VP-17, nicknamed the White Lightnings, was a Patrol Squadron of the U.S. Navy. It was the third squadron to bear the VP-17 designation. This article is about the third VP-17, but includes the lineages of the others.
The squadron was established as Reserve Patrol Squadron VP-916 on 1 July 1946. It was redesignated as Medium Patrol Squadron VP-ML-66 on 15 November 1946, as VP-722 in February 1950, and as VP-17 on 4 February 1953. It was redesignated Heavy Attack Mining Squadron VA-(HM)-10 on 1 July 1956, and finally, for the second time, redesignated VP-17 on 1 July 1959. The squadron was disestablished on 31 March 1995, after 24 years of service and 161,000 mishap-free flight hours.
Previous VP-17 squadrons
- Established as VP-17F on 2 Jan 1937
- Redesignated as VP-17 on 1 Oct 1937
- Redesignated as VP-42 on 1 July 1939
- Redesignated as Bomber Squadron VB135 on 15 Feb 1943
- Redesignated as Patrol Bomber Squadron VPB-135 on 1 Oct 1944
- Redesignated as VP-135 on 15 May 1946
- Redesignated as Patrol Medium/Land Squadron VP-ML-5 on 15 Nov 1946
- Redesignated as VP-5 on 1 Sep 1948
- Established as VP-17 on 3 Jan 1944
- Redesignated as Patrol Bombing Squadron VPB-17 on 1 Oct 1944
- Disestablished on 30 Jan 1946
- May 1946: VP-916 was established at NAS Los Alamitos, Calif. The squadron came under the operational control of FAW-4 and administrative control by Naval Air Reserve Training (NARTU). It was another of the 21 naval reserve squadrons established after the war to accommodate the large number of aircrews recently released from active duty and utilize the enormous stocks of aircraft on the inventory. The squadron flew the Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon and the amphibious Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina.
- 15 Nov 1946: All patrol squadrons were redesignated. Regular Navy patrol squadron designation numbers began with 1 and reserve squadron numbers began with 5. VP-916 was redesignated VP-ML-66. The ML designation, medium patrol squadrons, included twin-engine medium amphibious seaplanes, as well as twin-engine land-based bombers. Regular Navy patrol squadrons with the ML designation were for twin-engine medium land-based bombers only. The amphibious medium seaplanes like the PBY-5A used the AM, amphibian designation for regular Navy squadrons.
- Feb 1950: VP-ML-66 was redesignated VP-772 during the reorganization of Naval Aviation reserve units in 1949, but the change did not take effect until February 1950. During this period the number of Naval Aviation reserve squadrons was reduced from the 1949 total of 24 to 9.
- 1 Sep 1950: VP-772 was called to active duty by the president for service during the Korean War. The squadron relocated from its home base at Los Alamitos, Calif., to NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. Aircrews were given transition training for conversion to the Consolidated P4Y-2/2S (a redesignated PB4Y-2) Privateer. The 2S version of this aircraft featured surface search radar. A brief lull occurred in the intensive training cycle when the squadron paid a visit to the fighting French in Saigon. The squadron left several Privateers for use by the French in the Indochina war.
- 1–31 Jan 1951: VP-772 deployed to Iwakuni, Japan, where VP-772 became the first activated naval reserve squadron to participate in the Korean conflict. On 31 January 1951, the squadron began combat operations from NAS Atsugi, Japan, flying missions over Korea, the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea and the Tsushima Straits.
- Jun–Aug 1951: From 12 June through the end of August several of the squadron’s aircraft were detached in two-aircraft elements for operations with the night attack aircraft of the 1st Marine Air Wing at K-1 Pusan, South Korea. The detachment provided direct support for ground operations by dropping MK-6 flares at night to provide illumination for USMC ground attack aircraft. Although initially an experiment, the operations proved so successful they were continued by other similarly equipped patrol squadrons.
- 1 Jan–Feb 1953: VP-772 deployed to NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii, in preparation for duty in the Korean combat zone. On 1 February 1953, the squadron began combat operations from Iwakuni, Japan, flying missions over the Sea of Japan, Tsushima Straits and the Yellow Sea. The squadron was the last to fly the P4Y-2/2S in combat. No losses in personnel or equipment were incurred in 435 combat missions.
- 4 Feb 1953: VP-772 was augmented into the regular Navy and redesignated as the third VP-17. Toward the end of the Korean War the decision was made to augment all of the nine reserve patrol squadrons activated during the 1950 to 1951 time period as part of the regular Navy. The redesignations did not require changes in tail codes or home bases.
- 1 Aug 1953: The squadron returned from its Korean deployment to a new home base at NAS Whidbey Island. Immediately upon return, the squadron began conversion to the Lockheed P2V-6 Neptune. VP-17 was the last West Coast patrol squadron to fly the P4Y-2.
- Apr 1956: VP-17 deployed to Naha, Okinawa. During this deployment the squadron was redesignated VP(HM)-10 on 1 July 1956, one of only two such squadrons in the Navy. VP(HM)-10 was the only Heavy Attack Mining squadron on the West Coast. Shortly after its return from Okinawa, the aircrews began transition training to the P2V-6M, which was configured for firing the Petrel air-to-surface turbojet missile.
- Apr 1957: The squadron’s P2V-6M aircraft were transferred to the reserves and replaced with P2V-5Fs. Transition training commenced immediately in preparation for the pending WestPac deployment.
- 19 Aug 1960: The squadron deployed to NAS Kodiak, assisting the Navy Hydrographic Office in compiling information on the Arctic Ocean and conducting ASW training in an adverse weather operational environment.
- 20 Oct 1961: VP-17 deployed to NAS Kodiak, Alaska, with a detachment at Adak. During this period the squadron participated in tests of the Regulus missile with Grayback (SS 208).
- 9 Jan–May 1963: VP-17 returned to NAS Kodiak, Alaska, for joint exercises with Sea Frontier forces and the Canadian Maritime Air Command. On 10 January 1963, the squadron incurred it first aircraft accident in over eight years. A squadron SP-2H crashed into a mountainside while attempting a wave-off at Kodiak. Five of the crew survived but seven lives were lost. In May 1963, the squadron was called upon to assist in breaking up an ice jam in the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers which was causing a great deal of flooding. Several planes were sent to bomb the jam with 500- pound bombs.
- 27 Apr–Aug 1964: VP-17 relieved VP-6 at NAF Naha, Okinawa. In August the squadron provided ASW coverage for the task groups moving into the South China Sea after the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis.
- Dec 1964: The squadron began rotations of threeaircraft detachments to Kodiak, Alaska. In that same month, Detachment 2 assisted the Army Corps of Engineers in breaking up ice jams on the Klatina and Copper rivers during subzero weather conditions.
- Mar 1965: VP-17 received a new look. A white lightning bolt on a blue background was painted on top of the vertical fin and propeller spinner domes on all squadron aircraft.
- 9 Jul 1965: The squadron deployed to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, maintaining a detachment at NAF Tan Son Nhut. The deployment marked the first deployment of the squadron to a combat zone since the Korean Conflict.
- 15 Sep–Dec 1966: VP-17 deployed to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, for two and one-half months’ of duty in support of operations interdicting gun runners off South Vietnam coastal waters. On 5 December 1966, the squadron relocated from Iwakuni to Sangley Point, R.P., with a detachment at Tan Son Nhut airfield, South Vietnam, for support of Market Time missions with the Seventh Fleet. VP-17 was relieved at Sangley Point, R.P., by VP-42.
- 9 Nov 1967–Mar 1968: VP-17 deployed to NS Sangley Point, R.P., with a detachment in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam. Following the seizure of the intelligence ship Pueblo (AGER 2) by the North Koreans, VP-17 participated in a mission from 14 January to 11 February 1968 to provide an ASW patrol net for elements of the Seventh Fleet in the Sea of Japan. On 4 March 1968, a Vietcong unit mortared the detachment at Cam Ranh Bay Air Base. One squadron aircraft was heavily damaged, but no VP-17 personnel were injured. The squadron was relieved at the end of its tour by VP-50.
- 19 Jul 1969: VP-17 deployed to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, relieving VP-1. During the deployment squadron detachments flew from bases at NAS Atsugi, Japan; Misawa AFB, Japan; NAS Agana, Guam; NS Sangley Point, R.P.; NAF Cam Ranh Bay, RVN; and UTapao AFB, Thailand. The squadron was relieved by VP-1.
- 3 Aug 1970: A squadron P-3A, ZE-06, BuNo. 152159, exploded in flight after takeoff from Nellis AFB, Calif. The plane crashed near Searchlight, Nev., with 10 crew members aboard. There were no survivors. The cause of the accident was never determined.
- 24 Oct 1970: VP-17 deployed to NS Sangley Point, R.P., under the operational control of FAW-10 and TU 72.3.2. Detachments were maintained at U-Tapao, Thailand and Taipei, Taiwan. Ninety-three Market Time patrols were flown along the coast of South Vietnam. The squadron was relieved by VP-48.
- 13 Jan–Apr 1972: The squadron deployed to NAF Naha, Okinawa, with a detachment maintained at NAS Cubi Point, R.P., from 9 April through 23 April. Numerous Market Time patrols were flown during the deployment.
- 19 Apr–2 Oct 1973: The squadron deployed to NAS Cubi Point, R.P. On 2 October 1973, VP-17 flew the final Market Time combat support patrol, which marked the end of over 10 years of daily surveillance flights by patrol squadrons in the South China Sea during the Vietnam conflict.
- 10 Dec 1974: VP-17 became the last patrol squadron to deploy to Naha Air Base, Okinawa.
- 29 Apr 1975: VP-17 provided operational support in Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Americans from Saigon, South Vietnam.
- May 1975: The squadron became the first patrol squadron to operate from the newly constructed facilities at Kadena Air Base, Koza, Okinawa. Their relocation to the new base took less than two weeks without disruption to the squadron’s operational mission. During the deployment the squadron conducted operations throughout the western Pacific, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. These operations included surveillance patrols for Vietnam refugees and support in the recapture of the hijacked merchant ship SS Mayaguez. On 12 May 1975, elements of the Khmer Rouge seized the cargo ship Mayaguez in international waters. One VP-17 aircraft suffered slight damage from enemy fire during the successful action to rescue the crew.
- 12 Jul 1976: A VP-17 P-3 aircraft visiting Nairobi demonstrated U.S. friendly ties and support for Kenya during her crisis with Uganda. Ranger (CV 61) and her escort ships of Task Force 77.7 operated off the coast of Kenya to deter military operations by Uganda against Kenya.
- Mar 1977: Three aircraft and four aircrews deployed to NAF Midway Island to participate in Pony Express operations in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force, an intelligence gathering operation on Soviet missile launches.
- May 1990: During deployment to Adak, Alaska, the White Lightnings sent a detachment on a SAR mission to locate a stranded Norwegian expedition at the North Pole. After locating the group, food and medical supplies were dropped.
- Aug 1990: VP-17 deployed detachments to Panama to take part in drug interdiction operations called Operations 90-43 and 90-46.
- 10 May 1991: VP-17 deployed to NAF Diego Garcia, B.I.O.T., with a detachment at NAF Kadena, Okinawa, and Masirah, Oman, to support UN maritime sanctions against Iraq following Operation Desert Storm.
- Jun–Nov 1993: The squadron began to transition from the P-3C UI Orion to the P-3C UIII. During the squadron’s September to November drug interdiction deployment to Panama, the squadron’s acoustic operators were given ample opportunity to test their new equipment on the P-3CUIII.
- 31 Mar 1995: VP-17 was disestablished after compiling a record of 24 years and 161,000 mishap-free flight hours.
Home port assignments
The squadron was assigned to these home ports, effective on the dates shown:
- NAS Los Alamitos, California – May 1946
- NAS Whidbey Island, Washington – 1 Sep 1950
- NAS Seattle, Washington – 3 Aug 1951
- NAS Whidbey Island, Washington – 1 Aug 1953
- NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii – 1 Dec 1968
The squadron first received the following aircraft on the dates shown:
- PBY-5A Catalina – May 1946
- P4Y-2/2S Privateer – 1949
- P2V-6 Neptune – Aug 1953
- P2V-6M Neptune – Sep 1956
- P2V-5F Neptune – Apr 1957
- P2V-7S (SP-2H) Neptune – Dec 1959
- P2V-7 Neptune – Dec 1960
- P-3A Orion – Dec 1968
- P-3A DIFAR Orion – Sep 1972
- P-3B TAC/NAV MOD Orion – Jun 1978
- P-3C (MOD) Orion – Jan 1986
- P-3C UI Orion – Nov 1990
- P-3C UIIR Orion – Jun 1993
- Maritime patrol aircraft
- List of Lockheed P-3 Orion variants
- Squadron (aviation)
- Naval aviation
- List of inactive United States Navy aircraft squadrons
- List of United States Navy aircraft squadrons
- History of the United States Navy
- Roberts, Michael D. (2000). Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons, Volume 2, Chapter 3, Section 3: Patrol Squadron Histories for 2nd VP-9 to Third VP-17 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. pp. 97–103. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
- Roberts, Michael D. (2000). Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons, Volume 2, Chapter 3, Section 2: Patrol Squadron Histories for 2nd VP-5 to 3rd VP-8 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. pp. 42–51. Retrieved 2014-02-28.
- Roberts, Michael D. (2000). Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons, Volume 2, Chapter 4, Section 2: Patrol Bombing Squadron Histories for VPB-17 to VPB-29 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. pp. 421–424. Retrieved 2014-02-26.