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Strike Fighter Squadron 14
VFA-14 Insignia
Active 1919
Country United States
Branch United States Navy
Type Fighter / Attack
Role Close air support
Air interdiction
Aerial reconnaissance
Part of CVW-9
Garrison/HQ Naval Air Station Lemoore
Nickname(s) Tophatters
Motto(s) "The Oldest and Boldest"
Engagements World War II
Vietnam War
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Allied Force
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Decorations 2012 RADM C. Wade McLuskey Award
2010 Battle "E"
1980 Battle "E"
CDR Gavin Duff
Aircraft flown
Fighter F/A-18E Super Hornet
F-14 Tomcat
F-4 Phantom II
F3H Demon
F3D Skynight
F4U Corsair
SDB Dauntless
SB2U Vindicator
F4B Aurora

The Strike Fighter Squadron 14 (VFA-14) "Tophatters" are a United States Navy fighter attack squadron based at Naval Air Station Lemoore. They fly the F/A-18E Super Hornet, and are the Navy's oldest active squadron, having formed in 1919. Their callsign is Camelot, and their tail code is NH.


Since its inception the squadron has flown 23 different type aircraft, had its designation changed fourteen times, operated from 20 different aircraft carriers (and several battleships) and had 81 commanding officers (the 82nd is now in command).

Over the years the squadron has been assigned many different missions, including patrol and observation in its early years, and scouting, attack, fighter, bombing and forward air control missions when it became associated with carrier-based operations. The squadron adopted the classic Top Hat as its squadron patch and called themselves the "High Hats".

VFA-14 squadron linage[1]

SB2C-5s of VB-4 in 1947

Date designation squadron type
Sep 1919 Pacific Fleet
Air Detachment
15 Jun 1920 VT-5 torpedo & bombing squadron
7 Sep 1921 VP-4-1 patrol squadron
23 Sep 1921 VF-4 fighting squadron
1 Jul 1922 VF-1 fighting squadron
1 Jul 1927 VF-1B fighting squadron
1 Jul 1934 VB-2B bombing squadron
1 Jul 1937 VB-3 bombing squadron
1 Jul 1939 VB-4 bombing squadron
15 Mar 1941 VS-41 scouting squadron
1 Mar 1943 VB-41 bombing squadron
4 Aug 1943 VB-4 bombing squadron
15 Nov 1946 VA-1A attack squadron
2 Aug 1948 VA-14 attack squadron
15 Dec 1949 VF-14 fighter squadron
1 Dec 2001 VFA-14 strike-fighter squadron

Early years[]

The Tophatters began carrier operations on board the Navy's first aircraft carrier Langley in 1926. The squadron, then designated Fighter Plane Squadron One, set the record for carrier landings in a single day. Flying the TS-1, they logged 127 traps by the end of flight operations.

In 1929 the squadron was assigned to Saratoga, where it began as a fighter squadron and transitioned to a bomber squadron. Throughout the 1930s, the Tophatters flew the FB-5, F2B, F4B, F11C Goshawk, SBC Helldiver and the SB2U-1 Vindicator. In 1939, while flying the Vindicator, the Tophatters were transferred to the Atlantic Fleet and Ranger.


The Tophatters proved to be formidable foes during World War II. While on Ranger, the squadron provided air support for the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. During the four days of 8 November – November 11, the pilots destroyed 16 enemy aircraft. Flying the SBD Dauntless dive bomber, the squadron participated in the first American naval air strike against German forces in Norway's inner channel.

In November 1944, the squadron transferred to the Pacific Fleet, and participated in the Leyte Campaign while attached to Bunker Hill. After transferring to Essex, the squadron bombed fortifications on Formosa in January 1945, supported the assault on Iwo Jima in February, participated in the first naval carrier strike on Tokyo, and completed Pacific combat operations with strikes on Okinawa in early March 1945.

After the war's end VB-4 made four cruises aboard USS Tarawa (CV-40), including a world cruise between 28 September 1948 and 21 February 1949, after which the squadron was based on the U.S. East Coast. On 15 November 1946 VB-4 became Attack Squadron 1A (VA-1A), and in August 1948 the squadron was again redesignated Attack Squadron 14 (VA-14) and transitioned from the SB2C-5 to the Vought F4U-4 Corsair. In December 1949 VA-14 was redesignated Fighter Squadron 14 (VF-14).

A VF-14 F-3B Demon on the FDR, in 1962–63.


In 1951 and 1952 VF-14 made two deployments to the Mediterranean Sea aboard the modernized USS Wasp (CV-18), still flying the F4U. In 1954 VF-14 took on the role of all-weather interceptor when they transitioned to the Douglas F3D-2 Skyknight, but only made a three-months deployment aboard USS Intrepid (CVA-11) in late 1954. As the F3D proved unsuitable for carrier operations, the squadron transitioned to the McDonnell F3H-2N Demon in 1955. VF-14 made two deployments aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59) in 1957. The squadron was then re-equipped with F3H-2s. VF-14 and its parent CVG-1 were then re-assigned to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) and made eight deployments to the Mediterranean Sea up to 1969.


F-4B of VF-14 landing aboard the John F. Kennedy in 1968

In May 1963, the Tophatters transitioned to the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II and on 23 January 1964 they became the first Phantom squadron to operate on board the FDR. In June 1966, after moving to NAS Oceana, the Tophatters deployed to the South China Sea to conduct air strikes and support missions against military targets in North Vietnam. During this combat deployment, the squadron flew 1,688 hours on 967 combat sorties and delivered 651,624 pounds of ordnance, in addition to flying its traditional combat air patrol and fighter escort missions. The squadron distinguished itself in Olongapo and stories are still told among jeepney drivers attesting to the group's prowess in downing Mojos and San Magoo. When the FDR entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a modernization, CVW-1 and VF-14 were re-assigned to the USS John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) in 1969 and stayed with the JFK for nine deployments until 1982.


In January 1974, after four highly successful Mediterranean deployments, the squadron transitioned to the Navy's newest fighter, the Grumman F-14A Tomcat at NAS Miramar and was teamed with VF-32 as the first two Tomcat squadrons to arrive at NAS Oceana. In June 1975 the Tophatters became the first Atlantic squadron to deploy with the F-14A alongside VF-32 aboard John F. Kennedy. In October 1978, the Tophatter aircrew set an all-time F-14 flight hour record when they flew 977 hours in one month while deployed in the Mediterranean.

In 1976, VF-14 launched the 100th AIM-54 Phoenix missiles against a simulated cruise missile at a range of 32 miles (51 km), killing it at a range of 65 miles (105 km) from John F. Kennedy. During the same cruise, VF-14 intercepted a Soviet Tu-95 on 21 July. VF-14 escorted the bomber for around 45 minutes, during which the Soviet bomber made two passes over the Kennedy.

A VF-14 F-14A in 1975.


In August 1980, the Tophatters deployed to the Mediterranean Sea on the Kennedy. During this deployment, VF-14 won the Silver Anchor Award and the Battle "E" Award for combat readiness, for the second year in a row. The achievements that contributed to the awards included 3 missile firing exercises with a 100% kill ratio, first East Coast TCS installations and 26.500 accident free flying hours over the space of 8 years.

In June 1982 VF-14 was re-assigned to Carrier Air Wing 6 aboard the USS Independence (CV-62), and in July was named the "Best Fighter Squadron" for superb performance in the Fleet Fighter Air Combat Readiness Program (FFARP).

October and early November 1983 found the Tophatters logging more combat time in support of Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. After playing an integral part in the liberation of Grenada from Cuban insurgents, VF-14 proceeded east to the Mediterranean to participate in contingency operations off the coast of Lebanon. In early December 1983, the Tophatters were again called upon to provide combat air support for the elements of the multi-national forces in Beirut.

On 1 April 1985, the Tophatters returned to the Kennedy, where they spent the rest of the year on a turnaround-training schedule, which included eleven detachments to various parts of the United States and Canada. Although again aboard the JFK, VF-14 was now assigned to Carrier Air Wing 3.

On 18 April 1986, the Tophatters departed for the Mediterranean once again and were extended on deployment due to the Lebanese hostage crisis. Upon their return to the United States, the Tophatters were again proclaimed the "Best Fighter Squadron" by winning the 1987 FFARP award.

In 1989, VF-14 was presented with the "Grand Slam" award in recognition of their perfect missile firing record. The squadron entered 1990 conducting workups for deployment and making portcalls in Portland, Mayport, New York City and Boston. During exercises off Puerto Rico, the Tophatters operated against French Super Etendard and F-8 Crusaders from the French Aircraft Carrier Foch (R 99).


F-14 Tomcats from VF-14 overfly Foch (R 99) during 1990 dual carrier operations near Puerto Rico.

On 10 August 1990, eight days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the John F. Kennedy was ordered to emergency deploy to the Red Sea aboard the Kennedy to take part in Operation Desert Shield. During the months leading up to the war, the Tophatters played an integral role in enforcing the Iraqi embargo flying Combat Air Patrol and standing alert duty continuously. On the morning of 17 January 1991, the Tophatters once again flew into combat when they joined United Nations forces in the air assault on Iraq. VF-14 and VF-32 flew Combat Air Patrol and Fighter Escort missions for CVW-3 strike and support aircraft throughout Desert Storm operating in Western and Central Iraq initially and then conducting long range barrier CAP missions in eastern Iraq near the Iranian border.with other Tomcat squadrons from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf that lasted an unprecedented 7–8 hours. After combat operations ended, the Kennedy remained briefly in the Red Sea stopping off the coast of Egypt for a portcall before returning to NAS Oceana after eight months at sea.

In December 1991, VF-14 became one of the first squadrons to begin training for the Tomcat's new air-to-ground mission. After low altitude flight training and several strike-related schools, the Tophatters put their new skills to the test during Air Wing work-ups in Fallon, Nevada.

VF-14 F-14 tail markings

In October 1992, the Tophatters again headed east for a Mediterranean deployment. Once past the Rock of Gibraltar, VF-14 began flying air superiority and reconnaissance missions in the Adriatic Sea in support of UN policies in the former Yugoslavia. During this deployment, the Tophatters also participated in several highly successful exercises with Egypt, Morocco and Turkey, while continuing to support operations off the coast of the former Yugoslavia and Operation Provide Comfort in Iraq.

In 1995, the Tophatters were the test bed for the Tomcat air-to-ground rockets program. The Tophatters, which like to call themselves the "Oldest and the Boldest," were awarded the Fighter Fling Banner Blaster award for their superior performance in the air-to-air gunnery arena.

In late 1995, the squadron was detached from CVW-3 when the Navy began reducing the number of Tomcat squadrons to carrier air wings from two to one and retaining the TARPS capable squadrons. As a non-TARPS squadron, VF-14 was originally slated for disestablishment and temporarily assigned to Fighter Wing One at NAS Oceana. The following year saw much uncertainty for many Tomcat squadrons, but a grassroots campaign to continue the lineage of the Navy's oldest squadron was successful in saving the Tophatters from extinction and the squadron was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8, which was losing VF-84, with sister squadron VF-41.

In January 1996, the Tophatters once again rejoined the John F. Kennedy. In March, the squadron deployed on the John C. Stennis. June took the Tophatters on a 40-day cruise aboard the Kennedy to Ireland and England. Next, VF-14 visited the Mediterranean and other areas.

During March 1998, VF-14 changed its home to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the Theodore Roosevelt. In 1999, the Tophatters were involved in NATO's Operation Allied Force and in Operation Southern Watch.


In April 2001, VF-14 embarked on their final F-14 cruise on board USS Enterprise (CVN-65), supporting Operation Southern Watch and Operation Enduring Freedom. As the carrier headed for home and on its way to South Africa they were given order to head to the North Persian Gulf after the September 11 attacks. The USS Enterprise/CVW-8 had been elected to be the night carrier during OEF and thus didn't see action until 8 October, VF-14 attacked a radar warning installation near Kabul during CVW-8's initial strike, which had been envisioned to have a section of F/A-18s, a section of F-14s from VF-14 and an EA-6B from VAQ-141, but due to insufficient fuel available for the Hornets, only the F-14s and the EA-6B pressed on.[2] After their return to the US in November, VF-14 had dropped 173,324 lbs of ordnance (174 laser-guided bombs), VF-14 also buddy-lased 28 AGM-65 and 23 laser-guided bombs.[3]

F/A-18E Super Hornets aboard the USS Nimitz.

After their last F-14 cruise VF-14 and VF-41 relocated to NAS Lemoore and began the transition to the F/A-18 Super Hornet switching to CVW-11 and USS Nimitz (CVN-68). Both squadrons deployed to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) aboard USS Nimitz and prior to arrival in the Persian Gulf, two VF-14 F/A-18Es and two F/A-18Fs (VFA-41) were forward deployed to USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in late March 2003 to augment its airwing. The Super Hornets were requested to boost the air refueling capabilities of CVW-14 as well as qualified Forward Air Controllers, Airborne (FAC (A)) (the F/A-18Fs). The division of F/A-18s flew from USS Nimitz to USS Abraham Lincoln, a 2,700-mile (4,300 km) trip. On 6 April, the Hornets returned to USS Nimitz. During OIF, VFA-14 expended laser-guided bomb's, JDAM bombs and AGM-65 Maverick missiles and conducted numerous long-range missions to northern Baghdad and Tikrit.

After its OIF cruise in 2003, VFA-14 conducted Air Wing training at NAS Fallon and made the maiden deployment with USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) in 2004, the cruise took them from Virginia to California around South America. After work-ups in 2004 they deployed for a 2005 cruise, supporting OIF and flying over 2,100 sorties and over 4,300 flight hours.

In 2006, VFA-14 made detachments to NAS Fallon and a joint exercise with the Royal Air Force to Scotland. Training persisted through 2006 with a Strike Fighter Advance Readiness Program (SFARP) with a three-week detachment to NAS Fallon. VFA-14 and CVW-11 participated in Navy Fleet Week in San Francisco in early October. During this period, two F/A-18Es made a flyover during a 49ers game and several Tophatters donated time to a community relations project renovating a local school. Training continued into 2007 in preparation for the up-coming GULF/WESTPAC deployment in support of OIF and OEF, and exercise Valiant Shield near Guam.

On 18 January 2008, it was announced that CVW-11 would deploy on 24 January to the Pacific for a surge-deployment on board the Nimitz.[4]

During 2009 CVW-11 and the Nimitz Strike Group conducted several training exercises off the coast of Southern California including composite unit training and joint task force training in anticipation for their 2009–2010 deployment. On 28 July it was reported that CVW-11 and the Nimitz Strike Group was to depart for a seven-month deployment.[5]


VFA-14 and VFA-41 changed air wings and carriers to CVW-9 and USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), and on 27 July 2011 CVW-9 deployed onboard USS John C. Stennis to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, counter-piracy and maritime security operations.[6]


  2. Tony Holmes (2008). F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited – Chapter Two – OEF Begins, page 33
  3. Tony Holmes (2008). F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited – Chapter Three – Ground War, page 53
  4. Nimitz Carrier Strike Group Set to Deploy
  5. Nimitz Strike Group Set To Deploy
  6. John C. Stennis Deploys with Carrier Strike Group 3

External references[]

See also[]

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