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Famous Navy squadron is turning 100

Photo: An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in the Arabian Sea. US Navy/MCS3C Grant G. Grady

 

VFA-14 ‘Tophatters’ — the US Navy’s ‘oldest and boldest’ air squadron — marks its centenary in September. Informally nicknamed the ‘Lids’ in US naval aviation circles, this squadron and its lineageare traced in Combat Aircraft’s September issue, out this week.

The unit’s unbroken service dates back to September 1, 1919, at NAS San Diego, which became North Island in 1955. Although first led by CDR James H. Tomb, CDR Henry C. Mustin took charge on October 22. Mustin was an early naval aviator who had conducted the world’s first catapult launch from a ship in 1915, and today is held by the squadron as being ‘Tophatter One’ — the initial commanding officer (CO) of the unit.

Today, the squadron flies the single seat F/A-18E Super Hornet. The ‘Tophatters’ initially received Block I/Lot XXIV production standard F/A-18Es, the first example being BuNo 165870 that was taken on charge on March 22, 2002. By the time VFA-14 deployed on March 3, 2003, the initial war plans for Operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’ (OIF) were already held in secure storage aboard USS Nimitz.

When the carrier was still a week away from entering the Northern Arabian Gulf (NAG), VFA-14 forward deployed two jets (alongside a pair from VFA-41) some 2,700 miles via Diego Garcia to arrive in USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) on March 31 — the carrier was already two weeks into OIF missions. The four Super Hornets, all flying in ‘five wet’ configuration (each carrying four 480-gallon external tanks and a centrally mounted ‘buddy’ airborne refueling store), brought a much needed additional organic refueling capability to Lincoln’s CVW-14, which was relying on four VFA-115 F/A-18Es and S-3B Vikings until this point. After four days of operations from Lincoln, the jets returned to Nimitz. VFA-14 continued at the forefront of the opening phase of OIF until the carrier came about in the Arabian Gulf on September 3.

The ‘Tophatters’ have flown 23 different aircraft types plus seven sub-variants and operations from 32 different aircraft carriers. Since the end of World War Two, the squadron has undertaken 41 major deployments — justifying the squadron motto: ‘The oldest and boldest’. Read the full story in the September issue of Combat Aircraft, which is on sale from August 1.

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