VF-103 Jolly Rogers Squadron Patch – Sew On
3.5 inch patch
Strike Fighter Squadron 103 (VFA-103), nicknamed the Jolly Rogers is an aviation unit of the United States Navy established in 1952. VFA-103 flies the F/A-18F Super Hornet and is based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia (US). The squadron’s radio callsign is Victory and it is assigned to Carrier Air Wing Seven.
Insignia and nicknames
The original VF-103 squadron insignia was a cloverleaf, and the aircraft tailfins had a horizontal yellow arrow outlined in black. Later a stylized aircraft darting through the leaf was added, along with a baseball bat. The baseball bat stemmed from an early skipper who often carried one with him. In 1991, VF-103’s aircraft used the squadron insignia for tail-art, in place of the bold arrow. When the Sluggers became the Jolly Rogers following the disestablishment of VF-84 (1955-95), they adopted the famous white skull-and-crossbones.
The Jolly Rogers have always displayed some of the most recognizable squadron markings in the world: sinister white skull-and-crossbones on all-black tails, with gold bands wrapped around the tip of the tail fins, and black bands with gold chevrons (known as vagabonds strips from the Crusader days of VF-84) run down the sides of the forward fuselage.
Four distinct U.S. Naval Aviation squadrons have used the name and insignia of the Jolly Roger: VF-17, VF-61, VF-84, and VF-103, since redesignated as VFA-103. While these are distinctly different squadrons that have no lineal linkage, they all share the same Jolly Roger name, the skull and crossbones insignia and traditions. After disestablishment of VF-84 in 1995, the Jolly Rogers name and insignia were adopted by VF-103, which later became VFA-103, the subject of this article. There has been only one squadron designated VF-103.
VF-103 (the “Sluggers”) was activated on 1 May 1952 and equipped with the FG-1D Corsair. The squadron was assigned to Carrier Air Group 10 (CVG-10) and made a short cruise aboard USS Lake Champlain in late 1952. Thereafter, VF-103 transitioned to the F9F-6 Cougar and adopted the nickname “Flying Cougars”. CVG-10 went aboard USS Randolph for her shakedown cruise following her reactivation to the Caribbean between August and November 1953. The air group was then reassigned to the USS Coral Sea and VF-103 was equipped with the F9F-8B. The carrier was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea between August 1956 and February 1957. This was the last time that VF-103 operated from a straight-deck carrier.
In 1957, VF-103 was one of the first squadrons to transition to the supersonic F8U-1 Crusader, and was renamed “Sluggers”. Once the transition was completed they were teamed up with VF-102 on board USS Forrestal. Prior to the introduction of the Crusader jets, U.S. Navy carrier battle groups were often embarrassed by British bombers during allied exercises as the RAF English Electric Canberras had always been able to make mock attacks on U.S. carriers with impunity. At the time, the U.S. fighters simply could not put up much resistance. During the 1958 Mediterranean cruise, British pilots were surprised when VF-103 tore through their formation of Canberras before they even had a chance to start their simulated attack.
USS Forrestal and VF-103 were deployed to the Mediterranean Sea during the 1958 Lebanon crisis but the crisis had abated before the carrier reached its station. A regular deployment followed between September 1958 and March 1959. Future astronaut John W. Young was a squadron member during this cruise.
VF-103 was reequipped with the F8U-2 (F-8C after 1962) and reassigned to CVG-8, although still assigned to the USS Forrestal. Three other deployments to the Mediterranean followed in 1960, 1961 and 1964-1965. The squadron was reequipped with the F-8E in 1964. The 1964-1965 cruise was significant, as VF-103 flew both the F-8E and the newly introduced F-4B Phantom II. VF-103 would fly the Phantom for 19 years. From 1965 to 1980, VF-103 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 3 (CVW-3). Even longer was the assignment to the USS Saratoga, from 1965 to 1994, since 1984 as part of CVW-17. VF-103 was aboard Saratoga for 15 deployments to the Mediterranean Sea, plus a single one aboard Forrestal in 1982.
VF-103 flew the F-4B until transitioning to the F-4J in 1968. In 1981, the squadron was reequipped with the F-4S.
When North Vietnam launched its Easter Offensive invasion of South Vietnam, USS Saratoga was deployed to the coast of Vietnam to participate in Operation Linebacker. On 10 August 1972, Lieutenant Commander Robert Tucker and Lieutenant Junior Grade Stanley Edens shot down a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 with an AIM-7 Sparrow missile during a night interception. It was the first and only night MiG kill by the US Navy.
In January 1983, VF-103 was among the last fighter squadrons to transition to the F-14A Tomcat. The squadron conducted the first East Coast fighter squadron’s low altitude AIM-54 Phoenix missile shoot a month later. In October 1985, VF-103 and VF-74 participated in the interception of the Egyptian Boeing 737 carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers. During a long range night intercept by VF-74 and VF-103, the 737 was forced to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily. The terrorists were taken into Italian custody, tried and sentenced.
VF-103 and the rest of the airwing participated in Operation Attain Document and Operation El Dorado Canyon in the spring of 1986.
In 1989, VF-103 transitioned to the F-14A+ (later redesignated F-14B).
In August 1990 when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, USS Saratoga was in the Mediterranean and soon joined USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea. VF-103 and VF-74 worked together to develop the fighter tactics which were during the Gulf War. When the war started in January 1991, VF-103 conducted fighter escort for the air wing’s strike packages, reconnaissance and bomb damage assessment and combat air patrols. On the fourth day of the war, while on an escort mission, a VF-103 F-14A+ was shot down by what is believed to be an SA-2 “Guideline” surface-to-air missile. After ejecting from his aircraft, the Radar Intercept Officer, Lieutenant Larry Slade, was captured by Iraqi troops and held in Baghdad as a POW until the end of the war. The pilot, Lieutenant Devon Jones, was able to evade capture and, after eight hours deep in enemy territory, was rescued by USAF Special Operations Forces.
On 1 October 1995, VF-84 was disestablished bringing an end to the Jolly Rogers. Not wanting the Jolly Rogers insignia to fade away from U.S. Naval Aviation, VF-103 requested to do away with their “Slugger” moniker and adopt the Jolly Rogers name and insignia that had been previously used by VF-84.
Also in 1995, VF-103 conducted the fleet feasibility testing of the U.S. Air Force’s LANTIRN targeting pod in a rapid prototyping initiative that led to adoption of the LANTIRN for the Tomcat community. When they deployed with USS Enterprise in the summer of 1996, VF-103 became the first Tomcat squadron to introduce the LANTIRN targeting pod to operational service. The LANTIRN radically improved the F-14’s strike capabilities by providing an autonomous precision strike capability.
In 1997 VF-103 transferred from USS Enterprise to USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, and set sail to former Yugoslavia in June 1998 in support of NATO operations in Kosovo. In November, the carrier moved to the Persian Gulf in response to aggressive Iraqi posturing.
In June 2002, VF-103 and its carrier USS George Washington deployed to the North Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch. VF-103 supported Coalition forces in Afghanistan flying Close Air Support, Forward Air Controller and TARPS missions. VF-103 was already on their way home by the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003.
VF-103 returned to the Persian Gulf for its final Tomcat cruise with USS John F. Kennedy on 10 July 2004 and ten days later the squadron bombed an insurgent position. The unit participated in Operation Phantom Fury in October 2004 to provide aerial support over Fallujah for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Iraqi Army soldiers. During one mission an F-14 from VF-103 provided laser designation for an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter’s AGM-114 Hellfire missile to destroy a building where insurgents had taken cover. This operation had never previously been attempted with a Hellfire, but the missile successfully hit the building, neutralizing the enemy fire that the US troops were receiving. The F-14 crew was ordered to two drop additional GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on the building, leveling the structure.
After a last deployment USS. John F. Kennedy CV-67 with CVW-17 and returning to NAS Oceana in December 2004, VF-103 retired their F-14B Tomcats and began transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet and transfer to Carrier Air Wing Seven (CVW-7). Following their transition to the F/A-18F, the squadron was officially re-designated as VFA-103 in February 2005.
The first deployment with the F/A-18F commenced in 2006 and ended in the spring of 2007. During the cruise with USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, VFA-103 and VFA-143 supported Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and operations off the Somali coast, and combined with VFA-131 and VFA-83, they dropped 140 precision guided weapons and performed nearly 70 strafing runs. For their outstanding performance on this deployment, VFA-103 was awarded the AIRLANT Battle “E” for both 2006 & 2007, as well as the Wade McClusky Award as the best Attack Squadron in the US Navy for 2007.
VFA-103 temporarily embarked with CVW-17 in 2008 as USS George Washington sailed to the Pacific Ocean to replace USS Kitty Hawk in Japan. On 21 February 2009 VFA-103 and CVW-7 embarked aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower for a deployment supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf. On 30 July 2009, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower returned to Naval Station Norfolk after almost a six-month deployment.
VFA-103 and the rest of CVW-7 embarked on board USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on 2 January 2010 for a six-month deployment in support of 5th and 6th Fleet operations. On 27 July 2010, the squadron returned home to NAS Oceana after completion of their latest deployment.
After a successful maintenance and workup cycle, VFA-103 embarked with CVW-7 on board USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on 22 June 2012 for a scheduled nine-month deployment in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations. However, due to changes in operational requirements, VFA-103, CVW-7 and Dwight D. Eisenhower returned to NAS Oceana on 21 December 2012, to perform maintenance in preparation of returning to sea shortly thereafter. VFA-103 returned to sea on 21 February 2013 after the short turnaround, and along with the rest of CVW-7 and Carrier Strike Group Eight, supported operations in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations. After a combined eleven months at sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Persian Gulf presence operations, the squadron returned to NAS Oceana on 3 July 2013.
In honor of the Jolly Rogers’ 70th anniversary, the squadron undertook a massive redesign of the immensely recognizable skull and crossbones insignia, choosing to feature the original VF-17 patches, colors, and tail fin.
The Jolly Rogers’ F/A-18Fs were seen launching from USS Harry Truman in June 2016 participating in Operation Inherent Resolve, striking Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria, with multiple aircraft exhibiting signs of heavy combat, with a number of front fuselages being covered with bomb silhouettes representing munitions being dropped in combat air strikes.
The Jolly Rogers in popular culture
VF-103 is referred to in Tomcat Alley
A Squadron is featured in the novel Scarecrow by Matthew Riley.
The PlayStation 2 games Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War and Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War feature the F-14 which includes certain paint schemes that echo those of VF-84 and VF-103. These paint schemes lack the skull and crossbones but have the black tails (with yellow/white tips) and the distinctive yellow/white-on-black Vagabonds strip on the forward fuselage. Another game in the series, Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, features F/A-18F’s from a fictional squadron that features the yellow-tipped black tails of the current Jolly Rogers (again with no skull & crossbones) and fuselage markings of VFA-14. Yet another game in the series, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, features the Jolly Rogers livery as downloadable content for the in-game F-14D and F/A-18F, with the aircraft bearing the “AA” tail letters.
The F-14D -Jolly Rogers- was available as a Limited Time Drop in Ace Combat Infinity on the PlayStation 3. Later on, a F/A-18F -Jolly Rogers- was also available.
In the video game Over G Fighters an F-14A aircraft is available with the Jolly Rogers markings.
In EA’s video game Army of Two, F/A-18 Hornets bearing the Jolly Roger livery can be seen aboard USS Ronald Reagan.
The Jolly Rogers in its previous iteration as VF-84, an F-14A Tomcat squadron in Carrier Air Wing 8, was among the fighter squadrons featured in the 1980 film The Final Countdown.
In the 1982–1983 Japanese animated TV series The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (adapted outside Japan as part of Robotech), the colors and insignia on the VF-1 Valkyries of Roy Focker’s “Skull Squadron” mirror those of the Jolly Rogers. The planes themselves are transformable mechas fighters overtly inspired by the F-14 Tomcat. Subsequent anime series, such as Macross Zero and Macross Frontier also contain the “Skull Squadron”, and in Macross Zero in particular the fictional back-story history implies that “Skull Squadron” is the actual remnant of VF-103, reorganized after the decimating conflicts of the “Unification Wars” of 1999–2008 of the Macross continuity.
In the film Executive Decision, the F-14 Tomcats from Jolly Rogers were the ones that intercepted the hijacked “Flight 343″.
The Jolly Rogers F/A-18 Hornet is used in the flight simulator, X-Plane.
In the 2013 Disney animated film, Planes, the characters Bravo and Echo are F/A-18E Super Hornets in the colors and insignia of the VFA-103 ‘”Jolly Wrenches,” while the character Skipper is a Vought F4U Corsair of their VF-17 incarnation. The toy version of Skipper has “VF-17” written on his fuselage.
The Jolly Rogers feature in the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising alongside a second F-14A carrier-based squadron the VF-41 Black Aces. First flying from USS Nimitz, then from British RAF bases fighting over Iceland after Nimitz is damaged.
In the Schwarzesmarken novels and anime adaptation, VFA-103 appears as part of an American force taking part in a major offensive against alien invaders in Eastern Europe. In this universe, the F-14 Tomcat and other contemporary aircraft are re-imagined as bipedal machines called Tactical Surface Fighters.