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Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 86 “Sidewinders”

Squadron History

Strike Fighter Squadron EIGHT SIX traces its origins to Fighter Squadron 921, based at Naval Air Station St. Louis, Missouri, during the Korean War in February 1951. In February 1953, the squadron was re-designated VF-84 while deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, aboard USS ANTIETAM (CV 36). In July 1955, the squadron was re-designated VA-86 "Sidewinders".

From 1955 to 1987, the Sidewinders flew the F4-U "Corsair", F8F-2 "Bearcat", F9F-5 "Panther", F7U-3M "Cutlass", also known as the "Ensign Eater", A4D-1 "Skyhawk" and A-7A/C/E "Corsair". During these transitions, the Sidewinders made numerous deployments to the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas, the North Atlantic, the Western Pacific and the Indian Oceans onboard various aircraft carriers, including USS ANTIETAM (CV 36), USS BENNINGTON (CV 20), USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN (CV 39), USS FORRESTAL (CV 59), USS RANDOLPH (CV 15), USS INDEPENDENCE (CV 62), USS INTREPID (CV 11), USS LEXINGTON (CV 16), USS AMERICA (CV 66), USS CORAL SEA (CV 43) and USS NIMITZ (CVN 68).

In September 1969, the Sidewinders made an emergency sortie aboard AMERICA for a ten month combat deployment to Southeast Asia. The Squadron was back in familiar waters on "Yankee Station" in the Tonkin Gulf when the Paris Peace Accords were signed and our Prisoners of War finally returned home. This was the squadron’ s fourth combat deployment to Southeast Asia, more than any other East Coast attack squadron. During that deployment, the Sidewinders participated in the most intense air combat encountered throughout their extensive Southeast Asian involvement, earning the Meritorious Unit Commendation.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, as part of the NIMITZ team, the Sidewinders made numerous deployments to the Mediterranean and North Atlantic and even made an appearance in the 1980 movie The Final Countdown. In 1982, the Sidewinders were awarded the COMNAVAIRLANT "Battle E", denoting the best A-7E squadron on the East Coast and were also awarded the 1985 Admiral Wade McClusky Award, signifying the best attack squadron in the Navy for that year. In June of 1987, the Sidewinders departed NIMITZ to transition to the FA-18C Hornet and were re-designated Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-86). In 1989, deploying with the Navy’s premier strike fighter, the Sidewinders spent eight months with the Carrier Air Wing ONE (CVW-1) "TARBOX" team aboard AMERICA.

In March 1999, following a successful deployment onboard USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67), the Sidewinders moved from NAS Cecil Field, Florida, to their new home in the Low Country at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.

In 2001, the Sidewinders once again found themselves deployed, this time onboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The TARBOX team was ready upon arrival in the Arabian Sea to execute sustained combat missions in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF). After providing vital air support to coalition forces and helping to enable the eradication of the hostile regime in Afghanistan, the Sidewinders departed the area having flown over 3,500 hours and expending 213 tons of ordnance. This deployment was noteworthy not only for responding to the attacks of 9/11, but also for going 157 days without a port call, establishing the Naval Aviation record for continuous days at sea and becoming known to those who were on that deployment as the "Ironman" cruise.

In August of 2003, VFA-86 deployed on USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) and OEF. Returning in early 2004, the Sidewinders sailed again in June 2004 for SUMMER PULSE, a two-month deployment to the North Atlantic as part of Navy’s inaugural Fleet Response Plan. Upon returning, the squadron exchanged its Lot-10 for newer Lot-18 F/A-18C Hornets. In 2006, and then again in 2007, the squadron again deployed on the ENTERPRISE in support of OIF and OEF.

In 2008 the Sidewinders joined CVW-11 and the NIMITZ Strike Group. In July 2009, the squadron departed MCAS Beaufort deploying as part of Carrier Strike Group ELEVEN. The Strike Group entered the 5th Fleet in September and spent the following five months flying combat sorties in support of OEF. Returning in March 2010, the Sidewinders accumulated over 4,200 flight hours while embarked, successfully completing their fifth deployment in support of OEF.

In July 2011 the Sidewinders left the swamps of the Low Country of South Carolina and moved across the country to the desert and farms at NAS Lemoore, CA and transitioned to the FA-18E Super Hornet. The Sidewinders found immediate success on the West Coast, taking top honors in the CSFWP bombing derby and were awarded the McClaran Trophy as the top-performing squadron in the air-to-ground mission for that year. Additionally, the squadron earned a perfect 800/800 on its initial Conventional Weapons Technical Proficiency Inspection, a rare feat for any squadron and unprecedented for a transition squadron. During December 2011, the squadron was officially certified "Safe for Flight," completing their Super Hornet transition.

In 2012, the Sidewinders joined Carrier Air Wing TWO and Carrier Strike Group NINE. During 2013 and 2014 the squadron executed work-ups, culminating with participation in the world’s largest multinational maritime exercise, RIM OF THE PACIFIC, also known as RIMPAC.

In March 2015 the Sidewinders joined Carrier Air Wing THREE (CVW-3) and Carrier Strike Group TEN (CSG-10). The squadron began work-ups in June 2015 and deployed in June 2016 onboard USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69) for a seven month deployment in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR) under the new Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP). During deployment, the Sidewinders dropped over 330,000 pounds of ordnance and were recognized by being awarded the Battle "E" and Admiral Wade McClusky Awards for 2016.

August 2017 found the Sidewinders with Carrier Air Wing SEVEN (CVW-7) and Carrier Strike Group TWELVE (CSG-12). Workups for their next deployment began shortly after to include Air-to-Surface SFARP, Air-to-Air SFARP, TSTA, and Air Wing Fallon. Following their successful completion of COMPTUEX in early 2019, the Sidewinders began their around-the-world cruise onboard the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72). Leading from the front, the Sidewinders remain ready for future world-wide tasking.

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