In early summer 2011 Mark Forest, on behalf of AeroResource, was granted access to visit NAS Oceana in Virginia and spend the day with the host unit; the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Squadron ONE ZERO SIX (VFA-106). Flt Lt Paul Hanson, a former RAF Leuchers F3 pilot and now an instructor with VFA-106, was our host and tour guide around the “Roman Empire” of NAS Oceana.
The History of Oceana
In 1940, the Navy acquired the land that would become Naval Air Station Oceana. Airspace and facility restrictions preclude NAS Norfolk from serving as the home station for tactical air units, and in the 1950s NAS Oceana was expanded to ‘Master Jet Base’ status to serve just that purpose. NAS Oceana has grown to become one of the largest and most advanced air stations in the world with its four runways specifically designed for high-performance aircraft. NAS Oceana’s primary mission was to train and deploy the Navy’s fighter/attack squadrons of F-14 Tomcats and the F/A-18 Hornets. Along with this two SH-3 Sea King helicopters were assigned to NAS Oceana for search-and-rescue duties. It has also been designated as an alternative landing site for NASA’s Space Shuttle.
Both the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF) Fentress, in Chesapeake, VA and Naval Station (NS) Norfolk Chambers Field, in Norfolk, VA are under the command of NAS Oceana along with the Navy Dare County Range located in North Carolina. In the early 1990s the base played host to the F-14 Tomcat and A-6 Intruder attack aircraft, with all of the Atlantic Fleet’s A-6 medium attack squadrons being based at NAS Oceana at one time, in addition to the F-14 fighter aircraft. However the F-14 and A-6 are no longer included in thier inventory. Instead the base is now home to F/A-18 Hornets and F/A-18 Super Hornets. Oceana has managed to retain its role as the primary East Coast home, accepting sixteen fleet squadrons and one Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS).
Due to an increasing percentage of operations being conducted at night, Oceana provides crucial training in Night Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP). This is used for maintaining the proficiency of its aircrews when operations pick up due to carrier deployments. This requires a higher number of scheduled night operations.
The Virginia Beach community places high value on the military and the bases contribution to the community. The military presence in Virginia Beach has created approximately 11,000 direct jobs making them a vital part of the local economy and the state has invested significant resources in improving the infrastructure around the surrounding area. The base also contributes to charities as well as the community through its annual Air Show held during September every year, which in turn also increases tourism for Virginia Beach.
Strike Fighter Squadron – ONE ZERO SIX. “Gladiators” of the Roman Empire
Strike Fighter Squadron – One Zero Six (VFA-106) was originally established as Fighter-Bomber Squadron Seventeen in January 1945. Just one month after being commissioned the squadron was assigned to the USS Hornet (CV 12) flying F6F-5 Hellcats. They participated in combat strikes against Tokyo, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa and the first major air strikes against the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku. In 1950 the squadron was moved to NAS Cecil Field, FL and received F2H Banshee aircraft. In 1952 they became officially known as the “Gladiators”. They then went on to fly various missions in Vietnam before being decommissioned in 1969. However, this wasn’t the end for the Gladiators. They re-commissioned in 1984 under VFA-106 at NAS Cecil Field and were given the Navy’s newest tactical aircraft; the F/A-18 Hornet. In 1999 they were moved to NAS Oceana where their new mission was to train Replacement Aircrew for the F/A-18.
VFA-106 received its first C and D models of the FA-18 Hornet in 1987 and then in 2004 received its fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. All four variants are flown by the Navy/Marines with 115 aircraft currently at the squadron’s disposal and some 1500 personnel; including Naval, Marine Corp and civilian staff. They train replacement pilots and Weapon System Operators (WSOs) who learn the basics of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, earning them a day/night carrier qualification aswell as receiving assignments to Carrier fleet Hornet squadrons. The training courses for a VFA-106 pilot or WSO will normally span 9 months with an instructor in the rear of the D/F model “twin sticks” and usually include being detached to NAS Fallon in Nevada and NAS El Centro in California during the winter months. The “Gladiators” have a permanent detachment of aircraft to NAS Key West in the Florida Keys. The course then culminates with qualifying to land on an aircraft carrier as the graduation exercise.
The Super Hornets flown by VFA-106 are used to form the United States Navy East Coast demo team, which display annually around Air Shows and other special events in North America. The team will normally send two F/A-18Fs, one being for display and the other as an air spare.
The combat-proven F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine, multi-mission, tactical aircraft. It can convert between air-to-air fighter missions and air-to-ground strike missions on the same sortie with just the flick of a switch. Currently serving the armed services of eight nations, the F/A-18 fulfils the following types of assignment: fighter escort, suppression of enemy air defences, reconnaissance, forward air control, close air support, and day and night strike missions.
- Seating capacity/crew options
- Model F/A-18C: one-seat (pilot-only)
- Model F/A-18D: two-seats (one for the pilot and one for the WSO)
- Dimensions: length 56 ft, wing span 40 ft, height 15.3 ft
- Propulsion: two F404-GE-402 engines, each with 18,000 pounds of thrust
- Top speed: Mach 1.8
- Combat radius: 500+ nm (900+ km)
In addition to an M61A1 20-mm gun mounted inside the nose of the aircraft, the F/A-18 carries up to 13,700 pounds (6,227 kg) of external ordnance and has nine weapon stations as follows:
- Two wingtip stations for Sidewinders
- Two outboard wing stations for air-to-air or air-to-ground weapons
- Two inboard wing stations that can be used for fuel tanks, air-to-air weapons, or air-to-ground weapons
- Two nacelle fuselage stations for AMRAAMs, Sparrows, or sensor pods
- One centreline station for fuel or for air-to-ground weapons
The F/A-18 utilizes various systems and technologies to minimize the likelihood of detection, escape if detected, and return safely if hit.
- Radar: APG-73 with increased speed and memory capacity
- Targeting: laser target designator/ranger that is housed in a forward-looking infrared sensor, which enables the aircraft to deliver precision laser-guided bombs accurately
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a combat-proven strike fighter with built-in versatility. The Super Hornet’s suite of integrated and networked systems provides enhanced interoperability, total force support for the combatant commander and for the troops on the ground.
Both the single seat E and two-seat F models have the shared ability to convert quickly from one mission type to the next with the flip of a switch, providing consistent air dominance including:
- Day/night strikes with precision-guided weapons
- Anti-air warfare
- Fighter escort
- Close air support
- Suppression of enemy air defence
- Maritime strike
- Forward air control
- Air to Air Refuelling
The F/A-18E/F versatility applies to its weapon stations and payload types:
- 11 weapon stations
- Supports a full complement of smart weapons, including laser-guided bombs
- Carries a full spectrum mix of air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance
The F/A-18E/F is powered by two General Electric F414-GE-400 engines:
- Distinctive caret-shaped inlet to provide increased airflow and reduced radar signature
- 22,000 pounds of thrust per engine, 44,000 pounds per aircraft
- Dimensions: length 60ft, wingspan 44ft, height 16ft
- Top speed: Mach 1.8+
- Combat radius: 1275nm (2346km)
- Ceiling max: 50000ft
- Highly departure resistant (?) through its operational flight envelope.
- Unlimited angle-of-attack and carefree flying qualities for highly effective combat capability and ease of training.
- Reconfigurable digital flight-control system detects and corrects for combat damage.
The Super Hornet’s long-term designed versatility ensures investment value. Current upgrades delivered in the Block Two configuration include:
- Active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar
- Advanced targeting forward-looking infrared (ATFLIR) system
- Joint-helmet mounted cueing system (JHMCS)
- Multifunctional information distribution system (MIDS)
- Advanced aft crew station
- Fibre channel switch for increased data processing capability
- Fully integrated weapons systems and sensors for reduced crew workload and increased capability.
As can be seen from the figures above the F/A-18 C/D and the highly capable E/F models are combat proven aircraft since its introduction during the mid 80’s. It is easy to see why Hornet, including the earlier A/B models, forms the backbone of the United States Navy and includes 70% of the total aircraft in a Carrier Air Wing.
AeroRescource would like to thank the NAS Norfolk public affairs team, the VFA-106 PAO and our guide around NAS Oceana, Flt Lt Paul Hanson, who gave us a very informative tour and gave us a great insight into the workings and operations of the Super Hornet. Special thanks to Ian French and Jon Astley for supporting and organising the visit.