Normally I only write about civilian aircraft and airline topics, but this week’s question delves into US Naval & Marine Corps aviation. Since one of my favourite TV shows as a kid was the Black Sheep Squadron, based on VMA-214 during World War II, I figured venture into military aircraft this week.
This week’s reader mail comes from Cal, who asks this “I just finished watching the PBS series Carrier and see that each plane is marked with VFA or VMFA. I assume these are squadron designations and that “M” stands for Marines, however I can’t figure out what the V stands for in VMFA and VFA”
Cal … first off PBS’s 10 part series Carrier is a fantastic and in-depth documentary series. I have all 10 episodes in my iTunes library and suggest that pretty much everyone else should also download the entire series as well. Carrier is an outstanding in-depth look at life on an aircraft carrier, showing moments and insights most people have never seen before.
Now onto your question, I’ll start with the basics … Yes, VMFA, VMA, VFA, VAW, VAQ, etc are all squadron designations, and yes the “M” does indeed stand for “Marines.” The following breaks down some of the other US Navy & Marine Corps fixed wing squadron letter codes:
VMFA(AW) – Marine All Weather Flight Attack
VMFAT – Marine Fighter Attack Training
VMFA – Marine Fighter Attack
VMAQ – Marine Tactical Electronics Warfare
VMGR – Marine Air to Air Refueler & Transport
VMMT – Marine Tilt-Rotor Training
VMFT – Marine Fighter Training
VMF – Marine Fighter
VMA – Marine Attack
VMM – Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor
VMX – Marine Tilt-Rotor Operational Test & Evaluation
VMR – Marine Transport
VMU – Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
VFA – Navy Strike Fighter (previously Fighter Attack)
VAQ – Navy Tactical Electronics Warfare
VFC – Navy Fighter Squadron Composite
VAW – Navy Early Warning Squadron
VRC – Navy Fleet Logistics Support
VQ – Navy Reconnaissance
VR – Navy Logistics Support
VP – Navy Patrol
VT – Navy & Marine Training Aircraft
So … now onto the primary question at hand … where does the term “V” come from in U.S. Navy and Marine Corps fix wing aircraft squadrons.
Originally, back when the U.S. Navy began creating aircraft squadron designations, the letter “V” denoted an aircraft that was “heavier than air” while the letter “Z” was used for dirigibles that were “lighter than air.”
As the Navy and Marine aviation divisions grew and lighter than air aircraft were removed from service, the letter “V” was changes to denote a “Fixed Wing” aircraft.
With the implementation of helicopters, the Navy and Marines added the letter designation “H” for helicopters, to denote a “rotary wing” aircraft.
Through the evolution of Navy & Marine aviation, quite a few designations have come, gone or been adapted, such as “B” for Wright hydroaeroplanes, “E” for Curtiss amphibious flying boats and “K” for Kite. These designations were changed in 1914 (since Naval aviation began in 1911, Marine aviation in 1912) to “A” for land based airplane, water based airplane were “B,” with “H” for heavier than air, so a land based squadron would be “AH” and a flying boat squadron would be designated as “AB.”
The majority of the current squadron designations as we know them to day were established during the 1950s.
Well Cal … I know I went off on a tangent with this question, but despite primarily being focused on commercial airline aviation … I have always had an interest in US Navy and Marine Corps aviation.