|Strike Fighter Squadron 81|
|Active||July 1, 1955|
|Country||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Navy|
|Role||Close air support
|Garrison/HQ||Naval Air Station Oceana|
|Engagements||Operation Desert Storm
Operation Deny Flight
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Deliberate Force
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
|CDR Richard Rivera|
|Fighter||F/A-18E Super Hornet|
Strike Fighter Squadron 81 (VFA-81), also known as the "Sunliners", is a United States Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet strike fighter squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana. They are a part of Carrier Air Wing Seventeen, their radio callsign is Zapper, and their tail code is AA. Their mission is to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations from the sea, putting fuzed ordinance on target, on time.
 Insignia and nickname
The squadron was originally called Crusaders and their first insignia was approved by Chief of Naval Operations on December 16, 1955. The original insignia was a black cougar on a light blue background.
On 21 November 1963, the squadron was renamed the Sunliners and a new insignia was approved consisting of a black background with the international orange "mach wave" design. They also adopted the motto "Anytime, Anyplace" at this time.
When the squadron was redesignated VFA, a modification to the current design was made on March 30, 1988.
The Sunliners of VFA-81 were originally commissioned as Attack Squadron SIXTY SIX (VA-66) on 1 July 1955. On the same day, they were redesignated Fighter Squadron 81 (VF-81), an all weather fighter interceptor squadron flying the Grumman F9F-8B Cougar. Their first deployment was with CVG-17 in late 1956 aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Suez Crisis. In 1958 VF-81 made a deployment as part of Air Task Group 181 (ATG-181) aboard USS Lake Champlain to the Mediterranean Sea. In the next year VF-81 went to sea with ATG-182 to the North Atlantic aboard USS Intrepid. On 04 Mar 1959 VF-81 was reequipped with the Douglas A4D-2 Skyhawk and redesignated attack squadron VA-81 on 1 July 1959.
VA-81 was assigned to CVG-8 and made five deployments to the Mediterranean Sea aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal between 1960 and 1966. From October 1961 to February 1962, a detachment of VA-81 Skyhawks deployed to the North Atlantic embarked in USS Essex. The detachment was provided air cover for antisubmarine units embarked in Essex with their AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. The detachment was the first jet unit to function as part of an antisubmarine killer force. In April 1963 the squadron transitioned from the A-4B (A4D-2) to the A-4C Skyhawk.
In 1966 and 1967, VA-81 was deployed with CVG-8 to the Mediterranean, this time aboard USS Shangri-La. For the 1967/68 deployment aboard the same carrier, VA-81 flew the A-4C. In 1969 VA-81 A-4Cs made a single deployment to the Med aboard the USS John F. Kennedy as part of CVW-1, operating for a time off the coast of Libya following a coup that overthrew the Libyan monarchy on 1 September 1969.
In Dec 1972, squadron’s A-7Es conducted cross-deck operations with the British carrier HMS Ark Royal.
From July to August 1974, VA-81 operated from USS Forrestal in the vicinity of Cyprus following a coup in that country and its invasion by Turkish forces. Surveillance and cover missions were flown by the squadron during the crisis.
VA-81 embarked in Forrestal from May to June 1981, operating in the eastern Mediterranean following Israeli reprisal raids against Syrian missile batteries located in southern Lebanon. In August 1981, the squadron participated a Freedom of Navigation Exercise in the Gulf of Sidra. During this exercise on August 18, two F-14 Tomcats from USS Nimitz (CVN-68) shot down two Libyan SU-22 Fitters. Tensions escalated, and VA-81 flew reconnaissance missions over potentially hostile Libyan ships.
Between 1984 and 1987 VA-81 made three deployments with the Saratoga.
The next day, three U.S. Navy warships crossed the same 32° 30' North latitude line. Two hours later, Libyan forces fired SA-5 Gammon surface-to-air missiles from the coastal town of Surt. The missiles missed their F-14 Tomcat targets and fell harmlessly into the water. Later that afternoon, U.S. aircraft turned back two Libyan MiG-25 fighter planes over the disputed Gulf of Sidra. In response a Grumman A-6E Intruder attacked a Libyan missile patrol boat operating on the "Line of Death." Later that night, VA-81 aircraft acted as the decoy group for VA-83’s HARM strike against the Libyan missile radar site at Surt. At the conclusion, three Libyan patrol boats and a radar site were destroyed by Navy aircraft.
On February 4, 1988, VA-81 transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet and was redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron 81 (VFA-81).
The squadron made three deployments with Saratoga between 1990 and 1994. On its first cruise in the FA-18, VFA-81 participated in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. On January 17, 1991, LCDR Scott Speicher's F/A-18C was shot down on the first night of the Persian Gulf War while flying a mission west of Baghdad. It is disputed whether he was shot down by a SAM or by a MiG-25.
On the first day of the war the Sunliners scored the Navy's only two aerial victories over enemy fighters during the campaign by downing two Iraqi MiG-21s. VFA-81 returned to its homeport of NAS Cecil Field, Florida on 27 March 1991, following the swift coalition victory. The squadron also participated in the last Mediterranean deployment of Saratoga, which was decommissioned in August 1994.
In 1996 VFA-81 made a cruise with CVW-17 aboard the USS Enterprise, followed by a deployment aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1998. Following this cruise, the squadron shifted its homeport to NAS Oceana, Virginia due to the BRAC-mandated closure of NAS Cecil Field in 1999.
In 2007 VFA-81 was reassigned to CVW-11 in the Pacific Fleet and deployed aboard USS Nimitz to the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf. Its last deployment ended on June 3, 2008, and the squadron began transition training from the F/A-18C Hornet to the F/A-18E Super Hornet.
In 2012, the squadron completed a surge deployment with Carrier Air Wing 17 aboard the USS Carl Vinson.
 See also
- Naval aviation
- Modern US Navy carrier air operations
- List of military aircraft of the United States (naval) / List of US Naval aircraft
- United States Naval Aviator
- Military aviation
- List of United States Navy aircraft squadrons
- List of Inactive United States Navy aircraft squadrons