No doubt you’ve seen them overhead. Or, at the very least, heard them. U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-106, also known as the Gladiators, are busy right now training the best fighter pilots of the Navy and Marines for war. Facing the Gladiators in the air is one of the last training regimes in a pipeline of challenges facing the country’s best aviators.
If the pilots are assigned to the East Coast (and sometimes the West Coast), they’ll have to pass muster with the Gladiators high above Naval Air Station Key West (Fla.) to fly the F/A-18 Super Hornet. In military speak, the group is known as a Fleet Replacement Squadron. That means it’s the Gladiators’ job to take green pilots new to the Super Hornet and make them buzz with confidence in the multimillion-dollar death machines.
The squadron got its start on Jan. 11, 1945, in Guam, and has morphed over the years as aircraft and wars changed and was even decommissioned on Nov. 7, 1969, before bouncing back in its current form on April 27, 1984. The Gladiators are headquartered at NAS Oceana in Virginia, but its frequent visits to NAS Key West have made it a permanent fixture — literally. The squadron’s 1,200 personnel and 120 aircraft have a maintenance detachment at Boca Chica Field.
For the complete story by Adam Linhardt of The (Key West) Citizen, click here.