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[IMAGE] When VF-84 was first established on 1 July, 1955, at NAS Oceana, they were known as the Vagabonds and the FJ-3 Fury was their mount. The name Jolly Rogers originated from the Fighting Seventeen of World War II fame. VF-17 was one of the first Navy fighter squadrons to receive the F-4Us, they wanted a squadron insignia which would live up to the Corsair name--hence the famous skull-and-crossbones were born. After the disestablishment of VF-17 in April of 1944, the VF-61 became the new Jolly Rogers. In 1959, VF-61 was disestablished and the then VF-84 Vagabonds requested to carry on the name and insignia of the Jolly Rogers. Approval came down in April 1960 and the skull-and-crossbones were soon adorning their F-8U Crusaders.

VF-84 traded their F-8Us for F-4Bs in 1964 and subsequently they had also flown the F-4J and F-4N variants of the venerable Phantom. The squadron began its transition to the F-14A in early 1976 and after the transition was complete, they embarked on their first major cruise with the new aircraft aboard USS Nitmitz (CVN-68) in December of 1977.

The squadron received the first TARPS pods of the fleet in 1979 and was a pioneer in using the Tomcat as a reconnaissance platform. The Jolly Rogers also played a prominent role in the 1980 motion picture Final Countdown, which propelled the skull-and-crossbones and the F-14 Tomcat to international stardom.

[IMAGE] In December 1990, aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt (CVN-71) was called upon to join USS Ranger and USS Midway in the Persian Gulf. Throughout the Gulf War, VF-84 flew combat air patrols for the fleet, escorted the air wing's strike aircraft, and performed TARPS missions to collect bomb damage assessments. After the war, the squadron flew 111 more sorties in support of Operation Provide Comfort before the Roosevelt was finally relieved by USS Forrestal in June 1991.

The Jolly Rogers have always sported 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 V's run down the sides of the forward fuselage (these were from the Vagabonds days).

[IMAGE] The squadron's prized mascot is a set of skull and crossbones enclosed in a glass encasement. "Passing of the bones" from the outgoing skipper to the incoming skipper is a time-honored Jolly Rogers tradition. The bones are supposedly the remains of ENS Jack Ernie of VF-17. Ernie was killed during the Okinawa invasion in World War II, as his flaming aircraft spiralled towards earth, he made one last radio transmission asked "to be remembered with the skull-and-crossbones". Ernie's family later presented the squadron with the set of skull and crossbones and asked the squadron to fulfill Ernie's last wish. He may be lost fifty some years ago, but ENS Jack Ernie's spirit lived on until this day.

The post Cold War downsizing of the Navy has brought about the disestablishment of many squadrons; unfortunately VF-84 was no exception. The squadron spent the last eighteen months of its existence participating in numerous joint service operations, sending its crew to career-advancing venues, honing their ACM, strike, and TARPS skills, and they even made a memorable appearance in yet another motion picture--Executive Decision.

Not too long after VF-84's disestablishment on 1 October, 1995, the VF-103 Sluggers adopted the name and insignia of the Jolly Rogers and the "bones" were passed on to them. No matter how times may change, there will always be someone to carry on the pride and tradition of the Jolly Rogers!

VF-103 Squadron History

  • VF-103 Sluggers/Jolly Rogers
  • Base: NAS Oceana
  • Tailcode: 'AA'
  • Callsign: 'Victory'
  • Variant: F-14B

    VF-103 Sluggers was established in 1952 when they flew the F4U Corsair. Shortly after that, the Sluggers traded their Corsair for the F9F Cougar. After a few years with the Cougar, VF-103 became one of the early F8U Crusader squadrons. Once the transition was complete, the Sluggers were teamed up with VF-102 as part of CVG-10 aboard USS Forrestal.

    Prior to the introduction of the fast-moving, high-flying Crusader, American carrier battle groups were often embarrassed by British bombers during allied exercises. The RAF Canberras had always been able to make mock-attacks on US carriers with impunity. The carrier-cased fighters at the time simply didn't have the speed or high-altitude performance to put up much of a resistance. During the September 1958 Mediterranean cruise, the British pilots were shocked when VF-103's Crusaders tore through their formation of Canberras, before they even had a chance to initiate their simulated attack.

    By the end of the Vietnam conflict, the Sluggers had already begun flying the F-4J Phantom. When the Vietnam war heated up in the summer of 1972, USS Saratoga (CV-60), with CVW-17 onboard, was rushed to the theatre in an attempt to thwart North Vietnamese invasion. On 10 August 1972, LCDR Robert Tucker and LTJG Stanley Edens shot down a MiG-21 with an AIM-7E Sparrow missile during a night interception. It was the Navy's only night MiG kill.

    VF-103 was among the Navy's last fighter squadrons to transition to the Tomcat. They finally made the big leap in January 1983. The squadron conducted the East Coast's first low-altitude AIM-54 Phoenix missile shoot only a month after their transition to the F-14A.

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    In October 1985, the Sluggers participated in the interception of the Egyptian 737 airliner carrying hijackers of Achille Lauro. The 737 was forced to land at Sigonella, Italy. The terrorists were taken into custody by Italian authorities.

    In 1989, the Sluggers transitioned to the F-14B (then the F-14A+), and along with VF-74 Bedevilers, took the more powerful breed of 'Cat to sea in August of 1990.

    When Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, VF-103 was preparing for a routine deployment aboard Saratoga. Soon Sara joined up with USS Eisenhower at the Red Sea. VF-103 and VF-74 worked together to develop the tactics which will be used later in the war. When Operation Desert Storm commenced in January 1991, the Sluggers were in the midst of the fray. Their missions included fighter escorts for the carrier air wing's strike packages, reconnaissance, bomb damage assessment, and of course, the often-taken-for-granted combat air patrols.

    VF-103 did suffer a combat loss during the Gulf War. On the fourth day of Desert Storm, a Sluggers Tomcat was shot down by what believed to be an SA-2 surface-to-air missile while on an escort mission. After ejecting from their striken F-14B, the RIO, LT Larry Slade, was captured by Iraqi troops and held in Baghdad as a POW until the end of the war. The pilot of the aircraft, LT Devon Jones, was able to evade Iraqi capture, and after spending eight long hours deep in enemy territory, he was eventually rescued by a USAF special operations force.

    On 1 October 1995, like many other F-14 squadrons before it, VF-84 Jolly Rogers fell victim to the budgetary axe and closed its squadron doors for the very last time. Not wanting the famous skull-and-crossbones to disappear from the deck of carriers, or even worse--to be picked up by a VFA squadron, VF-103 requested to adopt the Jolly Rogers name and insignia. They were given the green light, thus the proud tradition of the Jolly Rogers is kept alive!

    In 1996, a new set of claws were added to Tomcat's already formidable arsenal--the newly acquired LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) pod. The LANTIRN pod enables the crew to see what lies ahead in far more detail than with radar, day or night. It allows the F-14 to designate targets for its own, or other aircraft's laser-guided munitions. The pod also has an integrated global positioning system. Being a self-contained unit, the pod can be moved from one F-14 to another with minimum fuss.

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    On 28th of June, only two weeks after its official unveiling ceremony, the LANTIRN pod made its operational debut with the new Jolly Rogers, when VF-103 set sail for the Mediterranean aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65), carrying six pods with them. Although initially there are only a limited number of LANTIRN units to go around, eventually all of Navy's remaining Tomcat squadrons will be equipped with them.

    Since its earliest days, VF-103 has adorned the tailfins of their aircraft with a horizontal yellow arrow outlined in black. The original squadron insignia was a cloverleaf. Later a stylized aircraft darting through the leaf was added, along with a baseball bat. The baseball stemmed from an early skipper who often carried one with him. In 1991, VF-103's birds began to use its squadron insignia as their tail-art, in place of the trademark bold arrow.

    When the Sluggers became the Jolly Rogers, they faithfully adopted the famous white skull-and-crossbones on black background as their new tail adornment. Even the sash of supersonic V's on the sides of the forward fuselage was replicated. However, their anti-glare trim around the cockpit extend from the tip of the nose to well aft of the canopy, when was something new to either VF-84 or VF-103.

    When VF-103 received their upgraded aircraft and LANTIRN pods to perform the precision strike role at least one gained nose art in honour of the occaision. Pictures of it can be found in the F-14B Images section and Torsten Anft has created another one of his fabulous F-14 profiles depicting the scheme, displayed below. Note the non-standard tail insignia, reminiscent of the Slugger's 1980's bold arrow markings.

    Parker Information Resources
    Houston, Texas
    E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com
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