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The Real VF-17 Squadron

VF-17 Jolly Rogers


Fighting Squadron 17 was formed in Norfolk, VA on 1 January 1943 under the command of LCdr John Thomas Blackburn. Before having led VGF-29 in Operation TORCH, Blackburn had been a flight instructor at NAS, Miami; he recruited fellow instructor LCdr Roger Hedrick to be XO of the squadron. Fighting Squadron 17 was selected to fly the new Vought F4U-1 Corsair, a gull-winged fighter built around a powerful Pratt-Witney 18 cylinder radial engine. The pilots of VF-17 loved their birds, and quickly gained the nickname "Blackburn's Irregulars" for hell-raising antics: Ens Howard "Teeth" Burriss ran a truck off a highway while playing "chicken" in an inverted F4U, and Ens Ira ?Ike? Kepford held an impromptu low-level dogfight with an Army P-51 pilot over residential Norfolk. After word of this "flat-hatting" reached higher ears, VF-17 was transferred to rural Manteo, NC (on the coast near Kitty Hawk) where they completed their pre-carrier training. 

Initially, VF-17 was assigned to the carrier Bunker Hill (CV-17), but problems with visibility and landing gear bounce caused the Navy to question the Corsair's carrier-worthiness. The Jolly Rogers worked closely with engineers at Vought to modify the F4U rather than switching to the F6F Hellcat, which they believed to be an inferior fighter. Lt(jg) Butch Davenport of VF-17 helped develop an airflow spoiler on the right wing of the F4U which helped keep the wings level in a low-speed stall; this modification became standard in all later models of the Corsair. Despite the addition of oleo struts to reduce bounce and a raised seat for added visibility, VF-17 was reassigned to land-based duty while on-route to Pearl Harbor. Fighting squadron 18, flying the Grumman Hellcat, was assigned to Air Wing 17; VF-17 was transferred to the Solomon Islands. The Jolly Rogers reached Ondonga, New Georgia in October 1943.

The Jolly Roger 

While at Norfolk, Blackburn decided that the squadron needed an insignia which would reflect the proper "attitude." Since the squadron was flying Corsairs, he wanted the insignia to have a piratical theme. Soon thereafter, a black flag with white skull-and-crossbones (the "Jolly Roger") was painted on either side of the F4Us engine cowlings, and the squadron's nickname was born.

Solomons Record

In their five months of action in the Solomons, the Jolly Rogers shot down 8 Japanese planes for every Corsair lost. They flew 8,577 combat hours, destroyed 156 planes and 5 ships for a loss of 12 pilots. The squadron had 12 aces, more than any other naval unit.

After the Solomons

In late 1944 a new VF-17 was formed and operated aboard the carrier USS Hornet. Although slow to take up the traditions of the original VF-17 Jolly Rogers the new unit flying F6F Hellcats destroyed 161 Japanese aircraft between February and May 1945. Like the original VF-17 the Hornet's Jolly Rogers had 12 pilots make ace status.

To learn more about VF-17 and its CO, LCDR Tom Blackburn, read this page on AcePilots.com.

Carriers of the VF-17 Squadron

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)

USS Hornet (CV-12)