U.S. Navy


The famed Jolly Rogers have always displayed some of the most recognizable squadron markings in the world in the form of sinister white skull-and-crossbones on all-black tails

The famed Jolly Rogers have always displayed some of the most recognizable squadron markings in the world: sinister white skull-and-crossbones on all-black tails, with gold bands wrapped around the tip of the tail fins, and black bands with gold chevrons (known as vagabonds strips from the Crusader days of VF-84) run down the sides of the forward fuselage.

Flying over nine different types of fighter aircraft in the past 63 years, the Skull and Crossbones have become the most recognized and feared insignia in the world.

The Skull and Crossbones first flew in January 1943 on the F4U Corsairs assigned to VF-17, the most lethal Navy fighter squadron of World War II. By the end of the war, the original Jolly Rogers had racked up 154.5 kills in the skies over the Pacific.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-8C Crusader VF-84 Jolly Rogers, AG200 / 145559 / 1962

Noteworthy the unit’s mascot is a set of skull and crossbones enclosed in a glass encasement that supposedly are the remains of Ens Jack Ernie of VF-17. Ernie died during Okinawa invasion in World War II while fighting against two Japanese Zeroes with his Corsair losing engine oil. Before crashing in his flaming aircraft he made two transmissions; “Skipper, I can’t get out!” followed by a short pause and then, “Remember me with the Jolly Rogers!” His family later presented the squadron with the set of skull and crossbones and asked the squadron to fulfill Ernie’s last wish: from that moment according to the site HOME OF M.A.T.S. “Passing of the bones” from the outgoing skipper to the incoming one is a time-honored Jolly Rogers tradition.

In 1946, VF-17 was redesignated VF-5B and then again in 1948 to VF-61, as the Jolly Rogers transitioned from the F4U to the F-8 Bearcat. VF-61 subsequently transitioned to the Navy’s first jet fighters, the F9F Panther, then the FJ-3 Fury and finally the F-3H Demon, prior to the squadron’s decommissioning in March 1959.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-4B Phantom II VF-84 Jolly Rogers, AG204 / 151491 / 1964

Flying F-8 Crusaders at the time, the VF-84 Vagabonds were redesignated as the Jolly Rogers in June 1959 to preserve the tradition and history of “The Bones.” Eventually the VF-84 Jolly Rogers transitioned from the F-8 Crusader to the F-4 Phantom and finally to the F-14A Tomcat in 1975.

In 1980 VF-84 participated in the motion picture The Final Countdown which propelled the skull-and-crossbones-adorned F-14’s to international stardom. The movie featured a memorable scene involving two VF-84 Tomcats engaging two Japanese A6M Zeroes.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-14A Tomcat VF-84 Jolly Rogers, AJ200 / 160393 / 1977

Following VF-84’s decommissioning in October 1995, the decision was made to retire the “Club and Cloverleaf” insignia of the VF-103 “Sluggers” and have Fighting 103 adopt the Jolly Roger insignia and the Tactical callsign, “Victory,” on Oct. 1, 1995. Prior to assuming the Jolly Rogers name and insignia, VF-103, commissioned in 1952, had consistently proven ready and willing to accomplish all assigned missions while flying successively more complex and more capable aircraft. VF-103 flew numerous sorties in the moonless skies over Vietnam and achieved the only night MiG kill of the entire conflict.

The Skull and Crossbones had now moved on to its fifth home in order to preserve the rich history and multiple achievements of all Jolly Rogers, spanning four generations and four fighter squadrons.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-14B Tomcat VF-103 Jolly Rogers, AA101 / 162705 / Last Cruise, 2004

VF-103 made it’s last deployment flying the F-14B Tomcat in 2004 aboard the USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), conducting missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and the squadron transitioned to the F/A-18F Super Hornet in February of 2005, becoming re-designated VFA-103. In October 2006, VFA-103 deployed with CVW-7 aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) to the CENTCOM AOR in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and Horn of Africa Operations off the coast of Somalia. Returning in May 2007, the squadron completed and eight month surge period.

In 2008, the Jolly Rogers transited the Straits of Magellan aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73) during the Partnership of the Americas deployment before beginning workups in June. The Jolly Rogers deployed again in February 2009 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During five months of supporting coalition ground forces engaged in close combat with the enemy, the squadron led the air wing in kinetic effects.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. VF-103 to VFA-103 Jolly Rogers Transition, 2005 / F-14B Tomcat – F/A-18F Super Hornet

Less than six months later, the Jolly Rogers returned to sea for a seven month surge deployment beginning in January 2010 aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). VFA-103 continued their role as Carrier Air Wing SEVEN’s (CVW-7’s) go-to squadron for the most demanding combat and combat support missions. While deployed, the Jolly Rogers led the air wing in combat operations, flying over 1850 sorties and nearly 5900 hours.

The squadron’s relentless effort to prepare for operations on the tip of the spear culminated in the successful delivery of 14 precision weapons, over 600 rounds of 20mm, and more than 80 non-kinetic shows of force/presence in direct support of coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F/A-18F Super Hornet VFA-103 Jolly Rogers, AG201 / 166621 / 2007

The Jolly Rogers most recently completed a cruise for the ages, embarked upon the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). During this deployment the Jolly Rogers once again proved to be the most lethal squadron in the Air Wing (CVW-7), which saw them employing more Precision Guided Munitions (490 pieces of ordnance) than any other single squadron in Naval History.

Photo credit: Capt. Dana Potts, Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Lauren Booher, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chad R. Erdmann / U.S. Navy

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

Source: VFA-103 and U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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