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Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121
Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121 (US Navy) patch.png
VAW-121 Insignia
Active 1 April 1967
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Type Airborne Early Warning
Part of Carrier Air Wing 11
Garrison/HQ NAS Norfolk
Nickname(s) "Bluetails"
Motto BlueTails take care of Bluetails!
Mascot Griffin
Engagements Operation Desert Shield
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Commander Jon J. Bradford
Aircraft flown
E-2D Hawkeye

Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121 (VAW-121), also known as the "Bluetails", is an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and Command and control (CC) squadron operating the E-2D Hawkeye based at NAS Norfolk. Currently a part of Carrier Air Wing 11, the Bluetails deploy aboard the USS Nimitz.

Squadron History[edit]


Along with VAW-122, VAW-123 and VAW-120, VAW-121 was created out of the "super squadron" VAW-12 on 1 April 1967. Until then, VAW-12 had deployed 4-plane detachments to accompany carrier air wings.[1]


A Grumman E-1B Tracer of early warning squadron VAW-121 in 1971.

Unlike its siblings, VAW-121 would fly the E-1B Tracer, until the mid-1970s. This was due to the fact there were still carriers in the inventory that were not configured mainly the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Essex-class carriers which were to small to handle the E-2.[2]

In 1977 VAW-121 made its first deployment as part of CVW-7 on the newly commissioned USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.[1]


It wasn't until the next deployment in 1980 that they really began to set records. That year saw VAW-121 deployed for 347 days at sea with Dwight D. Eisenhower/CVW-7 setting a modern-day record that would not be broken until the deployment of the USS Theodore Roosevelt during Operation Enduring Freedom.[1]

E-2C Hawkeye of VAW-121 in flight in April 1987

In 1981 the squadron deployed for three months to Keflavik, Iceland, in support of the Icelandic Defense Force. Upon their return, VAW-121 deployed to the North Atlantic for a large NATO exercise in which VAW-121 set new community records by keeping aircraft continuously airborne for 23 days.[2]

The Bluetails returned to the Mediterranean Sea in January 1982 and garnered an unprecedented third consecutive Battle "E" and AEW Excellence Awards, both firsts for a VAW squadron. During this deployment, the Bluetails were involved in overseeing the evacuation of Americans from Beirut.Returning from the three-month winter deployment to Iceland, the Bluetails found themselves again in the North Atlantic conducting three CVBG operations with USS Forrestal and HMS Hermes, the later deploying with the new Sea Harrier.[2]

The 1983 Mediterranean deployment proved to be one of the most rigorous in the squadron's history. It included contingency operations near Libya and periods of 95 and 92 consecutive days at sea in support of multi-national peacekeeping forces in the Eastern Mediterranean.[2]


March 1990 saw VAW-121 embark on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower for another Med deployment. This deployment was highlighted by 15 days of around the clock operations in the Red Sea in support of the critical initial phase of Operation Desert Shield, when external AEW support was non-existent. Once again, in March 1991, VAW-121 was awarded both the prestigious Battle "E" and AEW Excellence Awards for 1990.[2]

In September 1991, the squadron sailed east once again in USS Dwight D. Eisenhower becoming the first battle group to return to Operation Desert Storm. Although hostilities had ended, the squadron provided essential coordination and control for several joint multi-national exercises. Cruise culminated in a two week NATO exercise, Teamwork '92, in the fjords of Norway.[2]

In September 1992, VAW-121 were reassigned to the navy's newest aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, and participated in its initial two month "shakedown".[2]

February 1993 found VAW-121 deployed to Howard AFB. For two months, the bluetails, as part of Joint Task Force 4, expertly provided airborne surveillance to help stem the flow of drugs in the Central American region. The squadron was the crucial detection and communication link fusing the efforts of the U.S. Air Force, DEA, and Coast Guard units in the interdiction of numerous narcotics flights.[2]

On 20 May 1994, after an extensive work-up period, the squadron, embarked aboard USS George Washington for her maiden deployment. Highlights of the historic voyage included the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day off Normandy as well as critical participation in Operation Deny Flight over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Southern Watch over Iraq.[2]

VAW-121 departed on deployment bound for the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian sea in January 1996. Once again the command, control, and communication efforts of the squadron were utilized in Operation Decisive Endeavor over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Southern Watch over Iraq. The squadron returned home in July 1996 and immediately began their transition to the new E-2C Group II aircraft. In December 1996, the squadron passed the 30 year 59,000 hours mishap free hour mark, the best safety record in carrier aviation.[2]

VAW-121 to start its engines aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In February 1998 the Bluetails deployed onboard the USS John C. Stennis. During the ship's around the world deployment, the Bluetails provided the air wing support. The squadron coordinated multi-service operations with the United States Air Force, United States Army, and United States Marine Corps in support of Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia Operation Southern Watch. In addition, the Bluetails controlled many multi-national exercises involving air and naval forces of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, France, Great Britain, and Australia. The Bluetails went on to win three consecutive TOP HOOK awards and became the first E-2C squadron to win the CVW-7 TOP HOOK award for deployment. From October through December 1998 the Bluetails operated fromm NS Roosevelt Roads in support of Counter Narcotics operations. To cap off the year the Bluetails earned the Triple Crown of AEW Awards- the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E", the CNO Safety "S" and the Fred Akers AEW Excellence Award.[2]

The Bluetails followed CVW-7 back to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower for their latest set of work-ups and deployment. In December 1999, the Bluetails passed the 33 year 64,000 hours mishap free mark, the best safety record in carrier aviation. VAW-121 supported peacekeeping missions over Kosovo and Albania while operating in the Adriatic Sea. USS Eisenhower proceeded to the Gulf to support Operation Southern Watch, while the squadron flew multiple missions over Kuwait in support of strikes on Iraq. The Bluetails provided critical command and control for the first strikes in the Eisenhower's 22 year history to actually drop bombs on foreign soil.[2]


While deployed with the USS George Washington in May 2006. The squadron along with rest of battle group conducted training with the Colombian Navy. The exercise is part of "Partnership of the Americas."[3]


On returning from a mission on March 31, 2010 an E-2C Hawkeye suffered a catastrophic engine failure. The condition of the starboard engine made the aircraft almost impossible to control. The pilot, Lt. Steven Zilberman, made sure the aircraft stayed level so the other three crew members could bail out safely. Seconds later, the Hawkeye crashed into the sea. After three days of a massive search he was declared lost at sea. For his courage in the face of certain death, heroism to save the lives of his crew, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[4][5][6]

E-2D of VAW-121 takes off from NAS Norfolk in November 2014

The Bluetails, began using its first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft in 2014, marking an end to its 37-year association with the previous model E-2C Hawkeye.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Dossel, Carl W. (Summer 1983). History of VAW. The Hook. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron VAW-121 Bluetails". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  3. ^ "GW Strike Group Commander Visits Colombian Navy in Cartagena". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  4. ^ "The story of Steve "Abrek" Zilberman". theBRIGADE. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  5. ^ "US Navy Ends Search For Missing Aviator". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  6. ^ "Navy Aircraft Mishap in North Arabian Sea". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  7. ^ "E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft launched by US Navy’s VAW-121 squadron". Naval Technology. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 

External links[edit]

See also[edit]