Along with many changes in aircraft, mission, and air wing assignments, VFA-81 has also possessed several different callsigns and insignia. Flexibility has been a requirement, quite literally, since day one. Originally established as an attack squadron July 1, 1955, the squadron was redesignated later that same day as Fighter Squadron Eighty-One, the "Crusaders." The squadron's first insignia, approved by the Chief of Naval Operations on December 16, 1955, embodied their first aircraft, the F9F-8B Cougar, with a black cougar on a light blue background.
On 21 November 1963, the squadron transitioned to the Douglas A4E Skyhawk and was renamed the Sunliners, to distinguish it from squadrons flying the Vought F-8 Crusader aircraft. The squadron also took a new insignia, comprised of an international orange "mach wave" design on a black background, along with a new motto: "Anytime, Anyplace." The squadron flew with this insignia for the next 25 years, and still wear it with pride every Tuesday.
When the Navy redesignated the squadron as a strike fighter squadron (VFA) on March 30th, 1988, the logo was modified into its current form to reflect the squadron's rich history. The traditional mach wave design was surrounded with four stars to represent different airframes the squadron has been assigned. Beneath the mach wave are three small stars, one for each of the three past airframes: F9F-8B Cougar, A-4E Skyhawk, and A-7 Corsair II. The large single star above the mach wave represents the current airframe: the FA-18E Super Hornet. Crossing the background are three spears representing the three missions the squadron has been called upon to perform: fighter squadron, attack squadron, and strike fighter squadron. The logo has remained unchanged in the 21 years since then.
The Hornet years (1988 to 2008)
On February 4th, 1988, VA-81 transitioned to the McDonnell-Douglas FA-18C Hornet, becoming Strike Fighter Squadron EIGHT-ONE (VFA-81). Along with the new aircraft, the squadron adopted the current squadron logo and patches that Sunliners wear today. On August 7th, 1990, Sunliners deployed once again with CVW-17 aboard Saratoga for their first FA-18C Hornet cruise and their first mission as a strike fighter squadron. This deployment took place one week after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and VFA-81 actively participated in both OPERATION DESERT SHIELD and later OPERATION DESERT STORM as part of the Red Sea Battle Force. On January 17th, 1991, VFA-81 participated in some of the first carrier-based strikes of the Persian Gulf War. The first division of Sunliners to enter combat succeeded in proving the strike fighter concept by successfully engaging in both air-to-air and air-to-ground engagement in the same flight. As three VFA-81 and one VFA-83 Rampager aircraft flew into Iraq on CVW-17's first daylight strike of the war, they were confronted by two Iraqi Mig-21s. Sunliner LCDR Mark "MRT" Fox, and LT Nick "Mongo" Mongillo each downed one enemy aircraft before proceeding to and destroying their target. These were the Navy's only two aerial victories of the war.
The day was to become bittersweet for the squadron, however. That evening, Sunliner LCDR Scott "Spike" Speicher was shot down over west-central Iraq-the only aircraft downed that first night of the war. Through the remainder of Operation Desert Storm, none of the limited information available on dead or missing coalition personnel revealed the fate of LCDR Speicher. Although postwar analysis suggested an Iraqi Air Force Mig-25 destroyed Speicher's Hornet with an air-to-air missile, this has never been conclusively proven. LCDR Speicher was the only U.S. serviceman lost over land during Operation Desert Storm whose status remained Killed in Action-Body Not Recovered at the war's end. VFA-81 returned to NAS Cecil Field March 27th, 1991, following the swift coalition victory. The squadron made a total of three deployments to the Persian Gulf aboard Saratoga with CVW-17 between 1990 and 1994, bringing their total number of Mediterranean deployments completed to 24.
In early 1994, the squadron participated in OPERATION DENY FLIGHT and OPERATION PROVIDE PROMISE supporting United Nations resolutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the last deployment of Saratoga. That was VFA-81's third Hornet cruise, and the first Atlantic Fleet deployment with the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM). After completion of the deployment, Saratoga was decommissioned in August, 1994. VFA-81 embarked on USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in 1996 for their 26th Mediterranean Cruise, and a series of deployments in support of OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH. During this cruise the squadron participated in an historic first U.S. aircraft carrier port call to Bahrain. A deployment aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) began 10 June 1998. In addition to participation in OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH, this was the first deployment by an East Coast air wing equipped with the new Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW), a long range glide cluster bomb.
In 2000 to 2002, the squadron completed two deployments to the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf aboard USS George Washington (CVN-73) again participating in OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH. After the renewal of hostilities with Iraq and the launch of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, the squadron deployed aboard USS John F. Kennedy in 2004, travelling directly to the Persian Gulf and participating in daily air strikes against the regime of Saddam Hussein. In 2007 and 2008, VFA-81 was reassigned to CVW-11 in the Pacific Fleet and completed two deployments aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68). During the first of these deployments, from March to September 2007, Sunliners completed missions in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan, and OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. Between combat missions USS Nimitz also became the first U.S. carrier ever to visit India, completing a successful four-day port call to the city of Chennai. The second deployment aboard Nimitz brought the Sunliners to the Western Pacific for Foal Eagle 2008.
The Super Hornet years (2008 to present)
Upon returning the NAS Oceana at the completion of the 2008 deployment, the Sunliners turned in their FA-18C Hornets, and began the four-month transition to the Navy's newest and most lethal strike fighter, the Boeing FA-18E Super Hornet. On 20 November, the squadron was pronounced "Safe-For-Flight" in the Super Hornet and newest era of the squadron began. Currently, the squadron is assigned to CVW-17, the Navy's first planned "All Hornet" airwing, and will serve aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on its next deployment.
SUNLINER MAIN PAGE