Strike Fighter Squadron EIGHT SIX (VFA-86) traces its origins to Fighter Squadron (VF) 921, based at Naval Air Station (NAS) St. Louis, Missouri, during the Korean War in February 1951. In February 1953, the squadron was redesignated VF-84 while deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, onboard USS ANTIETAM (CV 36). In July 1955, the squadron was redesignated Attack Squadron(VA) 86 Sidewinders.
From 1955 to 1987, the Sidewinders flew the F4-U "Corsair," F8F-2 "Bearcat," F9F-5 "Panther," F7U-3M "Cutlass," also known as the "Ensign Eater," A4D-1 "Skyhawk," and A-7A/C/E "Corsair." During these transitions, the Sidewinders made numerous deployments to the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas, the North Atlantic, the Western Pacific, and the Indian Oceans onboard various aircraft carriers
In September 1969, the Sidewinders made an emergency sortie onboard USS AMERICA for a ten month combat deployment to Southeast Asia. The squadron was once again on "Yankee Station" in the Tonkin Gulf when the Paris Peace Accords were signed, and our Prisoners of War finally returned home. This was the squadron's fourth combat deployment to Southeast Asia, more than any other East Coast attack squadron. During that deployment, the Sidewinders participated in the most intense air combat encountered throughout their extensive Southeast Asian involvement, earning the Meritorious Unit Commendation.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, as a part of the NIMITZ team, the Sidewinders made numerous deployments to the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. The Sidewinders were awarded the 1982 Commander, Naval Air Forces, U. S. Atlantic Fleet Battle "E," denoting the best A-7E squadron on the East Coast. The Sidewinders were awarded the 1985 Admiral Wade McClusky Award, signifying the best attack squadron in the Navy. In June of 1987, after a cameo appearance in the Hollywood film Final Countdown, the Sidewinders departed NIMITZ, transitioned to the FA-18C Hornet, and were redesignated VFA-86. Deployed with the Navy's premier strike fighter, in 1989 Sidewinders spent eight months with the Carrier Air Wing ONE (CVW-1) "TARBOX" team onboard USS AMERICA.
As the Cold War ended, the 1990s nevertheless brought threats to U.S. and allied interests throughout the world. In 1991, the Sidewinders took to the skies to liberate Kuwait during Operation DESERT STORM. The Sidewinders delivered over 1.2 million pounds of ordnance with zero combat losses. In late 1995, Sidewinders again faced combat, this time in Operation DELIBERATE FORCE over the embattled former Yugoslavia. During that decade's sustained Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, hundreds of combat sorties and precision strikes were flown over Iraq, employing weapons against radar installations and anti-aircraft artillery emplacements that violated United Nations Security Council resolutions. While proving their lethality in the 90s, Sidewinders underscored their professionalism by taking home the CNO's Safety "S" Award in 1995 and the Battle "E" in 1998.