VF-41 Insignia Courtesy of Darryl Shaw
The present VF-41 was created at NAS Oceana on the 1st of September 1950, becoming the fourth US Navy squadron to bear that designation. At first the squadron was equipped with the F-4U Corsair, but early in the 1950's transitioned to F-2H Banshees. While with the Banshees VF-41 deployed to the Mediterranean and Far East onboard the USS Independence. The Banshees were lost in 1959, when VF-41 received the F3H-2 Demon. The Demon was the first Navy fighter to be capable of all-weather operation, being equipped with forward quarter radar guided missiles. The time spent operating the Demon was short, as VF-41 exchanged them for new F-4B Phantom IIs in February of 1962. When the Cuban Missile Crisis flared up in October of that year VF-41 made a rapid deployment to NAS Key West, standing ready to assist if the decision was taken to invade Cuba or to attack the missile sites.
In 1965 VF-41 deployed to the South East Asian theatre, where the Vietnam war was still escalating. Starting in May of '65, the deployment lasted seven months and saw VF-41 fly a wide range of missions:- fighter cover, reconnaissance escort, flak suppression and day/night interdiction, thus demonstrating just how versatile a platform the F-4 was.
The Black Aces' next deployment to a combat zone was in 1973, when the squadron deployed as part of the peacekeeping force that helped to keep the truce after the October War.
By 1975 VF-41 had moved from the F-4B to the F-4N and spent it's last cruise with the Phantom onboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. During 1975 VF-41 picked up the COMNAVAIRLANT Safety "S", an award it was to win again in 1981, 1989 and 1992.
|VF-41 F-14A in their late 70/early 80's high-vis markings.|
In April of 1976 the first F-14A Tomcat arrived, the first cruise with their new mount beginning in December 1977, as part of CVW-8 onboard the USS Nimtz CVN-68), the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier to join the Atlantic Fleet. Further cruises followed in 1978 and 1979, both seeing the carrier deploy to the Mediterranean. In 1980 Nimtz and CVW-8 took part in a round the world cruise. During this cruise the carrier served as the seaborne base for the abortive operation to rescue the US Embassy hostages from Iran. Due to these factors VF-41 (and the rest of the battle group) spent 144 continuous days at sea, the longest period the squadron had spent at sea without a break since World War II.
The risks inherent in Naval Aviation were terribly brought home to VF-41 during work ups for their 1981-82 Mediterranean cruise. An EA- 6B Prowler crashed onto the flight deck of the Nimtz, causing damage and starting fires. In the crash and subsequent damage control operations VF-41 lost three members and three F-14's.
19th of August, 1981, saw a very different day for the Black Aces. Flying a Combat Air Patrol over the Gulf of Sidra, two VF-41 aircraft, callsigns "Fast Eagle 102" and "Fast Eagle 107" were intercepted then fired upon by two Libyan Su-22 Fitters. As with the VF-32 incident the F-14's were able to manoeuvre into firing positions and then downed both Fitters. The incident marked the first time the F-14 had been used in air to air combat, the first Navy air combat since the end of the Vietnamese War and the worlds' first engagement between variable geometry (swing wing) fighters.
1981 was also the first year in which the Black Aces won the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E", signifying them as the most efficient squadron in the Atlantic fleet. VF-41 were also to collect this award in 1985 and 1989.
Regular cruises to the Mediterranean followed, the 1982 cruise saw the squadron operate as part of the multi-national peace keeping force off the Lebanese coast, while the 1985 cruise saw the battle group spend 68 days off the Lebanese coast, this time in response to the hijacking of a TWA airliner. If the hijacking had not been solved by other means it is quite conceivable that VF-41 (and VF-84) would have been employed in much the same way as VF-74 and VF-103 were during the Achille Lauro incident, to intercept the hijackers and force them down to a place where they could be tried.
The cruise that began in December 1986 was to be VF-41's last with the USS Nimtz. When the carrier pulled into her new west coast home in June of 1987 VF-41 said good-bye and returned to NAS Oceana. In October of 1987 CVW-8 met up with their new mount, the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). The first deployment was to the North Atlantic for Exercise Teamwork '88, which involved operations with the Norwegian Air Force. The USS Roosevelt's first Mediterranean deployment occurred in December of 1987.
For a short while in 1990 VF-41 and CVW-8 deployed onto the Navy's newest carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), but then began to prepare to deploy onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt again, in response to the Gulf Crisis. The Black Aces embarked onboard Roosevelt on the 28th of December 1990, arriving in theatre shortly after the hostilities had started. Combat sorties began straight away and with the Iraqi air force refusing to directly challenge the coalition's fighters VF-41 was actively engaged in escorting strike and recon missions, as well as the more usual CAP's. By February the pace of operations had increased considerably, with the Iraqi air defences in bad shape F-14's from VF- 41 and other squadrons ranged deep into Iraq in search of enemy aircraft, especially those attempting to escape to Iran. By February 28th VF-41 had completed 1500 combat flight hours, with an amazing 100% of sorties scheduled being completed. After the cease-fire had been agreed the USS Roosevelt and VF-41 remained in the Arabian Gulf to help enforce it. In April the battle group was moved to Turkey's Mediterranean coast to provide assistance to Kurdish refugees as part of Operation Provide Comfort. The Black Aces finally returned to NAS Oceana on the 26th of June 1991, performing a triumphant flyover of the base to celebrate their safe return.
VF-41 were soon back into the regular ritual of training, with more emphasis shifting to air to ground tactics as the F-14 community picked up the strike fighter role.
As of late 1991 VF-41 had flown over 46,500 hours without an accident over a time period of 11 years.
With the disestablishment of VF-84 in 1995 VF-41 picked up the TARPS mission, adding to their capabilities. The disestablishment of VF-84 over VF-41 was the only occasion (in the active Navy) where a non-TARPS unit has survived over a TARPS capable unit. VF-41's survival may have had something to do with the fact that the Admiral commanding all Navy squadrons at that time was ADM F. Lewis, previously a commander of VF-41. Thankfully VF-84 was not fully lost, with the Jolly Rogers insignia and tradition being moved to VF-103.
VF-41 has recently completed a mini North Atlantic cruise onboard USS John F. Kennedy, during which they were accompanied by VF-14, thus breaking the new Navy tradition of having only one F-14 squadron per air wing. Presumably this was to allow VF-14, which has been shore based for over two years, to test out their sea legs before a full cruise. This included a port visit to Portsmouth Naval Base on the th June. Also at least one VF-41 F-14A attended the RNAS Yeovilton airshow, providing much interest in the static display (alongside a VF- 14 F-14A), while much of the air wing moved off the boat and spent at least one night at RAF Lakenheath, providing an impressive spectacle for those who were there to watch the mass takeoff the next morning (much to my disgust I missed it-anyone out there have any photos they are willing to share?).
For the future VF-41 will continue to improve their air to ground
skills, as part of the fleet wide upgrade they have received
LANTIRN capable aircraft and pods, allowing them to designate
targets for LGB's by themselves and to navigate effectively at night and at
low level. At the same time VF-41 also received Night Vision
Goggles to complement the LANTIRN capability.
VF-41 cruised as part of CVW-8 during the Spring and Summer of 1997, onboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). Since returning to Oceana they have been involved in work ups for the next cruise.
Markings for Black Aces Tomcats have changed significantly over the years. When F-14's were first introduced they featured a very large ace of spades on a white background, with the tailcode superimposed in white, and a black radome and anti glare panel. As orders came down to tone down markings VF-41 lost the black radome and white tail, also reducing in size the ace of spades. Now instead of the tailcode, "41" was carried inside the spade, with the tailcode being reduced to very small letters, often at the base of the fin, an example of the markings of this period can be seen below. Of note is the fact that this image depicts 'Fast Eagle 107' and so has a Su-22 kill marking under the cockpit.
After the Gulf War (during which at least one VF-41 F-14 had nose art) the tail design changed slightly, with the ace of spade now being featured inside a full playing card design. However the markings have started to change again very recently, losing the full card, but retaining the ace of spades, this time with a red stripe running from the bottom front of the tail to the upper rear.
|VF-41 F-14A as flown during the Bosnian Air Strikes in 1996 (although those aircraft did not carry the LANTIRN pod, which is depicted here).|
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