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Strike Fighter Squadron One Zero Three
Vf103 insig.jpg
VFA-103 Insignia
Active 1 May 1952
Country United States
Branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Type Fighter/Attack
Role Close air support
Air interdiction
Aerial reconnaissance
Part of Carrier Air Wing Seven
Garrison/HQ NAS Oceana
Nickname(s) Jolly Rogers
Colors Gold, White, and Black
Mascot(s) Ensign Jack "Bones" Ernie
Engagements Operation Desert Shield
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Decorations Safety "S"
Mutha Fighter Spirit Award 2005, 2007, 2011
Battle Efficiency "E", 2006, 2007
Rear Adm C. Wade McClusky Award 2007
Golden Wrench Maintenance Award 2006
Golden Anchor Retention Award 2006
Commander Richard "Powder" Burgess
Aircraft flown
Fighter F/A-18F Super Hornet

Strike Fighter Squadron 103 (VF-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 (USA). The squadron's radio callsign is Victory and it is assigned to Carrier Air Wing Seven.

Insignia and nicknames[]

VF-103 "Sluggers" original insignia.

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 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 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.


Three distinct U.S. Naval Aviation squadrons have used the name and insignia of the Jolly Roger: VF-61 (originally VF-17), VF-84, and 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.[1]

The first incarnation of the Jolly Rogers was established on January 1, 1943 at NAS Norfolk, as VF-17, flying the F4U Corsair. Inspired by the piratical theme of the aircraft's name, VF-17's commanding officer Tommy Blackburn selected the Jolly Roger as the squadron's insignia.[2] VF-17 was redesignated as VF-5B in 1946, and as VF-61 in 1948. While in existence, VF-61 flew the F6F-5 Hellcat, F4U-1 Corsair, F8F-2 Bearcat, F9F-2/4 Panther, F9F-8 Cougar, and F3H-2M Demon, and was disestablished on April 15, 1959.[1]

The second squadron to be called Jolly Rogers was VF-84, activated on July 1, 1955. This squadron was initially known as the Vagabonds, but assumed the Jolly Rogers name on April 1, 1960. This squadron flew the FJ-3 Fury, F-8C Crusader, F-4B/J/N Phantom II, and F-14A Tomcat before deactivation on September 29, 1995.[1]

After disestablishment of VF-84, 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.[3]


VF-103 F8U-2 Crusaders from Forrestal.

VF-103 (the "Sluggers") was activated in 1952 as an F4U Corsair squadron. After a few years flying the F9F Cougar, VF-103 was one of the first squadrons to transition to the F-8 Crusader. Once the transition was completed they were teamed up with VF-102 on board Forrestal. Prior to the introduction of the supersonic Crusader jets, American 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. While cruising in Europe, VF-103 learned of a revolutionary new air combat tactic known as the Dutch Rudder from their European brethren. Its use made a significant improvement in survivability during later combat deployments. 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.


An F-4J Phantom II from VF-103 lands on Saratoga.

The Sluggers became an F-4 Phantom II squadron during the Vietnam War.


When the war escalated in the summer of 1972, the Sluggers were with Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) aboard Saratoga, which was rushed to the South China Sea in an attempt to deter a second North Vietnamese invasion of the South. On August 10, Lieutenant Commander Robert Tucker and Lieutenant Junior Grade Stanley Edens shot down a MiG-21 'Fishbed' 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-14 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 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 NAS Sigonella, Sicily. The terrorists were taken into custody and then set free by Italian authorities.

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+ (now known as the F-14B)


VF-103 F-14A+ Tomcats en route to Iraq while flying off Saratoga during Desert Storm.

VF-103, along with VF-74, took the more powerful breed of the Tomcat to sea in August 1990. When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq the same month, Saratoga was in the Mediterranean and soon joined Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea. VF-103 and VF-74 worked together to develop the fighter tactics which were used in Operation Desert Storm. 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 RIO (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 Forces.

On October 1, 1995, VF-84 was disestablished bringing an end to the Jolly Rogers. Not wanting the Jolly Rogers insignia to fade away, VF-103 requested to do away with their "Slugger" moniker and adopt the Jolly Rogers name and insignia.

Also in 1995, VF-103 conducted the fleet feasibility testing of the 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 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 Enterprise to USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), 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.


VF-103 F-14B Jolly Roger in high visibility markings.

In June 2002, VF-103 and its carrier 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 John F. Kennedy on July 10, 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 Falluja 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-1 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.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-103 prepares to launch from Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After a last deployment on John F. Kennedy with Carrier Air Wing Seventeen and returning to NAS Oceana in December 2004, VF-103 gave up their F-14B Tomcats and began transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet and transfer to Carrier Air Wing Seven. 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.[4] 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 (CV-63) in Japan. On February 21, 2009 VFA-103 and CVW-7 embarked aboard Eisenhower for a deployment supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf.[5] On March 21, 2009 it was reported that USS Theodore Roosevelt was relieved by "Ike".[6] On 30 July 2009, the Eisenhower returned to Naval Station Norfolk after almost a six-month deployment.[7]


VFA-103 and the rest of CVW-7 embarked on board the USS Eisenhower on January 2, 2010 for a six-month deployment in support of 5th and 6th Fleet operations.[8] On July 27, 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 onboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 22, 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 the Eisenhower returned to NAS Oceana on December 21, 2012, to perform maintenance in preparation of returning to sea shortly thereafter. VFA-103 returned to sea on February 21, 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 Jolly Rogers returned to NAS Oceana on July 3, 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 in popular culture[]

VF-103 Sluggers F-14 tail markings

VF-103 Jolly Rogers F-14 tail markings

  • 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/A-18F, with the aircraft bearing the "AA" tail letters.
  • In the video game Over G Fighters an F-14A aircraft is available with the Jolly Rogers markings.
  • In 's video game Army of Two, F/A-18 Hornets bearing the Jolly Roger livery can be seen aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
  • The Jolly Rogers in its previous iteration as VF-84, an F-14 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 Grumman 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-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 Rogers," 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 Rodgers feature in the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising alongside a second F-14 carrier-based squadron the Black Aces. First flying from the USS Nimitz, then from British RAF bases fighting over Iceland after the Nimitz is damaged.
  • Artist BJ Olejnik created fan art pictures of the Viper Mark II and Mark VII from the new Battlestar Galactica painted in VFA-103 colors.[9][10]

See also[]




  • Blackburn, Tom. The Jolly Rogers: The Story of Tom Blackburn and Navy Fighting Squadron VF-17. Crown, 1988. ISBN 0-517-57075-0.
  • Cook, Lee. The Skull & Crossbones Squadron: VF-17 in World War II. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0-7643-0475-5.
  • Holmes, Tony. US Navy F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Botley, UK: Osprey Publishing Limited, 2005.
  • Tillmann, Barrett. U.S. Navy Fighter Squadrons in World War II. Specialty Press, 1997.
  • Zbiegniewski, Andre R. VF 17 Jolly Rogers (bilingual Polish/English text). Lublin, Poland: Oficyna Wydawnicza Kagero, 2003. ISBN 83-89088-02-9.

External links[]

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