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VF-121 (Fighter Squadron 121) of the US Navy was a former Pacific Fleet Replacement Air Group (RAG) unit that, by the time of its disestablishment (30 September 1980), was charged with the training of F-4 Phantom flight and maintenance crews. VF-121 was originally VF-781, a reserve squadron, established on 2 August 1950.[1] It is best known as the original host unit for the Navy's Fighter Weapons School, more popularly known world-wide as Top Gun.

On July 1, 1946, VF-121, The Pacemakers were stationed at Naval Air Station Los Alamitos, CA. They were called into service in 1953 to serve in Korea.[2]


VF-781 served on board USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) with Air Group 102(CVG-102) flying F9F-2B Panthers from May 10, 1951 to December 17, 1951. VF-781's next cruise was on board USS Hancock (CV-19) flying with Air Group 102(CVG-102). The Pacemakers flew F9F-5's in Korea from September 15, 1952 to May 18, 1953. The first F9F-5s entered combat in October 1952 with reserve squadrons VF-781 and VF-783 from USS Hancock (CVA-31).

VF-781 was re-designated VF-121 on February 4, 1953. VF-781 originally flew F4U Corsairs then transition to F9F-2/-5 Panthers. After re-designated to VF-121, the squadron flew F9F-6 Cougars and FJ-3 Fury's. Shortly after VF-781 was converted to an Active Duty Squadron, VF-121 made two more cruises to the Western Pacific and Korea on The USS Hancock (CV-19) from 10 Aug 1955 to 15 Mar 1956 with CVG-12 flying F9F-8, with the tail code of 'D'. The last cruise was on board USS Lexington CV-16 from April 19, 1957 to October 17, 1957.

Commander R. E. 'Dusty' Rhodes was CO of VF-121 during 1955. Cdr. Rhodes worked with VC-6 and their AJ Savage tankers on air to air refueling. The exercise was successfully off the coast of San Diego, Ca. Cdr. Rhodes went on to Command the Blue Angels flight team from 1947 to 1950.[3]

F-4 Phantom II models flown by VF-121 are F-4B, G, J, N & S.

VF-121 Pacemakers received the first examples of F-4B Phantoms at NAS Miramar in 1961.[4]

Top Gun[edit]

The original Top Gun school started in 1969 with VF-121, located at NAS Miramar, San Diego, CA[5]



  • 02 Aug 1950—Reserve squadron VF-781 established
  • 04 Feb 1953—redesignated VF-121
  • 11 Apr 1958—changed duty from Fleet Squadron to the Fleet Replacement Squadron
  • 30 Sept 1980—disestablished[1]

Aircraft assigned[edit]

[1] FJ-3 facts

[2] F3H facts

[3] F11F facts

F-4 Phantom II U.S. operators F-4 facts

Squadron Facts[edit]

  • Sept 1961, Cdr. Martin M. Casey mad the 99,000 arrested landing on USS Coral Sea (CV-43)
  • First production F4H-1's (F-4B) in early 1961.
  • 20 Jul 1950, VF-781 was based at NAS North Island, Ca.
  • Jan 1951, moved to NAS Miramar, Ca. with many returning squadrons for deployment being based at NAS North Island.
  • VF-781 was the first squadron assigned to West Coast Master Jet Fighter Base. Three weeks later VF-781 moved to NAAS El Centro
  • May 10, 1951, VF-781 became an effective Combat Unit with past training and went to War.
  • Dec 1951, VF-781 moved back to NAS Miramar, Ca.
  • Jul 1952, VF-781 completed move to F9F-5.
  • Nov 1952, VF-781 got first MIG 15 kill, which was confirmed by gun camera.
  • May 24, 1961, Project LANA- a 50th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Transcontinental Race for the Bendix Trophy, was won by a VF-121 crew.
  • Squadron Decommissioned 30 Sept 1980

Commanding Officers[edit]

  • VF-781
    • LCDR Collin I. Overland - 1 Jul 1946 to 1952
    • LCDR Stan R. Holm - 1952 to 1954
  • VF-121
    • CDR J. E. Savage - 1954
    • CDR Jereme H. 'Dusty' Rhodes - 1954 to 1956
    • CDR T. S. Sedker - 1956 to 1957 [ Has 2 kills to credit]
    • CDR H. L. Halland - ? to ?
    • CDR Frank Mezzadi - Jun 1978 to 1979
    • CDR Phillip Anselmo - 1979 to Sept 1980


USS Hancock deployment [4]



  1. ^ a b Go Navy: VF-121
  2. ^ F3H Demon Homestead, VF-121 Drivers
  3. ^ "VF-121 PACEMAKERS Cdr. R. E. "Dusty" Rhodes". Blueangels.org. Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  4. ^ Eden 2004, p. 278.
  5. ^ "Navy Fighter Weapons School | A-4 Skyhawk Association". A4skyhawk.org. Retrieved 2013-07-20. 


See also[edit]