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Time is Up for the Grim Reapers

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From Navy Times


April 29, 2005

Time is up for Grim Reapers

By William H. McMichael

Times staff writer


OCEANA NAVAL AIR STATION, Va. — The F-14 Tomcat is fading into the sunset. And so are the Grim Reapers.


The Navy’s only Tomcat training squadron will be gone for good by mid-September. The squadron has trained its last new Tomcat pilot. Training continues but only for a few veteran, senior fliers going through post-shore duty refresher training before returning to the fleet.


From a late-1990s high of more than 60 jets and a personnel roster that topped 1,000, the squadron is down to nine jets, 70 enlisted sailors, 25 officers and about 100 civilian contract maintainers — and “dwindling every day,” said Cmdr. Paul “Butkus” Haas.


“There’s a whole lot of strangeness and bittersweet goin’ on,” said Haas, an F-14 pilot who bears (pun intended) an uncanny resemblance to the pro football Hall of Fame linebacker. “It’s been a great ride.”


The Grim Reapers began life as World War II’s Fighter Squadron 10, flying the F-4F Wildcat off that era’s Enterprise in the Pacific theater. The squadron became VF-101 in 1952 and added training to its operational duties six years later. It began training Tomcat fliers in 1976.


But the Tomcat has grown long in the tooth and is rapidly being supplanted by the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Haas said he realized the need for a change during the carrier Abraham Lincoln’s 10-month cruise in 2002-03 when, as commanding officer of Fighter Squadron 31, he watched new Super Hornet mechanics spend a third of the time his sailors spent trying to maintain his unit’s Tomcats.


“You gotta rip half of the jet apart just to get one item out,” said the unit’s Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (AW) Christopher Buonconsiglio, a nine-year veteran. He still takes great pride in the Tomcat, loves working on the jets and is sorry to see them go. But, he added, “Every good thing comes to an end.”

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