|Strike Fighter Squadron 97|
|Active||1 June 1967|
|Country||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Navy|
|Role||Close air support
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Restore Hope
Operation Desert Fox
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
|Fighter||F/A-18E Super Hornet|
Strike Fighter Squadron 97 (VFA-97), also known as the "Warhawks", are a United States Navy F/A-18E fighter squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore. The squadron was established as VA-97 on 1 June 1967 and redesignated VFA-97 on 24 January 1991. VFA-97 was the first Navy F/A-18 squadron to be expeditionary land-based, the "Warhawks" deployed to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan as part of USN/USMC TACAIR Integration. In 2008, they transitioned back to Carrier-based operations with Carrier Air Wing Eleven with the tail code of "NH". Their radio callsign is Warhawk.
Squadron insignia and nickname
The original VA-97 squadron insignia was approved by the Chief of Naval Operations on 6 March 1968 and they have been called the Warhawks since establishment. According to the US Navy History and Heritage Command, "The squadron continued to use its old insignia approved for VA-97. The squadron did not request a designation change to its banner following its redesignation to VFA-97." However, newer VFA-97 insignia appears to be in use.
The Warhawks of VA-97 were commissioned on 1 June 1967 and assigned to Carrier Air Wing 14 (CVW 14). On 28 May 1968, they departed San Diego embarked on USS Constellation (CV-64) for the squadron's first WESTPAC deployment. On 28 Jun 1968 the squadron conducted its first combat missions, flying the A-7 Corsair II, against targets in Vietnam.
On 4 February 1971, the Warhawks embarked USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia for her transit around South America to her new home port of Alameda, California. The squadron's third deployment began in June 1971, embarked on Enterprise. In December of that year following the outbreak of war between India and Pakistan over East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Enterprise was ordered to leave Yankee Station for the Indian Ocean. The carrier, with VA-97 embarked, operated in the Bay of Bengal until the cessation of hostilities in the latter part of December.
After returning to Alameda and a short turn-around period, the Warhawks again returned to WESTPAC in September 1972. There they participated in Linebacker I and Linebacker II operations in October and December, respectively.
In March 1976, VA-97 achieved the "Triple Crown" of Naval Aviation awards, earning the Admiral Clarence Wade McClusky Award as the U.S. Navy's top Attack Squadron, the CNO Aviation Safety Award (also known as the Safety "S”), and the Pacific Fleet Battle Efficiency Award (also known as the Battle "E").
The Warhawks began their sixth deployment in July 1976 once again embarked on Enterprise with CVW-14. The squadron's return to NAS Lemoore in May 1977 marked the completion of five years and over 25,000 hours of mishap-free flying in the A-7, making VA-97 the first squadron to achieve that mark.
Their seventh deployment began in April 1978 aboard Enterprise. In May of that year the Warhawks surpassed six years and over 30,000 hours of mishap-free flying.
Coral Sea was the Warhawks' home for deployment nine in August 1981, and again for deployment ten in March 1983, when they sailed around the world.
In August 1986, VA-97 participated in carrier tactical flight operations in the Bering Sea.
The Warhawks eleventh deployment departed NAS Alameda in October 1984 embarked in USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), the U.S. Navy's newest carrier. The Warhawks participated in FLEETEX 85, involving five carrier battle groups and sixty-five ships from various countries.
The 12th deployment began in August 1986 and added a number of new achievements to the long list. The Warhawks operated with Carl Vinson above the Aleutian Islands Chain in the Bering Sea, both on the way to WESTPAC and on the return trip. The squadron returned home in February 1987.
The 13th deployment began in June 1988 and included support of Operation Earnest Will convoys in the Gulf of Oman and the Straits of Hormuz, ending with the Warhawks winning the Battle Efficiency Award.
1990 was a notable year in WARHAWK history as they completed their 15th and last WESTPAC deployment in the A-7 Corsair. On 24 January 1991, VA-97 was redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron NINETY SEVEN (VFA-97) and transitioned to the FA-18 Hornet. That summer, the squadron flew to Norfolk, VA and embarked USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) for her transit around Cape Horn.
In fall 1992, the Warhawks deployed to the WESTPAC in support of Operation Southern Watch (OSW) over Iraq as well as Operation Restore Hope in Somalia . The Warhawks returned to Lemoore in May 1993. In June 1994, the Warhawks began their second Hornet cruise and 17th overall. This was their last cruise as a member of CVW 15. In October 1995 the Warhawks joined Carrier Air Wing 11 aboard Kitty Hawk, deploying in support of OSW. The squadron was awarded the 1996 Battle "E", the LTJG Bruce Carrier Award for maintenance excellence, and the Scott Kirby Award for ordnance excellence.
In December 1997 Carrier Air Wing 11 and the Warhawks were assigned to USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), deploying on November 10, 1998 for WESTPAC 98–99, their 19th deployment. The squadron flew combat missions supporting Operation Desert Fox and OSW, returning to Lemoore in May 1999.
The squadron deployed in late July 2001 aboard Carl Vinson. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the carrier and her air wing rushed to the North Arabian Sea and conducted sustained combat operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The squadron led the air wing with over 3,000 flight hours, 1,340 sorties, and a 99 percent combat sortie completion rate, delivering over 453,000 pounds of ordnance in a ten-week period in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
After returning to Lemoore, their efforts were recognized with the 2001 Battle "E", the 2001 Captain Michael J. Estocin Award and the Chief of Naval Operations Safety "S”, resulting in the so-called "triple-crown" achievement for the Warhawks.
In 2003, the squadron, attached to Carrier Airwing ELEVEN (CVW-11), embarked on USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and flew hundreds of combat sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This "final cruise of the Alphas" marked the final time the oldest U.S. F-18's, F-18A's would be used in combat. (The Blue Angels still fly this older model). After return from deployment, the Warhawks transitioned from the F/A-18A to the F/A-18C and began preparation for their upcoming Unit Deployment Program (UDP) deployment.
In 2004, VFA-97 was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 12 as the first Navy squadron to take part in the Unit Deployment Program deploying to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. The Warhawks deployed to Iwakuni again in 2006 for their second UDP deployment, and again in January 2008 for their third UDP and 24th overall deployment. The squadron rejoined Carrier Air Wing 11 and Nimitz on return from Iwakuni and began a compressed turnaround for deployment onboard Nimitz. In February 2009, VFA-97 embarked on the Nimitz, officially ending their 5-year departure from a Carrier Air Wing. In July 2009 they departed for an 8-month deployment aboard Nimitz.
According to Navy Times, "The first F-35 fleet squadron is slated to start training with VFA-101 in January 2018. That's slated to be the Warhawks of VFA-97..."
VFA-97 has won the Admiral Clarence Wade McCluskey award, three Safety “S” awards, two LTJG Bruce Carrier Memorial Awards for Maintenance Excellence, two Scott Kirby Awards for ordnance excellence, and two Captain Michael J. Estocin Awards, twice achieving the “Triple Crown”.
Additionally, VFA-97 earned a Joint Meritorious Unit Award, three Navy Unit Commendations, eight Meritorious Unit Commendations, six Battle “E” awards, two Navy Expeditionary Service Medals, three National Defense Service Medals, two Armed Forces Terrorism Service and Expeditionary Medals, Humanitarian Service Medal and 24 Sea Service Deployment Ribbons.
- List of military aircraft of the United States (naval) / List of US Naval aircraft
- List of United States Navy aircraft squadrons
- Military aviation
- Modern US Navy carrier air operations
- Naval aviation
- United States Naval Aviator
- United States Marine Corps Aviation
- This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Navy document "VFA-97 Command History".
- This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Navy document "History of the Warhawks".
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