In the air, a squadron can be identified by the type of aircraft being flown and squadron logo or tail codes. On the ground, a squadron’s identity is reflected in their vehicle. For semi-truck drivers, wood in the cab is the decor of choice while chrome is king for most “hot rods”. In a squadron vehicles, anything goes. The more gaudy and outrageous the better! Everything from wild paint schemes to spare aircraft parts can be seen on what has become the squadron’s ultimate alter ego.
The tradition appears to have started with the Navy. According to lore, official transportation was generally unavailable to squadrons that were deployed or on training detachments. Accordingly, the squadron car was born out of necessity. Several members would chip in a few dollars and buy a cheap vehicle to get around. Usually, the junior officers were tasked with driving the senior officers around to the base functions and parties.
The original squadron cars were plain and simple, what my generation would call a “beater” – cheap and usually in need of some sort of repair. Over time, the cars started to get custom paint jobs that reflected persona of the squadron. Standard cars morphed into retired limos. Not to be outdone, limousines transformed into old school buses and RVs. As the type of vehicle changed, so did the exterior details. Modern squadron vehicles are adorned with anything and everything to make their ground transportation match their aerial rides. Retired tails are mounted, maybe a refueling boom or perhaps simulated missiles/guns. Basically, the rule of thumb is this: it has to be bigger, wilder and more flashy than the other squadron’s ride yet, reflect the squadron’s history and culture. The early cars were very politically incorrect and crass. When ladies began to incorporate into the flying units, the crude references were mostly stricken. However, a few may still have a reference or two if you look close enough.
Ultimately, the squadron car is a symbol of pride for the unit. It gives the men and now women a fun diversion from the everyday routine and shows the wild imagination and creativity these people have. While the members of the squadron may rotate, the squadron vehicle passes to each successive generation to modify and carry on the tradition. The legacy builds as more customization or modifications are completed.
The “squadron car” has become such a legend that the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida displays the Lincoln Continental limo formerly of VAQ-134. The automobile was driven all the way from NAS Whidbey Island to NAS Pensacola to be put on display in 2003!
Next time you are at an airshow or open house at the local military base, keep an eye out for the unique and imaginative works of art from the Navy, Marine and USAF/ANG units.