Capture the legendary Naval Aviation markings on this 14 inch wood plaque of the recently reactivated VFA-101 Grim Reapers.
The use of naval aviation insignia is a modern form of heraldry that dates back to the early period of naval aviation in the 1920’s and captures many proud moments of its history. The practice fosters a sense of pride, unit cohesion and contributes to high morale, esprit de corps and professionalism within the community. It also serves as an effective means of preserving a command’s tradition, continuity of purpose and recognition, as traced through its lineage. The following rules are provided to ensure that all command insignia and slogans are in keeping with the highest traditions of the proud naval aviation heritage.
The original 1942 Grim Reapers aboard the USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6)
VF-10 Hellcats returning to the USS Enterprise in 1944
The original Grim Reapers were activated on June 3, 1942 as VF-10 at NAS San Diego flying the F4F Wildcat. The first commanding officer was James H. Flatley, who had just served in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Grim Reapers deployed aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) to the Southern Pacific in 1942 where they participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal. After their return to the U.S. and NAS Sand Point they transitioned to the F6F-3 Hellcat and once again deployed to the South Pacific aboard the Enterprise. During their second combat tour, VF-10 participated in operations in the Marshall Islands, Jaluit, Emirau, the Western Caroline Islands, Hollandia, Truk Lagoon and the Battle of the Philippine Sea (a.k.a the Marianas Turkey Shoot). The squadron then returned to the States, and transitioned to the F4U Corsair at NAS Atlantic City. VF-101 returned to the Pacific and took part in strikes against Ryukyu Islands, Kyūshū, Okinawa and the Wake Island. Finally, VF-10 returned to NAS Alameda where it was deactivated in November 1945.
An F3D-2 of VF-101 at NAS Key West in 1958.
On May 1, 1952, VF-101 was commissioned at NAS Cecil Field, Florida. This new squadron assumed the nickname and traditions of VF-10 and flew the FG1-D Corsair in the Korean War. Later in 1952 VF-101 received the jet-powered F2H-1 Banshee and deployed to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1956 they transitioned to the F4D-1 Skyray, their first radar equipped aircraft. In April 1958, VF-101 was merged with the Fleet All Weather Training Unit Atlantic and began to train all weather fighter pilots on both the F4D-1 and the F3H-2 Demon. In becoming part of the training structure, VF-101 became part of Readiness Attack Carrier Air Wing 4 and ceased to be a deployable unit.
An F-4B Phantom II
In June 1960, VF-101 established “Detachment A” at NAS Oceana which operated the F4H-1 and later the F-4 Phantom. By 1963, Det A was phased out, and VF-101 was solely operating the F-4 Phantom at NAS Key West. IN May 1966, a new detachment was formed at NAS Oceana to train F-4 Pilots and Radar Intercept Officers (RIOs) in aerial refueling, carrier qualification, and conventional weapons while the Key West unit concentrated on air to air comabt, radar intercepts, and missile firing.
VF-101’s administrative command, Readiness Attack Carrier Air Wing 4, was disestablished on June 1, 1970, with VF-101 shifting its command and control relationship to Fleet Air Key West. This move lasted only a year, and the Grim Reapers moved from NAS Key West to NAS Oceana under the command of Fighter Wing One. A detachment remained at Key West until the 2000s.
In January 1976, VF-101 began operating and instructing aircrews and maintainers in the F-14 Tomcat. The first two Oceana F-4 squadrons, to transition to the F-14 at VF-101 began in June 1976 . In 1975 and 1976 the Grim Reapers were awarded the CNO Aviation Safety Award and in November 1976 the unit received its fourth Safety Citation for 36 continuous months without accident.
On August 5, 1977, the F-4 training department of VF-101 was split into a separate new squadron which continued to train F-4 crews until its disestablishment in 1984.
An F-14 from the former VF-101
In 1986, VF-101 had completed 3 years of accident free operations earning them another Safety Citation, and in March 1988 they received a third CNO Safety Award. The same year, VF-101 began to receive the F-14A+ (later redesignated F-14B), which upgraded the F-14A’s underpowered and troublesome engines with new engines that significantly improved fuel economy and added 14,600 pounds of thrust compared to the F-14A.
An F-14B Tomcat from VF-101.
On September 12, 1990, a VF-101 Tomcat dropped bombs from a “fleet aircraft” for the first time on the east coast. Previously, although initially designed as both a fully capable fighter and strike aircraft, the Tomcat had been assigned strictly to the air-to-air role. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, VF-101 continued to add to its air-ground weapons training syllabus, including laser-guided bombs, air-launched decoys, and JDAM, among other weapons.
VF-101’s west coast F-14 training counterpart, VF-124, was disestablished in 1994, making the Grim Reapers the sole F-14 Fleet Replacement Squadron. A VF-101 detachment was created at Miramar to continue F-14 crews and ground personnel training. When NAS Miramar became Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in 1996, all F-14 squadrons were moved to NAS Oceana and the VF-101 detachment was disestablished.
VF-101 F-14 tail markings
As F-14 squadrons began to transition to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, VF-101’s mission diminished. As the only F-14 FRS until its disestablishment in 2005, VF-101 at one point had as many as 130 F-14s of all three variants.
VF-101 was disestablished on September 30, 2005 at a ceremony at NAS Oceana. Honored guests at the ceremony were the surviving members of the Flatley family (three generations of which were Grim Reaper pilots), who were presented with the squadron flag.
Reactivation as a Fleet Replacement Squadron
Celebrating the Grim Reapers 60th Anniversary on 1 May 2012, VF-101 was reactivated and redesignated as Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101), with a homeport change from NAS Oceana, Virginia to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. VFA-101 again serves as a U.S. Navy Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), this time for the F-35C Lightning II, the Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) which will serve the US Navy and US Marine Corps from the flight decks of aircraft carriers. VFA-101, together with Marine Strike Fighter Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) and the USAF’s 58th Fighter Squadron (58FS) make up the USAF’s 33rd Fighter Wing (33FW) a joint USAF-USN-USMC organization at Eglin AFB, Florida. The 33FW’s mission is to train pilots and maintainers from the US and all of the JSF’s partner nations to safely and effectively operate the F-35.