The modern requirements for a squadron vehicle are simple: it has to be gaudy, relatively expendable and a continuous work in progress. Most importantly it has to capture the culture and lore of the flying squadron it belongs to, no matter how outrageous.
This image courtesy of Steven Rice
Although there is no real official history as to how these rolling freaks of nature became a tradition, the semi-official story goes something like this- Back in the day the Navy was super cheap about providing vehicles to units while on deployment, or even on base for that matter. As a result, squadron personnel would chip in to buy a vehicle for their collective needs, usually one that was old, cheap and needed constant work, which was not much of an issue when you have a hangar full of dudes who work on radial and jet aircraft all day long.
Image courtesy USMC
Over the years the craze of buying a "squadron vehicle" grew and slowly wild decorations started showing up on them that referenced each squadron's individual lore and culture. Because these vehicles were often used as party limos, runabouts or to chauffeur around superior officers in the squadron, and were a pain in the ass to keep up, they were alternately referred to as "JOPA-mobiles," meaning Junior Officer Protective Association mobiles. Basically, JOPAs were an unofficial term referring to the young lieutenants and lower ranking officers in a squadron that banned together while experiencing the ritualistic fraternity-like hazing, or absolutely necessary teaching depending on who you ask, from their superiors.
This image and lead image courtesy of Mark Munzel, feature editor for Fencecheck.com
Since personnel would transfer in and out of squadrons through their career, squadron cars, vans or buses never left the units they originated from and continued to get more and elaborate, or decrepit, with time. A 'living' work of art if you will. Usually, the most prominent feature of a squadron's assigned aircraft would also be featured on their squadron car, whether it be an ugly fixed refueling probe, a unique looking tail section, or a wild paint job that mirrored the units tail flash.
Image courtesy of USAF archives
Squadron vehicles would be used for rituals like naming ceremonies, promotion parties and nights out, along with making appearances at air shows alongside the squadron's aircraft. Once the 80s hit and video cameras became affordable, squadron vehicles were often featured in ridiculous videos and corny pictures. This A-10 squadron did an entire video featuring its squadron van that just so happens to be dressed up like an A-10, complete with engine nacelles and the Warthog's split tail section:
Squadron vehicles, especially those from the Navy and USMC, were not always politically correct. 'Colorful' phrases and blue humor are sometimes a squadron vehicle's calling cards. This was somewhat toned down after the cultural shift following the Navy's infamous Tailhook Scandal, but still today you can find some pretty lewd and comical references on certain squadrons' vehicles.
Image courtesy Steven Rice
Foxtrot Alpha wants to celebrate this ritualistic automotive art form, so please, if you have a picture of a marvelously embellished squadron rust bucket, please post it in the comments section and I will feature it in an upcoming followup post!
Image courtesy of Steven Rice
Image courtesy of our good friend Paul Carter
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com.