VFA-154

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Strike Fighter Squadron 154
VFA-154 insignia.png
VFA-154 Insignia
Active July 1, 1946
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Type Fighter/Attack
Role Air Defense/Air Superiority
Air Interdiction
Close Air Support
Reconnaissance
Part of Carrier Air Wing Eleven
Garrison/HQ NAS Lemoore
Nickname "Black Knights"
Engagements Korean War
Vietnam War
Operation Desert Shield
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Aircraft flown
Fighter F/A-18F Super Hornet


Strike Fighter Squadron 154 (VFA-154), also known as the "Black Knights", is a United States Navy strike fighter squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore. The Black Knights are an operational fleet squadron flying the F/A-18F Super Hornet. They are currently attached to Carrier Air Wing Eleven and deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68). Their tailcode is NH and their callsign is "Knight".

History[edit]

Late 1940s to the 1980s[edit]

VFA-154 began its career as VFB-718 on July 1, 1946 based at NAS New York in New York flying the F6F Hellcat as a Naval Reserve squadron. Soon they transitioned to the F4U Corsair. The unit went through several designation changes as well, becoming VF-68A then VF-837.

VF-837 F9F-2B fighters are launched from USS Antietam off Korea.

When the unit was called VF-837 the squadron moved to NAS Moffett Field in California. VF-837 flew a combat cruise in the Korean War of the USS Antietam (CV-36). By this time they were flying the F9F-2 Panther. VF-837 returned from their first cruise and started working up for a second cruise. On February 4, 1953 while passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on board the USS Princeton (CV-37) and on their way back to Korea, VF-837 became VF-154. VF-154 dropped 470 tons of bombs and expended 1,500 000 rounds of ammunition in Korea and on June 15, 1953 VF-154 flew 48 sorties on a single day, setting a record for a Navy squadron. By now the squadron had transitioned to the F9F-5 Panther. During this period until fall of 1957, the VF-154 insignia was a flaming black panther on a yellow background. In the late 50's VF-154 – still home based at NAS Moffett Field – was flying North American Aircraft's "Mach-buster", the FJ-3 "Fury."

An F-8D Crusader from VF-154 in the early 1960s.

In 1957 VF-154 transitioned to the Navy's first operational supersonic carrier aircraft, the F-8 Crusader. In recognition of the new era and aircraft, VF-154 changed its insignia. Because of the new 1,000 mph fighters, the squadron was designated “The Grand Slammers” and a new insignia was designed by squadron pilot, John "Crash" Miottel with the final version drawn by the famous cartoonist Milton Caniff, creator of the Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. The new insignia was a silver Crusader knight on a black field with 2 F-8 divisions (4 plane formations) crossing in the background. Suffice it to say that the combination of supersonic aircraft and modified WW2 small deck, "27-Charley" carriers such as USS Hancock (CV-19) – VF-154's assigned carrier – was not easy on aircraft or pilots – VF-154 lost a full squadron of aircraft (14) and 20% of its pilots in the process.

Because of the patch design, and the arrival of new Crusaders configured for night operations, the squadron unofficially became known as the "Black Knights." That designation was added to the insignia and the name and insignia remain as VF-154 symbols to this day. (see the Black Knight insignia on this page and Crash’s link below for more VF-154 and Crusader history.)

Aside from the normal hazards, the next time VF-154 went into harm's way was the Vietnam War. The first deployment was in 1965 on board the USS Coral Sea (CV-43), part of Carrier Air Wing 15. Their first combat strikes occurred on February 7 and their combat cruise lasted until November the same year. After that yearly combat cruises followed and VF-154 soon transitioned to the F-4 Phantom II and became part of Carrier Air Wing 2, where it remained until 1980. After a second cruise with the Coral Sea, the Black Knights shifted carrier to the USS Ranger (CV-61) and completing five more cruises to South East Asia.

An F-4N Phantom II from VF-154 (right) aboard USS Coral Sea.

During 1968-69, 1969–70, & 1970-71 WestPac cruises aboard USS Ranger CVA-61, VF-154 was equipped with the F-4J Phantom II which used the Westinghouse AWG-10 RADAR system. Beginning with their 16 November 1972 deployment onboard USS Ranger, VF-154 participated in some of the last US Navy strikes of the war, they undertook the squadrons final Vietnam cruise, and they were awarded the Clifton Award - recognizing them as the best fighter squadron in the United States Navy.

In 1979 the unit transitioned to the F-4S, the last Navy version of the aircraft, but returned to the F-4N in January 1981. Several cruises with the USS Coral Sea followed, as the carrier did not have strong enough decks to carry the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. During this time VF-154 spent 120 days at sea of the coast of Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis until the hostages were formally released into United States custody just minutes after the new American president Ronald Reagan was sworn in. Thus VF-154, and sister squadron VF-21, were among the last units to convert to the F-14A. VF-154 finally transitioned to the F-14A in October 1983. Due to their late equipment the squadron received TARPS capable F-14s from the start. The first cruise with the F-14 was in 1985 on board the USS Constellation (CV-64) as part of Carrier Air Wing 14. Several further cruises on board “Connie” followed, with one taking place in 1987, during this cruise they operated in the Persian Gulf, intercepting Iranian P-3s and conducting movements in the Gulf of Oman, at the so-called “Gonzo” station.

1990s[edit]

F-14A Tomcats from VF-154 perform a section roll off Saipan in the Mariana Islands.

After the cruises with Constellation, CVW-15 moved to the USS Independence (CV-62) with this carrier, VF-154 and VF-21 became the first F-14 squadrons to arrive in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield, although they never took part in Operation Desert Storm and Independence returned to the US before the war started.

In August 1991, the USS Independence become home based at Yokosuka, Japan, to replace the USS Midway. VF-154 stayed with the carrier for this, but moved from CVW-14 to Carrier Air Wing 5 and from NAS Miramar to NAF Atsugi, thus becoming the first forward deployed F-14 squadron. At the same time as joining CVW-5 VF-154 became the first F-14 squadron to deploy with an air-to- ground bombing capability. Along with the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), Independence and her air wing were involved in operations to demonstrate US resolve in support of Taiwan. The 1995 Chinese military exercises once raised tension in the region and signalled China's opposition to Taiwan’s Presidential Election.

With the cut back on F-14 squadrons VF-154 sister squadron, VF-21, was disestablished, leaving the Black Knights as the only F-14 squadron in CVW-5. It was at this time that VF-154 absorbed a large amount of personnel and aircraft from VF-21. This increased the number of aircraft to 16 and VF-154 turned in to a "super squadron" due to size of personnel and number of aircraft. As well as keeping their TARPS role VF-154 have become very active in the air-to-ground role. Regular deployments aboard the Independence have continued. VF-154 conducted carrier qualifications on board the boat during November 1996.

The Black Knights arrived in Fremantle, Australia, on April 11, 1997, having just completed participation in the exercise 'Tandem Thrust'. With VF-154's F-14A's severely showing their age the squadron swapped six of its worst airframes for six from VF-213, which had visited on board the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), a few weeks earlier. The Black Knights finally received LANTIRN upgrades to their F-14A's in the last quarter of 1997 and January 1998. Although relatively late in the upgrade cycle, VF-154 was able to benefit - their F-14A's being the first in the Fleet to receive the new AN/ALR-67 Radar Warning Receiver.

World tensions soon meant VF-154 was called to action, on January 5, 1998 CVW-5 was called to action due to trouble in the Persian Gulf. USS Independence arrived to the area on February 4. VF-154 was leading the first CVW-5 flight package into southern Iraq within 24 hours. Although the tension eased the carrier and air wing remained on station until the end of May. Several missions were flown each day as part of Operation Southern Watch. With their new LANTIRN pods VF-154 were able to provide high quality video of potential targets day or night.

VF-154 F-14 tail markings

Sea duty called again in July, as CVW-5 made their last cruise on board USS Independence. After a cross Pacific transit to Pearl Harbor the air wing cross decked to their new home - USS Kitty Hawk. During the transfer, Kitty Hawk picked up the famous 'Don't Tread On Me' Jack - signifying her as the oldest ship on active service. Once again the shore period was short, on August 30 the air wing and carrier departed once more. Training began with a VF-154 organised MISSILEX - the F-14's shooting 4 AIM-54's and downing 4 targets. The cruise continued with Foal Eagle exercises in the seas around Korea. By the time the Black Knights pulled back into port during November they had spent 240 days at sea.

The commitment of the Black Knights was recognised soon after - the squadron gaining numerous awards, most notably the Pacific Fleet Battle 'E', Safety 'S' and 'Boola-Boola' missile awards. Later in 1999 VF-154 would add the Clifton award to that batch. Preparations for deployment soon started, in January jets deployed to Guam for SFARP training. A few weeks later they received their first Digital Flight Control System (DFCS) equipped jets. On the March 2, VF-154 sailed on board USS Kitty Hawk for their first full WESTPAC deployment. During the four months of cruise the Black Knights took part in Tandem Thurst '99, an unexpected Persian Gulf period (due to USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) being called to cover events in Kosovo), plus port visits to Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore. The cruise also saw a new first - two Naval Aviators reaching 1000 traps on the same day. Captain. R. McHarg, Commander, Air Group of CVW-5 landed on board in a specially painted VF-154 F-14A. His pilot for the historic trap was Lieutenant. D. Baxter. Later the same day the Commanding Officer of VFA-27, Commander. K. Hutcheson, made his landing in a F/A-18. Both landings took place in the Persian Gulf, where Kitty Hawk and CVW-5 completed 5,426 sorties, including 1,356 combat missions over Southern Iraq.

2000's[edit]

An F-14 Tomcat from VF-154.
January 2003: VF-154 fly past the memorial on top of Suribachi.

Between 1999 and 2002, VF-154 would participate in five deployments in the Pacific as well as the Indian Ocean. In 2001, CVW-5 flew more than 600 missions and 100 combat sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In 2003, VF-154 would make their last cruise with the F-14, this time in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This would be the first time CVW-5 would deploy to the Persian Gulf since 1999. The USS Kitty Hawk arrived on station on February 26 and CVW-5 was chosen to be the dedicated Close Air Support wing. VF-154 deployed with 12 F-14A’s and detached five F-14As and five air crews to the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar where these F-14’s and its crews would work closely with Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado’s, USAF F-15E’s, F-16CGs and F-16CJ’s and Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18As. CENTCOM had contacted CVW-5 and specifically asked for the air wing to deploy Forward Air Controller capable Tomcats and crews to support coalition land-based aircraft as well as Special Forces squads operating inside Iraq. The F-14s were usually paired with the aircraft already deployed to the airbase, dropping bomb themselves or guiding other aircraft bombs. The aircrews would fly daily missions and in one 48-hour period the Black Knights detachment flew 14 sorties totalling 100 hours of flight time. The crews at Al Udeid flew more than 300 combat hours and delivered 50 000 pounds of ordnance, (98 GBU-12s) during the 21-day stay at the airbase.

On April 1, 2003, VF-154 lost one of their aircraft over southern Iraq due to that it suffered a single engine and fuel transfer system failure which caused the remaining engine to run dry. The crew, already two hours into their mission and having dropped some bombs,the pilot and RIO ejected and the crew was soon picked up by an HH-60G helicopter. This F-14A was the first coalition aircraft to crash in Iraq since the start of Iraqi Freedom.

The remaining F-14s on the USS Kitty Hawk made a valuable contribution to the war effort, compromising mostly of junior officers and expended 246 GBU-12s, ten GBU-16s and four GBU-10s during 27 days of combat. By the end of the war, VF-154 had dropped 358 laser-guided bombs, buddy lased 65 more and passed target coordinates for 32 JDAM’s during the course of 286 sorties. The Black Knights had expended more ordnance than any other unit in CVW-5, despite flying the oldest jets in the air wing.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-154 in 2006.

In September 2003 the Black Knights left Atsugi for the last time and ended their proud 13 years in Japan and 20 years in the Tomcat. A month later, VF-154 was redesignated VFA-154 at their new home at NAS Lemoore, California, and began transitioning to the Navy's newest strike fighter, the F/A-18F Super Hornet. They completed their first Super Hornet cruise in the summer of 2005 aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), part of Carrier Air Wing 9 supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. On April 6, 2005, VFA-154 and VFA-147 dropped two 500-pound laser-guided bombs on enemy insurgent location east of Baghdad.[1]

As Carl Vinson entered its overhaul cycle, CVW-9 and VFA-154 deployed to the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74). VFA-154 and CVW-9 embarked on a new deployment to the Persian Gulf in the spring of 2007 supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and a joint-military exercise off Guam called Valiant Shield.

VFA-154 and CVW-9 deployed with USS John C. Stennis on a scheduled Western Pacific deployment on January 13, 2009. VFA-154 and CVW-9 returned to the United States on July 6 after participating in exercises with Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and annual exercises as Foal Eagle with the Republic of Korea and joint exercise Northern Edge 2009. However,they are spotted on USS John C. Stennis in the movie 'Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen'.[2]

In October 2009 VFA-154 transitioned to the new F/A-18F Block II Lot 30/31A AN/APG-79 AESA radar Rhino. In 2010 the squadron re-location from Carrier Air Wing Nine to Carrier Air Wing Fourteen aboard the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and departed on their 2011 deployment on February 2. In March 154 found itself in the familiar waters of Northern Japan supporting the Tsunami relief efforts of Operation Tomodachi. The squadron flew reconnaissance flights identifying groups of survivors later to be rescued by CVW-9 Helicopters. The late Spring and Summer of 2011 took the Black Knights to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively; as well as counter-piracy efforts throughout the Indian Ocean. The cruise was the final for CVW-14, bringing the Black Knights to CVW-11 aboard the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in 2012.

F/A18F "super hornet"VFA 154 color scheme

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See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. CRASH: VF-154 PILOT'S WEBSITE*[1]
  2. CRASH: FIRST VF-154 F8U-1 CARRIER OPERATIONS-WESPAC*[2]

Notes[edit]