The "Black Aces" are an operational fleet squadron that flies the F/A-18F Super Hornet. The Black Aces are attached to Carrier Air Wing 9 (CVW-9), which are currently deployed aboard the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74). Their radio callsign is "Fast Eagle" and their tailcode is NG.
VF-41, the Black Aces was established on 1 September 1950 at NAS Oceana, it is the fourth US Navy squadron to be designated VF-41. The Black Aces began flying the McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee in 1953, deploying to the Mediterranean and Far East aboard USS Independence. In 1959, the Banshee was replaced by the McDonnell F3H-2 Demon.
In February 1962, VF-41 transitioned to the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II and made a special deployment to Key West, Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In May 1965, the Black Aces deployed to the western Pacific for seven months of combat operations in Vietnam. They flew a wide range of missions: fighter cover, reconnaissance escort, flak suppression and day/night interdiction.
The next five deployments (Flying the F-4J,B,N) were on USS Franklin D. Roosevelt with CVW-6 tail code AE (awarded the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation for period March 9, 1972 through December 1, 1972). VF-41 transitioned from the F-4J to the F-4B in 1973 and (as an 18 aircraft squadron) was on USS Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Yom Kippur War providing escorts for Operation Nickel Grass and were part of the peacekeeping force that helped keep the truce after the war.
In 1974, VF-41 transitioned from the F-4B to the F-4N and conducted their last cruise with the Phantom aboard Roosevelt in 1975. During that year VF-41 was awarded the COMNAVAIRLANT Safety "S", which they also would receive in 1981, 1989 and 1992. In April 1976 VF-41 transitioned to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and their first cruise began in September 1979 as part of CVW-8 on the USS Nimitz, the first of the Nimitz Class carriers to join the Atlantic Fleet. Another cruise followed in 1980 to the Mediterranean.
In 1980, Nimitz and VF-41 took part in a round the Horn cruise. While on this cruise, the carrier served as the seaborne base in response to the Iran hostage crisis and the subsequent attempted rescue of the U.S. Embassy hostages from Iran. VF-41 (and the rest of the battle group) spent 144 continuous days at sea, the longest period the squadron had spent at sea without break since World War II.
During workups for the 1981–1982 Mediterranean cruise, an EA-6B Prowler piloted by Marine Lieut. Steven E. White, crashed on the deck of the Nimitz. Upon crashing onto the deck, the EA-6B Prowler rammed broadside into a "six pack" of fueled F-14 Tomcats causing a fuel fire and ordnance to explode, including an AIM-7 Sparrow missile. The incident, which caused only superficial damage to the Nimitz, resulted in three F-14s destroyed, 45 injured sailors and fourteen casualties with VF-41 losing three shipmates.
While on deployment in the Mediterranean on August 19, 1981, during a routine combat air patrol mission over the Gulf of Sidra, two Libyan Su-22 "Fitter" aircraft were shot down by Black Aces aircraft. The incident marked the first Navy air combat confrontation since the Vietnam War and the first ever for the F-14A Tomcat. It was the first time a variable wing geometry aircraft shot down another variable wing geometry aircraft. 1981 was also the first year in which the Black Aces won the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle Efficiency "E", signifying them as the most efficient squadron in the Atlantic Fleet. VF-41 was also awarded the Battle "E" in 1985 and 1989.
In November 1982, the squadron embarked on an extended deployment off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon, in support of a multinational peacekeeping force.
During 1985, VF-41 spent 68 days off the coast of Lebanon in response to the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.
The 1986 cruise was the last with Nimitz; it began in December and ended in June 1987 when Nimitz got to her new home in San Diego. In October that year, CVW-8 was deployed with USS Theodore Roosevelt and the first cruise was in the North Atlantic for Exercise Teamwork ’88 which involved operations with the Royal Norwegian Air Force and the first Mediterranean deployment was in December.
On December 28, 1990, VF-41 embarked on USS Theodore Roosevelt to support Operation Desert Shield, arriving in the Persian Gulf shortly after hostilities with Iraq began. By the end of the war, the squadron had amassed over 1,500 combat flight hours. After the war, the Black Aces remained in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea as part of a military presence enforcing the ceasefire until late April 1991, when the squadron was tasked with providing air support for ground forces assisting Kurdish refugees in Northern Iraq during Operation Provide Comfort.
VF-41 was soon training for the F-14's new role: air-to-ground bombing. In late 1991, VF-41 had flown over 46,500 hours without an accident over a period of 11 years.
In 1995 VF-84 was disestablished and VF-41 picked up the TARPS mission. The disestablishment of VF-84 was the only occasion in which a TARPS capable unit was disestablished instead of a non-TARPS capable unit.
In early 1995 VF-41 deployed on a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and the Adriatic Sea. During this cruise VF-41 conducted combat operations in support of Operation Deliberate Force and Operation Deny Flight over Bosnia and Herzegovina and Operation Southern Watch over Iraq. On September 5, 1995, two VF-41 F-14A's dropped laser-guided bombs for the first time in combat during Operation Deliberate Force. The target was an ammunition dump in eastern Bosnia. The bombs were guided by F/A-18s. VF-41 adopted the slogan "First To Fight, First To Strike" in recognition of being the first F-14 squadron to score air-to-air kills and drop bombs in combat. During this deployment VF-41 logged over 600 combat hours and 530 sorties.
In 1996, VF-14 joined VF-41 in CVW-8 and thus CVW-8 was one of few air wings in the US Navy with two F-14 squadrons, rather than one. CVW-8 deployed onboard USS John C. Stennis in February 1996, for a Joint Fleet Exercise. This was followed by deployed operations to the North Atlantic while embarked on USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) with port calls to Dublin, Ireland and Portsmouth, England.
In April 1997, CVW-8 embarked in USS John F. Kennedy for a Mediterranean/Persian Gulf deployment. During this deployment, CVW-8 participated in numerous exercises and detachments including Infinite Acclaim, Beacon Flash and Invitex. During Invitex the Air Wing completed over 350 sorties including 203 sorties in a single day of surge operations. This deployment also included operations over Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of Operation Deliberate Guard and over Iraq in support of Operation Southern Watch.
In 1999, USS Theodore Roosevelt departed for the Mediterranean and joined NATO forces for Operation Allied Force. VF-41's first strike was against an ammunition storage facility in Pristina, Kosovo on April 6. In July, Theodore Roosevelt was ordered to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch, where VF-41 became the first squadron to expend ordnance in two theatres on a single deployment. VF-41 logged over 1,100 combat hours during 384 sorties and dropped over 160 tons of laser-guided munitions with an unprecedented 85% success rate in support of Operation Allied Force and Operation Southern Watch.
In April 2001, VF-41 embarked on their final F-14 cruise aboard USS Enterprise, supporting Operation Southern Watch and Operation Enduring Freedom. As the carrier headed for home, they were given order to head to the Gulf of Oman after the September 11, 2001 Attacks. During the build-up to war, VF-41 conducted several TARPS missions near the Pakistani/Afghani-border.
The USS Enterprise/CVW-8 were the night carrier during OEF and thus didn’t see action until October 8, when VF-41 attacked several cave complexes. One of the first target hit was the Shindand airbase, in western Afghanistan, where the Taliban were storing aircraft, radar and vehicles. U pon return to the US in November, VF-41 had dropped over 200,000 lbs of ordnance (202 laser-guided bombs).
Shortly after their return in late 2001, VF-41 transitioned to the F/A-18F Super Hornet and was redesignated VFA-41.
On October 18, 2002 four VFA-41 aviators were killed when two F/A-18Fs collided in mid-air off the coast of California.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, two F/A-18Fs were forward deployed to USS Abraham Lincoln in late March 2003. These F/A-18s were requested to boost the aerial refueling capabilities of CVW-14, as well as to provide additional qualified Forward Air Controllers. The F/A-18s flew from Nimitz to Lincoln, a 2700-mile trip. On April 6, the Hornets returned to Nimitz. During the war VFA-41 expended laser-guided bombs, as well as JDAM and AGM-65 Maverick missiles.
In May 2005 VFA-41 again deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During this deployment the squadron was featured in the PBS documentary "Carrier" with a heavy focus on Commander David Fravor.
On January 18, 2008, it was announced that CVW-11 would deploy on January 24 to the Pacific for a surge-deployment aboard Nimitz. On February 13, 2008, it was reported that several Russian Tu-95 bombers were intercepted over the Pacific by F/A-18s from Nimitz while on a surge deployment in the region. One Tu-95 was escorted and flew directly over the carrier at 2000 feet, escorted by VFA-41 Hornets. The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Gary Roughead called the incident "benign" and said: "they came out to look. We joined up (and) flew with them until they went home". A total of four Russian bombers were involved; two remained about 500 miles east of the carrier strike group, and another orbited about 50 miles away as one Tu-95 did two low passes over the Nimitz carrier group.
During 2009 CVW-11 and the Nimitz Strike Group conducted several training exercises off the coast of Southern California including composite unit training and joint task force training in anticipation for their 2009–2010 deployment. On July 28 it was reported that CVW-11 and the Nimitz Strike Group was to depart for an eight-month deployment.
With two-thirds of the 2009–2010 deployment finished (January 2010), VFA-41 had flown over 2,500 combat hours in 400 combat missions supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. VFA-41 is planned to join CVW-9 in 2010 and start workups for a WESTPAC deployment in 2011.
From July 27, 2011 to February 26, 2012, CVW-9 deployed onboard USS John C. Stennis to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, counter-piracy and maritime security operations. VFA-41 supported Operation Enduring Freedom and the final combat missions of Operation New Dawn.
Following a short six-month turnaround, the Black Aces once again cruised on a surge deployment from September 1, 2012 to April 28, 2013 onboard USS John C. Stennis. The Black Aces returned to the Middle East and flew missions in support of United States Navy FIFTH Fleet and Operation Enduring Freedom.
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- Naval aviation
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- "The Official Homepage of the World Famous BLACK ACES". Retrieved 29 January 2015.
- "Fighter Squadron Lineage". Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
- Anderson, Kurt (June 8, 1981). "Night of Flaming Terror". Time Magazine. Retrieved 07/09/2011. Check date values in:
- Grumman F-14 Tomcat 1976–2001
- Tony Holmes (2008). F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited – Chapter One – Build-up To War, page 22
- Tony Holmes (2008). F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited – Chapter Two – OEF Begins, pages 32–37
- Tony Holmes (2008). F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited – Chapter Three – Ground War, page 52
- Nimitz Carrier Strike Group Set to Deploy
- Picture of one Tu-95 intercepted by an F/A-18F
- Picture of one Tu-95 intercepted by an F/A-18 Super Hornet
- CNO Calls USS Nimitz Incident 'Benign'
- Black Aces Return from 2008 WESTPAC
- Nimitz Strike Group Set To Deploy
- Black Aces 2009 In Review
- John C. Stennis Deploys with Carrier Strike Group 3
- Strike missions against terror
- Tony Holmes (2005). US Navy F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited.
- Robert K. Wilcox (2002). Black Aces High, St. Martin's Press.
- Tony Holmes (2005). US Navy Hornet Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom Part One, Osprey Publishing Limited.