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Strike Fighter Squadron 213
VFA-213 Insignia.PNG
VFA-213 Insignia
Active 22 June 1955 - present
Country United States
Branch United States Navy
Type Fighter/Attack
Role Close air support
Air interdiction
Aerial reconnaissance
Garrison/HQ NAS Oceana
Nickname "Blacklions"
Motto Audentes Fortuna Juvat
Engagements Vietnam War
Operation Praying Mantis
Operation Restore Hope
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Desert Fox
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom

Strike Fighter Squadron 213 (VFA-213) Black Lions is an aviation unit of the United States Navy based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia (USA). It was established in 1955 and is currently equipped with the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet. The squadron is assigned to Carrier Air Wing Eight and uses the radio callsign Lion.





VF-213 F4D-1 Skyray.

The Blacklions were established as VF-213 on June 22, 1955 at NAS Moffett Field, California. The first cruise was aboard USS Bon Homme Richard flying the F2H Banshee. When they returned, they transitioned to the F4D Skyray which they flew for two deployments on USS Lexington. They then transitioned to the F3H Demon, which gave the squadron the capability to shoot the newly released AIM-7 Sparrow Air-to-Air missile. VF-213 deployed next for a third cruise aboard Lex.


Blacklion Phantoms on USS Kitty Hawk, 1968.

In June 1961, VF-213 moved to NAS Miramar, which became their home for the next 36 years. Three years later, in February 1964, the Blacklions took a huge step forward in fighter capability by accepting the first of their new McDonnell F-4B Phantom IIs. In November 1965, VFA-213 joined Attack Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW-11) and began the first of six combat deployments to Yankee Station aboard USS Kitty Hawk, where they flew numerous missions over Southeast Asia in the Vietnam War. This deployment marked the first use of the Phantom as a conventional bomber, which was a role destined to make the Phantom a mainstay of the US Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. On 20 December 1966, the Blacklions scored their first air-to-air kill when Lieutenant D.A. McRae and Ensign D.N. Nichols shot down a Vietnamese AN-2 Colt. Between the years 1965 and 1972 VF-213 flew several combat cruises, flying 11,500 combat missions and delivering 6000 tons of ordnance.


In September 1976, VF-213 began the transition to the Grumman F-14A Tomcat. The first cruise with the F-14 was with CVW-11 aboard Kitty Hawk in October 1977. After the Kitty Hawk cruise, the carrier air wing switched to the USS America and took part in two Mediterranean cruises in 1979 and 1981.


In April 1982, the Blacklions added a new mission as they began training with the Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) and in September 1982, VF-213 deployed aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65). During Indian Ocean operations, the Blacklions achieved a new milestone by flying the longest Tomcat flight from a carrier on a 1,775-mile TARPS mission.

On 24 January 1986 they deployed with Enterprise to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, where VF-213 often intercepted Soviet and Indian aircraft. During this deployment, tensions between the U.S. and Libya escalated, necessitating the decision to move Enterprise through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea. Upon arrival in the Gulf of Sidra CVW-11 aircraft flew patrols for two months, although encounters with Libyan aircraft were rare. The ship transited the Strait of Gibraltar and around the Cape of Good Hope South Africa before continuing onto Perth, Australia and across the Pacific to their home port.

1988 saw VF-213 flying cover over reflagged oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and participating in Operation Praying Mantis. In 1989 VF-213 and the rest of the air wing switched aircraft carriers to the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). The first cruise on Abe was a six-week transit from NAS Norfolk to NAS Alameda, via Cape Horn South America.

The Blacklions won the prestigious “BOOLA BOOLA” award in March 1989 for their professional completion of all missile test firings. In fall 1989, VF-213 and CVW-11 went around the world on Enterprise for a WESTPAC deployment ending at NS Norfolk, Virginia for refurbishment.


An F-14D from VF-213 carrying a LANTIRN pod.

The squadron deployed to WestPac on Abraham Lincoln in May 1991 in support of UN sanctions over Iraq. Blacklions flew combat air patrol and TARPS missions, recording the devastation of Kuwait oil fields. In 1993, VF-213 became the sole F-14 squadron on Abraham Lincoln. That same year, VF-213 flew in support of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia and Operation Southern Watch over Iraq.

Kara Hultgreen, the first qualified female F-14 pilot in the US Navy, was assigned to VF-213, and on 25 October 1994, her F-14 crashed while on approach to landing aboard Abraham Lincoln. Both she and her RIO ejected, but only the RIO survived.

The 1995 WestPac cruise again saw the Blacklions flying over the skies of southern Iraq. In 1996, VF-213 moved to the USS Kitty Hawk for the 1996-1997 WESTPAC deployment. During this deployment VF-213 fired twenty six AIM-54 Phoenix and six AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, including one event where six planes launched twelve Phoenix missiles. These mass firings were conducted to reduce the numbers of older Phoenix missiles in inventory, as they were being removed from service.

After the 1997 cruise, VF-213 moved from NAS Miramar to NAS Oceana and transitioned to the F-14D Super Tomcat, becoming the fourth F-14 squadron to receive the Delta model.

In 1998 they moved to USS Carl Vinson, and began work-ups for their next cruise. During the 1998-1999 deployment, VF-213 was the first squadron to fire an AIM-54C Phoenix with the aircrew on night vision goggles. Two months into the deployment, VF-213 participated in Operation Desert Fox, which was the Navy’s largest combat evolution since DESERT STORM. This successful deployment included the longest combat line period in over 25 years.[1]. F-14Ds from VF-213, as well as the rest of the embarked carrier air wing aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), joined other US air assets in the final strikes of that operation.[2] . Highlights of the cruise included the execution of 19 strikes, dropping 20 laser-guided bombs, supporting 11 combined strikes, flying 70 missions, and logging 230 combat sorties, including 45 reconnaissance missions imaging more than 580 targets.

VF-213 F-14 tail markings

On 5 January 1999, two F-14Ds on patrol over Iraq were directed to intercept two Iraqi MiG-25s south of the "no fly zone". The Tomcats fired two AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, the first ever Phoenix combat-launch by the US Navy. The Iraqi jets turned north and the missiles fell short of their targets[3]. VF-213/CVW-11 returned home in the spring of 1999.


After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Carl Vinson with CVW-11 was the first carrier battle group on station in the North Arabian Sea, preparing for attacks against Afghanistan. On 7 October 2001 during a CVW-11 strike, VF-213 dropped the first bombs of Operation Enduring Freedom on an SA-3 site near Kabul International Airport.[4]. VF-213 was instrumental in their reconnaissance role, utilizing their TARPS pods, and also provided laser weapon guidance for F/A-18 Hornets and GPS weapons coordinates for Hornets and USAF strike aircraft[5]. During the ten weeks VF-213 were supporting OEF they flew over 500 combat sorties, over 2600 combat flight hours and expended 435,000 pounds of ordnance[6] and provided valuable reconnaissance with the TARPS pods. VF-213 was also the first F-14 unit to use its internal 20 mm cannon in combat during the Battle of Mazar e Sharif[7] VF-213 received the 2001 Commander Naval Air Pacific Fleet Battle "E", Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Safety "S", Clifton Award and the Commander Fighter Wing Atlantic Golden Wrench for their performance in 2001.[1]

After the 2001-cruise ended in 2002, VF-213 changed air wings from CVW-11 to CVW-8. On March 22, 2003, VF-213 deployed aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt to the Mediterranean Sea in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the war VF-213 would fly 198 strike, combat air patrol and ground forces support missions, delivering 102 laser guided bombs and 94 JDAM bombs.

The last American F-14 to fly a combat mission lands at Sherman Field on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.

VF-213 was paired up with VF-31 Tomcatters for the 2005-2006 final F-14 Tomcat cruise on board Theodore Roosevelt. During the cruise, VF-213 and VF-31 received ROVER upgrades to their aircraft, enabling them to transmit real-time images from their LANTIRN sensor to ground operators. VF-31 and 213 collectively completed 1,163 combat sorties, and dropped 9,500 pounds of ordnance during reconnaissance, surveillance, and close air support missions in support of OIF.

On 10 March 2006, VF-213 returned to NAS Oceana after the final F-14 cruise. All 22 Tomcats flew together in a wedge formation over NAS Oceana as hundreds of people cheered.

VF-213 began their transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet in April 2006 and was re-designated VFA-213 on 2 April 2006. VF-213 was the first Super Hornet squadron to fly AESA-equipped Super Hornets.[8]. VFA-213 became the first squadron to receive Dual-Cockpit Cueing System for both pilot and Weapon systems officer, retrofitted with an aft cockpit Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), on May 18, 2007[9].

A VFA-213 F/A-18F over USS Theodore Roosevelt, 2008.

On 13 May 2008 an F/A-18 from the squadron operating from Theodore Roosevelt accidentally dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb one mile outside of the Pinecastle bombing range near the Ocala National Forest. The bomb explosion started a wildfire which burned 257 acres of vegetation. No one was injured in the blaze, but the emergency response cost $342,946. A Navy investigation determined that technical misunderstandings and crew fatigue contributed to the mishap. The two crew members of the jet were later returned to flying status after a board review.[10]

VFA-213, along with CVW-8 and Theodore Roosevelt, participated in Joint Task Force Exercise 08-4 Operation Brimstone off the coast of North Carolina between July 21 and July 31, 2008. The British carrier HMS Ark Royal, the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima with associated units and the Brazilian Navy frigate Greenhalgh (F-46) and the French submarine Améthyste also participated in the event[11].

On 8 September 2008, VFA-213 and the rest of CVW-8 deployed onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt on a regularly-scheduled deployment[12]. On 4 October the Roosevelt Carrier Group arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, the first visit by an US aircraft carrier since 1967 and three days later the carrier left Cape Town[13]. CVW-8 and CVN-71 supported operation "Enduring Freedom" and flew more than 3,100 sorties and dropped more than 59,500 pounds of ordnance while providing Close Air Support for ISAF-forces in Afghanistan. On 21 March 2009 it was reported that USS Theodore Roosevelt was relieved by USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)[14].


See also


  • Tony Holmes (2005). US Navy F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited.
  • Tony Holmes (2008). US Navy F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, Osprey Publishing Limited.


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