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Strike Fighter Squadron 86
VFA-86 insignia
Active 1 February 1951
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Type Fighter/Attack
Role Close air support
Air interdiction
Aerial reconnaissance
Part of Carrier Air Wing Two
Garrison/HQ Naval Air Station Lemoore
Nickname(s) Sidewinders
Tail Code AC
Engagements Vietnam War
* Operation Linebacker
* Operation Linebacker II
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Enduring Freedom
CDR Tim "Cooter" Waits
Aircraft flown
Attack A-4B/C/E Skyhawk
A-7A/C/E Corsair II
Fighter F8F-2 Bearcat
F9F-5 Panther
F7U-3M Cutlass
F/A-18C Hornet
F/A-18E Super Hornet

Strike Fighter Squadron 86 (VFA-86) is a strike fighter squadron of the United States Navy based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. The squadron is nicknamed Sidewinders, leading to the call sign Winder. The unit currently flies the F/A-18E Super Hornet and is assigned to Carrier Air Wing Three, tail code AC.


  • History 1
    • 1950s 1.1
    • 1960s 1.2
    • 1970s 1.3
    • 1980s 1.4
    • 1990s 1.5
    • 2000s 1.6
    • 2010s 1.7
  • References 2
  • External links 3
  • See also 4



F7U-3Ms of VA-86 aboard USS Forrestal.

Reserve Fighter Squadron 921 (VF-921) was called to active duty from NAS St. Louis on 1 February 1951 for the Korean War flying the F4U-4 Corsair. VF-921 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing Eight and deployed to the Mediterreanean Sea aboard USS Tarawa (CV-40), in 1951-52. On 4 February 1953, the squadron was redesignated Fighter Squadron 84 (VF-84), while deployed to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba aboard USS Antietam (CVA-36). In June 1953, the squadron briefly flew the F8F-2 Bearcat in preparation for transition to the F9F-5 Panther in November 1953. The squadron's current "Sidewinder" name and insignia were adopted in April 1954. Flying the Panther, VF-84 was again deployed to the Mediterranean Sea aboard USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39) from September 1954 to April 1955.

On 1 July 1955 the squadron began flying the F7U-3M Cutlass, was redesignated Attack Squadron 86 (VA-86), and conducted extensive evaluation of the AIM-7 Sparrow missile. VA-86 was deployed with the F7U only for the shakedown cruise of USS Forrestal (CVA-59), being assigned to Air Task Group 181.

From May 1957 until 1967, the squadron was assigned to Carrier Air Wing Seven, being equipped with various marks of the Douglas A4D/A-4 Skyhawk. Between September 1958 and March 1958, VA-86 was deployed aboard USS Randolph (CVA-15), before CVW-7 was reassigned to the recently commissioned USS Independence (CVA-62).


VA-86 A4D-2 Skyhawks in 1960.

In April 1961 VA-86 operated from USS Independence near Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In November 1962, the squadron was assigned to Carrier Air Wing Three and embarked in USS Lexington (CVA-16) during the Cuban Missile Crisis operating off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. VA-86 was flying a mix of A-4Bs and A-4Cs, as the squadron was transitioning to the A-4C. In April–May 1963, VA-86 provided A-4C detachments aboard Atlantic Fleet anti-submarine carriers USS Essex (CVS-9), USS Randolph (CVS-15), and USS Wasp (CVS-18). The aircraft were equipped with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles to provide the carriers with anti-air warfare capability.

From August 1963 to March 1964, VA-86 was again deployed with CVW-7 aboard USS Independence to the Mediterranean Sea. Following this deployment, the squadron transitioned to the A-4E. On 1 July 1965, the squadron conducted its first combat missions, flying from Independence against targets in South Vietnam. In 1966-67, VA-86 was back in the Mediterranean Sea aboard Independence.

On 1 June 1967, VA-86 became the Navy's first operational Atlantic Fleet squadron to fly the A-7A Corsair II. VA-86 was reassigned to Carrier Air Wing Six and made another deployment to Vietnam aboard USS America (CVA-66). The squadron conducted its third South East Asia combat deployment aboard USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) from September 1969 to July 1970 while being assigned to Carrier Air Wing Fifteen. In October 1970, VA-86 transitioned to the E model of the A-7.


An A-7C of VA-86 in 1974.

From 1971 to 1987, VA-86 was again assigned to CVW-8. In late spring of 1972, VA-86 was forced to transition to the A-7C due to unexpected problems with the A-7E's TF-41 engines. The Sidewinders then deployed from June 1972 to March 1973 aboard USS America for a ten-month combat cruise, participating in several intense and lengthy bombing campaigns, including Operation Linebacker and Linebacker II in late-1972. The squadron remained on station until the Paris Peace Accord was signed in late January 1973. This was the squadron’s fourth combat deployment to Southeast Asia, more than any other East Coast attack squadron and resulted in the receipt of the Meritorious Unit Commendation.

The squadron transitioned to the A-7E in 1974 and was aboard America for 7 months duty. In 1975, Sidewinders went aboard USS Nimitz (CVN-68) for the ship's maiden voyage and made further deployments during the late 1970s and 1980s. In 1979, VA-86 planes appeared in the movie The Final Countdown, which was filmed aboard USS Nimitz at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida.


In January 1980, after the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran VA-86 departed Naples, Italy embarked in Nimitz, en route to the Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope, beginning of 144 consecutive days at sea.

In 1981 while aboard Nimitz, the squadron participated in a Freedom of Navigation Exercise in the Gulf of Sidra incident. During this tense period, VA-86 flew Aerial refuelling and reconnaissance missions over potentially hostile Libyan ships.

The Sidewinders were awarded the 1982 COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E", as the best East Coast A-7 squadron.

In Jun- July 1985 while aboard Nimitz, VA-86 operated off the coast of Lebanon due to the hijacking of TWA flight 847 by Arab radicals, and later that year the Sidewinders were awarded the Admiral Wade McClusky Award, signifying the best attack squadron in the Navy.

January–February 1987 while embarked in Nimitz, VA-86 operated off the coast of Lebanon after three U.S. citizens were taken hostage from the American University in Beirut.

On July 15, 1987, VA-86 was officially redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron 86 (VFA-86), and began flying the F/A-18C Hornet. VA-86 was the first East Coast squadron to receive the C model (Lot 10) of the F/A-18. From 1988 to 2007, VFA-86 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing One. In 1988, during an eight-month deployment aboard America, VFA-86 provided air cover for the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.


F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-86 in 1995.

In 1991, the squadron flew combat missions in support of Operation Desert Storm from America operating in both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

In 1992, the Sidewinders accomplished the first East Coast F/A-18 Standoff Land Attack Missile shoot to a target on San Nicolas Island, California.

In 1993 the Sidewinders deployed aboard America in support of Operation Deny Flight. In October, America was ordered to the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia in support of United Nations relief efforts. After conducting NATO Operation Deliberate Force missions over Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Adriatic Sea, they returned to Cecil Field in February 1994. The Sidewinders received the CNO's Safety "S" Award for 1995.

On 3 October 1997, the Sidewinders deployed to the Mediterranean Sea/Persian Gulf aboard  (CVN-75)Harry S. TrumanUSS . On 22 September 1999 the Sidewinders deployed to the Mediterranean Sea/Arabian aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), participating Freedom of Navigation Operations off the coast of Libya.

Following the decommissioning of NAS Cecil Field, Florida in 1999 due to BRAC action, VFA-86 was one of two U.S. Navy strike fighter squadrons that relocated to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina in lieu of NAS Oceana, Virginia. The other Navy squadron at MCAS Beaufort, VFA-82, was deactivated in 2005.[1]


On 19 September 2001, the Sidewinders deployed aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) over Afghanistan against Taliban and Al Qaeda military targets. When they departed the area on 2 March 2002, the squadron had flown over 3500 hours and expended over 213 tons of ordnance. During this period, the Sidewinders were at sea for 160 continuous days.

From August 2003 to July 2004, VFA-86 deployed in USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and OEF.

From May to November 2006, the Sidewinders were again deployed on the Big E in support of OIF and OEF, visiting ports in Croatia, Crete, Dubai, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, & Portugal. In July 2007, VFA-86 deployed for a last time aboard Enterprise in support of OIF and OEF, returning MCAS Beaufort in December 2007. Sidewinders earned the 2007 Commander Naval Air Forces U.S. Atlantic Fleet Safety "S."

Between 31 July 2009 and 26 March 2010, VFA-86 deployed aboard USS Nimitz to the Western Pacific and the North Arabian Sea, being assigned to Carrier Air Wing Eleven.


A F/A-18E of VFA-86 landing aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), in 2013.

In 2011 Relocated from MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina to Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. After their arrival, they transitioned to the F/A-18E Super Hornet. VFA-86 was then assigned to Carrier Air Wing Two aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).


  1. ^ VFA-82

External links

  • Official website of VFA-86
  • VFA-86 Sidewinders page on

See also

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