Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron [VAW-121]
Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron ONE HUNDRED TWENTY ONE (VAW-121) flies the Grumman E-2C Group II Hawkeye; a dual engine turboprop airborne command and control surveillance aircraft often referred to as the "Hummer." It is the most expensive aircraft in the Air Wing. The principal missions are airborne early warning and battle management. These tasks include airborne sea, coordination and control for power projection ashore and fleet air defense. The Squadron consists of 130 enlisted and 30 officers, and is home ported at Naval Station, orfolk, Virginia. The hangar and office spaces are in Building LP-34, located on Bellinger Blvd.
In July 2000 the Bluetails wrapped up a six month deployment aboard USS Dwight D Eisenhower, CVN-69. As of late 2000 the Bluetails was once again conducting Counter-Narcotic Operations in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Having won the CNO's second consecutive Safety "S" award in 1999, VAW-121 was tentatively scheduled to next deploy with CVW-7 aboard the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV-67) in early 2002.
Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron ONE HUNDRED TWENTY ONE (VAW-121) traces its origin to Project Cadillac, a program initiated in 1942 to develop airborne radar relay platforms. By June 1945, the first group of modified Carrier Airborne Early Warning (AEW) TBM-3 AVENGERS were conducting trials with the USS RANGER (CV 61). Unfortunately, the war ended before these first AEW units could see action. Following World War II, Fleet Aviation Electronics Training Units (FAETU's) were established on both coasts and continued to train pilots, operators and maintenance personnel on AEW equipment. In 1948 VAW-1 on the West Coast and VAW-2 at NAS Norfolk on the East Coast, were formed to replace the FAETU's in 1948. Within a year, VAW-2 was redesignated VC-12 and relocated to Quonset Point, Rhode Island, where the TBM-3W was replaced with the AD-3W SKYRAIDER. During the Korean War, VC-12 detachments deployed in carriers for combat operations.
VC-12 operated an improved version of the SKYRAIDER, the AD-5W, until 1960 when the new WF TRACER "WILLY FUDD", later redesignated as the E-1B, was acquired. VC-12 was redesignated VAW-12 in 1960 and in 1962 moved from Quonset Point back to NAS Norfolk, Virginia. In 1966 the East Coast's first E-2A arrived and in 1967 the Chief of Naval Operations directed the formation of separate squadrons and a functional wing.
On 1 April 1967, Carrier Airborne Early Warning Wing TWELVE, including VAW-121 (previously VAW-12, Det 1), was established. VAW-121 was commissioned as the GRIFFINS with the tactical call sign "PALMETTOS." The new E-2As were flown by all squadrons except VAW-121 who operated aboard USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT (CVA 42) as the sole remaining fleet E-1B squadron from 1973 through 1975. In 1975, VAW-121 transitioned from the oldest AEW aircraft in the Navy's inventory, to the newest, the E-2C HAWKEYE.
VAW-121 joined Carrier Air Wing SEVEN (CVW-7) aboard the newly commissioned USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69) in January 1978 and became the first E-2C fleet squadron to operate from a carrier. During this period of new challenges, VAW-121 changed its tactical call sign to "BLUETAIL" and adopted the unique tail design you see today. VAW-121 quickly established a reputation for superior performance throughout the fleet, and in recognition was awarded the Battle Efficiency "E" for 1979, as well as the 1979 AEW Excellence Award and the CNO Aviation Safety "S". In April 1980, the BLUETAILS deployed on IKE to the Indian Ocean, during which the squadron set new monthly, quarterly and annual flight hour records for the E-2 community and was again recognized for outstanding performance with their second consecutive Battle Efficiency "E", AEW Excellence Award and the CNO Aviation Safety "S" for 1980.
In 1981 the BLUETAILS deployed for three months to Keflavik, Iceland, in support of the Icelandic Defense Force. Upon their return, VAW-121 deployed to the North Atlantic for a large NATO exercise in which VAW-121 the BLUETAILS set new community records by keeping aircraft continuously airborne for 23 days. The BLUETAILS returned to the Mediterranean Sea in January 1982 and garnered an unprecedented third consecutive Battle "E" and AEW Excellence Awards, both firsts for a VAW squadron. During this deployment, the BLUETAILS were involved in overseeing the evacuation of Americans from Beirut.
The 1983 Mediterranean deployment proved to be one of the most rigorous in the squadron's history. It included contingency operations near Libya and periods of 95 and 92 consecutive days at sea in support of multi-national peacekeeping forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. In October 1984, the BLUETAILS once again deployed to the Mediterranean and continued to build their tradition of aviation excellence, winning the coveted CVW-7 Golden Tailhook Award twice.
In 1988 The BLUETAILS returned to the Mediterranean where they participated in multi-national and NATO exercises. While deployed, VAW-121 achieved an unprecedented 100% sortie completion rate.
March 1990 saw VAW-121 and CVW-7 embark in IKE for another Med deployment. This deployment was highlighted by 15 days of around the clock operations in the Red Sea in support of the critical initial phase of Operation Desert Shield, when external AEW support was non-existent. Once again, in March 1991, VAW-121 was awarded both the prestigious Battle "E" and AEW Excellence Awards for 1990.
In September 1991, the BLUETAILS and CVW-7 sailed east once again in IKE becoming the first Battle Group to return to Operation Desert Storm. Although hostilities had ended, the BLUETAILS provided essential coordination and control for several joint multi-national exercises. Cruise culminated in a two week NATO exercise, Teamwork '92, in the fjords of Norway.
In September 1992, VAW-121 and CVW-7 were reassigned to the navy's newest aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington (CVN 73), and participated in its initial two month "shakedown".
February of 1993 found VAW-121 deployed to Howard AFB, Panama. For two months, the BLUETAILS, as part of Joint Task Force 4, expertly provided airborne surveillance to help stem the flow of drugs in the Central American region. The squadron was the crucial detection and communication link fusing the efforts of the U.S. Air Force, DEA, and Coast Guard units in the interdiction of numerous narcotics flights.
On 20 May 1994, after an extensive work-up period, the BLUETAILS, embarked aboard USS George Washington for her maiden deployment. Highlights of the historic voyage included the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day off Normandy as well as critical participation in Operations Deny Flight over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Southern Watch over Iraq.
After an accelerated turnaround cycle, VAW-121 departed on deployment bound for the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf in January 1996. Once again the command, control and communication efforts of the squadron were utilized in Operation Decisive Endeavor over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Southern Watch over Iraq. The BLUETAILS returned home in July 1996 and immediately began their transition to the new E-2C Group II aircraft. In December of 1996, the BLUETAILS passed the 30 year 59,000 hours mishap free hour mark, the best safety record in carrier aviation. This is truly a credit to the tradition of professionalism, teamwork and an attitude of "BLUETAILS take care of BLUETAILS".
In late 1996, the BLUETAILS completed their transition to the Group II with their first carrier qualification aboard USS John C. Stennis. Their first operational deployment with the Group II aircraft was in early 1997 to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. In two months, the BLUETAILS logged 540 flight hours and an unprecedented 100% of their mission sorties while on 1300 continuous alert hours searching the waters off South America for drug traffickers.
In February of 1998 the Bluetails deployed onboard the USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN-74). During the ship's around the world deployment, the Bluetails provided the air wing with fighter intercept control, strike control, search and rescue operations, and ocean surveillance. The squadron coordinated multi-service operations with the United States Air Force, United States Army, and United States Marine Corps in support of Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia Operation Southern Watch. In addition, the Bluetails controlled many multi-national exercises involving air and naval forces of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, France, Great Britain, and Australia. The squadron flew 1400 hours, 650 sorties and performed 750 arrested landings. The Bluetails went on to win three consecutive TOP HOOK awards and became the first E-2C squadron to win the CVW-7 TOP HOOK award for deployment. From October through December of 1998 the Bluetails again operated form Naval Station Roosevelt Roads Puerto Rico in support of CJCS directed Counter Narcotics operations. To cap off the year the Bluetails earned the Triple Crown of AEW Awards- the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "e", the CNO Safety "S" and the Fred Akers AEW Excellence Award.
The Bluetails followed CVW-7 back to the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER for their latest set of work-ups and deployment. In December of 1999, the Bluetails passed the 33 year 64,000 hours mishap free mark, the best safety record in carrier aviation. This is truly a credit to the tradition of professionalism, teamwork and an attitude of "BLUETAILS take care of BLUETAILS". Over their latest six month deployment, VAW-121 supported peace-keeping missions over Kosovo and Albania while operating in the Adriatic Sea. USS EISENHOWER proceeded to the Gulf to support Operation Southern Watch, while the Bluetails flew multiple missions over Kuwait in support of strikes on Iraq. The Bluetails provided critical command and control for the first strikes in the EISENHOWER's 22 year history to actually drop bombs on foreign soil.
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