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Cold War: F-14 Tomcat - Fleet Defender

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Cold War: F-14 Tomcat - Fleet Defender

An F-14D from VF-213 over Iraq on last Tomcat deployment.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

F-14 Tomcat - General (F-14D):

  • Nation: United States
  • Length: 62 ft. 9 in.
  • Wingspan: 64ft. (spread), 38 ft. (swept)
  • Height: 16 ft.
  • Empty Weight: 43,735 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 61,000 lbs.
  • Crew: 2

F-14 Tomcat - Performance (F-14D):

  • Power Plant: 2 × General Electric F110-GE-400 afterburning turbofans
  • Combat Range: 1,000 miles
  • Max Speed: Mach 2.34 (1,544 mph)
  • Thrust/Weight: 0.91

F-14 Tomcat - Armament (F-14D):

  • Guns: 1× M61 Vulcan 20mm Gatling Gun
  • Missiles: AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-54 Phoenix, AIM-7 Sparrow (in multiple configurations)
  • Bombs: GBU-10, GBU-12, GBU-16, GBU-24, GBU-24E Paveway I/II/III LGB, GBU-31, GBU-38 JDAM, Mk-20 Rockeye II, Mk-82, Mk-83 and Mk-84 series (in multiple configurations)

F-14 Tomcat - Origins:

The F-14 program commenced following the US Navy's withdrawal from the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) Program in 1968. Designed to create a joint aircraft for both the US Navy and Air Force use, the TFX program ultimately produced the F-111. When it became clear that the TFX would not be able to fulfill the Navy's need for a fleet air defense fighter, it requested permission to terminate its part of the program. This was granted in May 1968, and a request for proposals was issued for a tandem two-seat fighter capable of Mach 2.2 and fulfilling a secondary close air support role.

The Navy received responses from five companies and in December 1968, chose Grumman and McDonnell Douglas as the finalists. Both designs incorporated variable geometry wings (swing wings) similar to the F-111. After further review, the contract was awarded to Grumman in January 1969. In an effort to avoid interference from the Defense Department, the Navy skipped the prototype phase and pushed the program directly to full-scale development. Expanding its Calverton, Long Island plant, Grumman tested and refined the design with the first aircraft flying December 21, 1970.

F-14 Tomcat - Design:

The first American fighter to incorporate the lessons learned in the skies over Vietnam, the F-14 was meant to be a long-range interceptor capable of interdicting strikes against American carrier groups as well as an agile air superiority fighter. To accomplish these missions, the aircraft was designed to fire the long-range AIM-54 Phoenix missile, but also carried shorter range air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow. In addition, it was fitted with the M61 Vulcan gun.

Initially powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30 engines, the aircraft was intended to receive the F100 shortly after production began. This upgrade did not occur and it was not until 1987, that the F-14's engines were significantly improved. A key element of the aircraft's design was its variable geometry wings. Able to move between 20° and 68° in flight, they were controlled by the F-14's air data computer. Typically, they were swept forward to allow the aircraft to turn tightly in a dogfight and swept back during high-speed intercepts.

The F-14 received its first upgrade in 1987, with the introduction of the F-14B. This new model utilized the GE F110-400 engine which was a significant improvement over the TF30. In addition, the F-14B possessed superior avionics and electronic countermeasures to its predecessor. A second upgrade came in 1991, with the arrival of the F-14D. Meant to replace all other F-14s in the fleet, the D-model was only produced in limited quantities after the program was cut back. With the retirement of the A-6 Intruder, the F-14 was first adapted for a ground-strike role in 1994, through the use of a LANTRIN pod.

F-14 Tomcat - Operational History:

Joining the fleet in September 1974, the F-14 replaced the F-4 Phantom II. First serving aboard USS Enterprise, the aircraft aided in covering the American withdrawal from Saigon. Six years later, the F-14 first saw combat over the Gulf of Sidra on August 19, 1981. Engaged by two Libyan Su-22s, F-14s from VF-41 downed both aircraft. Seven years later, two F-14s from VF-32 shot down two Libyan MiG-23s over the same waters. Though intended as an air superiority fighter, the F-14 saw its first extended combat use as a photo reconnaissance aircraft.

With the retirement of dedicated reconnaissance aircraft, such as the RA-5C Vigilante, the F-14 was selected to fill the void. Equipped with a Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) controlled by the aircraft's radar intercept officer, the F-14 began flying reconnaissance missions over Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in the early 1980s. Developing high-speed, medium altitude tactics for the mission, F-14 air crews proved highly adept in the reconnaissance role.

In 1991, the F-14 returned to its traditional mission as part of Operation Desert Storm. Initially, the Tomcat was limited to combat air patrols and escorting strike aircraft as overland air superiority had been assigned to Air Force F-15s. It was during this conflict that the only F-14 lost to enemy action was downed when one was struck by an SA-2 surface-to-air missile. While the pilot was rescued, the RIO was taken prisoner by the Iraqis. Operation Desert Storm saw the F-14 achieve its final air-to-air kill when one shot down a Mi-8 helicopter with an AIM-9 Sidewinder.

Following Desert Storm, the F-14 saw action during the 1995 and 1999 NATO operations over the former Yugoslavia. Sandwiched between these was participation in the Operation Desert Fox in Iraq (1998). In the wake of 9/11, the F-14 led several of the first strikes into Afghanistan in the opening hours of Operation Enduring Freedom. It subsequently saw service over Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

F-14 Tomcat - Retirement

In 1994, Grumman first approached the Navy regarding building out the F-14 past the "D" model. Though the Navy was interested, Congress denied funding and the decision was made to retire the aircraft. The F-14's fleet defense role was passed to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. As a result the F-14 was slowly eased out of service with its last combat flight coming on February 8, 2006. A few weeks later, on March 10, the final two F-14 squadrons returned from deployment when USS Theodore Roosevelt's air group flew into Naval Air Station Oceana. At this time the only country to still operate the F-14 is Iran. These were sold to the Middle Eastern nation in the 1970s prior to the fall of the Shah. As a result of Iran's use of the aircraft, retired US F-14s are being destroyed to ensure that spare parts are not available for Iranian use.

Selected Sources

  • F-14 Tomcat Association
  • F-14 Tomcat Overview
  • Naval Historical Center: F-14 Tomcat
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