CV-21) and USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) 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 (CVA-16), USS Wasp (CVA-18), and USS Bennington (CVA-20). VF-111 was then disestablished on 19 January 1959.[2]

The Second VF-111[edit]

The second squadron to be called Sundowners started as Attack Squadron 156 (VA-156). VA-156, originally known as the Iron Tigers, was established on 4 June 1956 and flew the F11F-1 Tiger. VA-156 was assigned to CVW-11 and made a single deployment aboard USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) to the Western Pacific.[3] The day after the disestablishment of the first VF-111, VA-156 assumed VF-111's designation and nickname on 20 January 1959.

1960s[edit]

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 ‘60s, VF-111 flew four different versions of the Crusader (F-8C/D/E/H) and was deployed aboard the carriers USS Hancock (CVA-19), USS Oriskany (CVA-34), USS Midway (CVA-41), and USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63). During the Vietnam War the Sundowners were based at NAS Miramar, California with the squadron making seven deployments to Southeast Asia, flying 12,500 combat sorties. In 1967-68, VF-111 deployed a less-than-full-strength detachment, "Omar's Orphans", from USS Intrepid (CVS-11). Nominally an anti-submarine carrier in the Atlantic Fleet, Intrepid made three deployments with CVW-10 to Vietnam as an attack carrier. During the 1967-1968 deployment, Lieutenant Tony Nargi shot down a MiG-21 while flying an F-8C Crusader.

1970s[edit]

During Vietnam, VF-111 adopted the shark nose paint job. This F-8C was assigned to VF-111 Det.11 Omar's Orphans aboard Intrepid.

In 1971, VF-111 joined CVW-15 and transitioned to the F-4B Phantom II. On 6 March 1972, while flying from the USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), VF-111 crew LT Garry Weigand and LTJG Bill Freckleton engaged and shot down a 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. 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-111 and VF-51 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-15 aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) for that carrier's final cruise. The squadron returned to NAS Miramar in April 1977 and began transition to the F-14 Tomcat.

A VF-111 F-4B Phantom II from the USS Coral Sea during the Vietnam War, 1971.

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 Kitty Hawk in the Indian Ocean south of the Iranian coast until relieved by USS Nimitz and the squadrons of CVW-8.

1980s[edit]

In addition to its "extended" deployment during the first two months of 1980, VF-111 deployed a final time on 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, Carl Vinson and a battleship, the USS New Jersey (BB-62) 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 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.

1990s[edit]

A VF-111 F-14A from the USS Carl Vinson launching a Phoenix missile, 1991.

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 in 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.

Sundowner Aces[edit]

  • LT Charles R. Stimpson 16;
  • LT James E. Swope 10;
  • LT Jimmie E. Savage 7;
  • LTJG Horace B. Moranville 6;
  • LCDR Robert E. Clements 5;
  • LTJG Vernon E. Graham 5;
  • LT Henry S. White 5;

Other aces who scored kills with the Sundowners were: LT William N. Leonard, LTJG William J. Masoner, and LTJG John A. Zink.

Popular Media[edit]

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 callsign "Sundown" and wears a VF-111 styled helmet and squadron patch on his flight suit.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography
  • Barrett Tillman with Henk van der Lugt. VF-11/111 Sundowners 1942-95. Osprey, UK, 2010
  • Zalin Grant. Over the Beach: The Air War in Vietnam [Paperback]. W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.