Jazz and River Rattlers over New Orleans

To most people, New Orleans is famous for its French Quarter and jazz music. But on the other side of the Mississippi river, NOLA is also home of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans. The base hosts several units, belonging to the US Navy, Air National Guard, US Marine Corps and US Coast Guard. The local aircraft vary from F/A-18 and F-15 fighters to C-130T cargo aircraft, and UH-1Y, AH-1 and MH-65C Dolphin helicopters.

VFA-204 ‘River Rattlers’
Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-204 ‘River Rattlers’ is the only US Navy Reserve unit with a strategic reserve role. VFA-204’s Skipper, CDR Ryan ‘Slappy’ McLaughlin, took us around his squadron and explained the mission of VFA-204: “In the strategic reserve role we will be a fighter/attack asset like any other F/A-18. To this day that is still what we train to, and it is our primary mission.” VFA-204 also has an important role in training Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC). About 25% of their time, they are supporting FAC or JTAC training. 50 to 75% of the squadron’s mission is playing Red Air: the bad guys in air-to-air missions where the pilots are simulating the threat nations of interest, which is basically former Soviet Union type tactics. And the rest of the time the pilots are practicing their own -blue- tactics, to make sure they are still current on that aspect as well.

The River Rattlers operate some of the oldest fighters in the US Navy. CDR McLaughlin speaks highly of his maintainers, who keep these legacy Hornets up in the air. “Most of our maintainers are young, but they are very dedicated to do their jobs in the best way”, he says. “And although we fly the oldest fighters in the US Navy, I have never felt [for] a second unsafe in my aircraft”.

Jazz F-15C Eagles
Part of the base is used by the 159th Fighter Wing of the Louisiana Air National Guard. The flying part the unit, the 122nd Fighter Squadron, operates the F-15C Eagle. The unit is on a 24/7 operating schedule to support USNORTHCOM and NORAD air sovereignty/homeland defense requirements. The two-letter code ‘JZ’ on the tails of the F-15 Eagles of the Bayou Militia stands for the jazz music, that the city is world famous for. The operations of the 159th are not limited to Louisiana or other states in the southern part of the US. In recent years, the unit deployed to SE Asia and to The Netherlands. In Holland, the 159th took part in Frisian Flag exercise, a large-scale exercise with various NATO allies.

Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans
Air Station New Orleans provides Search & Rescue coverage with the MH-65D Dolphin helicopter 24 hours a day along the Louisiana shoreline. Other mission elements are Marine Environmental Protection, Protection of Natural Resources, Aids to Navigation support, Migrant Interdiction, and Drug Interdiction.

Our article about VFA-204 “River Rattlers” was published in the September 2019 issue of Full Stop Magazine and in the April 2020 issue of Combat Aircraft Monthly.