“In this particular mission, not only were we refueling at night, but we were doing so on top of a thunderstorm,” Keith “Virus” Schomig, former F-14A Tomcat RIO with VF-211 Checkmates
Taken by former Tomcat RIO Keith “Virus” Schomig from the cockpit of his F-14 in February 2002, the cool video in this post shows VF-211 Checkmates F-14A fighters taking fuel from a RAF Tristar tanker during a night mission over Afghanistan.
According to Schomig “This was a night mission over Afghanistan in January or February 2002. Back then, virtually the whole country was enemy territory. The nearest divert was in Pakistan. This made night refueling especially stressful–if you couldn’t get gas, you may well be out of options. What would cause you to not get gas? Well, if you can’t get in the basket. Or worse–and as happened on a few occasions–if you stab the basket too hard, causing the hose to crack like a whip, and ripping the basket clean off its hose. Now you’re not only out of gas, but you have no means to get more.
“In this particular mission, not only were we refueling at night, but we were doing so on top of a thunderstorm (you can see the lightning in the clouds as we approach the British RAF tanker). Some nights are rougher than others, and this time it took my pilot several tries to get in the basket, with the frustration building each time. He stays calm, however, and finally gets in. We take our gas and head back out on patrol.”
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Checkmates deployed with Carrier Air Wing Nine, in an accelerated schedule that had VF-211 aircraft flying combat missions over Afghanistan by December. The Checkmates left their mark on Operation Enduring Freedom during a three-week battle named Operation Anaconda where they flew day and night sorties to defend coalition forces and eliminate Al-Qaeda resistance. The Checkmates returned after flying 1,250 combat missions and were then assigned to Carrier Air Wing One.
VF-211’s performance in 2002 was recognized throughout the fleet. For their achievements, they earned the West Coast Battle “E” for battle efficiency from Commander Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet, the Grand Slam Award for excellence in Air-to-Air employment from Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic Fleet, and the Clifton Award for the most outstanding overall performance in battle efficiency and employment from Commander Naval Air Forces. Additionally, for their precision and innovation in strike warfare, they awarded the coveted VADM “Sweetpea” Allen Precision Strike Award.
The last squadron to fly the venerable F-14A Tomcat, the Checkmates deployed aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in October of 2003 in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (OIF and OEF). The squadron flew over 450 combat hours during October, November, and December in support of coalition efforts.
VF-211 was redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron 211 (VFA-211) after successfully completing the transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet in 2005 at NAS Lemoore, CA.
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com