The F-14 Tomcat, one of the most beautiful fighter jets in the whole world in our opinion is a two-seater fighter jet with supersonic speeds, twin engines, and swivel wings.
It entered service for the first time in 1974 and has been in service ever since despite the decommissioning of the US Air Force but we will speak about this piece of history later in the article.
The last US F14 “Tomcat” was retired by the US Navy on September 22, 2006, marking the shift of the US Navy to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet that took its place.
A long-range interceptor with high endurance was requested by the United States Navy in the late 1950s to defend US aircraft carrier battle groups from long-range anti-ship missiles that could be launched from Soviet bombers and submarines, which were technologically booming at the time.
F-14 Tomcats in the role of Fleet Air Defense (FAD) had a stronger radar and guided missiles with a longer range than the F-4 Phantom II in order to intercept enemy bombers and guided missiles so it was deemed suitable for this types of missions.
The US Navy was required to participate in the United States Air Force’s TFX program under the supervision of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara but for cost-saving reasons, McNamara directed that the US Air Force should purchase more F-4 Phantom II’s, which had originally been created for the US Navy and Marine Corps.
With US Navy issuing strong complaints about the F-4 Phantom II choice and as the TFX program appeared to be on the verge of failure, Grumman, which had collaborated with General Dynamics to build the naval version of the F-111B, began looking into alternate aircraft designs.
When the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) released a request for proposals for the VFAX or as it fully called “Naval Fighter Attack Experimental” in July 1968, the military industry responded enthusiastically.
It was necessary to develop a two-seater air superiority fighter with two engines and a top speed of Mach 2.2. The VFX fighter jet had to be armed with either six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles or a combination of six AIM-7 Sparrow missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinders missiles.
It was also necessary to have a built-in M61 Vulcan to offer close air support.
Bids were received from General Dynamics, Grumman (Model 303E/F), McDonnell Douglas (Model 225), Ling-Temco-Vought, Convair (LTV V-507 Vagabond), and North American Rockwell. General Dynamics was the low bidder (Model D323).
In December 1968, the companies McDonnell Douglas and Grumman were selected as finalists.
The contract was given to Grumman in January 1969, after the company had been developing successful aircraft types for the Navy for more than three decades at that point.
However, although being slightly lighter than the F-111B, the aircraft was still the largest and heaviest carrier fighter because it was designed to carry the massive AN/AWG-9 radar, six AIM-54 guided missiles, as well as 7300 kg of fuel.
The name “Tomcat” was chosen in recognition of the role performed by Rear Admiral Thomas “Tomcat” Connolly, who was instrumental in the development of the F-14.
The prototype phase was skipped in order to save time on the VFX project that led to the F-14 “Tomcat” and serial production of the aircraft began immediately, a practice that the United States Air Force followed in the development of the McDonnell Douglas F-15.
Consequently, the maiden flight of the F-14 occurred on December 21, 1970, just 22 months after the deal was signed.
Due to a serious mechanical failure of the hydraulic system, the first Tomcat crashed during the landing approach just a few days after it was built.
Despite the fact that the plane was entirely destroyed during the accident, the two pilots were able to escape with the help of the ejection seat. The second experimental aircraft took to the air for the first time on May 24, 1971.
After two years of testing, the program was successfully completed with no additional severe issues, resulting in the achievement of Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 1973.
It was originally planned for the United States Marine Corps to buy F-14s to replace the F-4 Phantom II, and officers were deployed to VF-124 to be trained as instructors.
Following the realization that the air-to-ground armament of the aircraft would not be pushed further, the United States Marine Corps abandoned its participation in the operation.
In April 1972, the AIM-54 Phoenix long-range missile was put through a series of firing tests with the test targets ranging from cruise missiles to high-flying bombers, and the guided-missile was fired at all of them.
It was in April 1973 when the farthest shot was fired, covering a distance of 110 nautical miles (200 kilometers). In a single 38-second burst on November 22, 1973, six AIM-54 missiles were launched at Mach 0.78 and 7600 meters altitude, with four of them hitting successfully the test target.
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) embarked on a voyage to the Pacific Ocean in September 1974.
As part of the onboard squadron Carrier Air Wing Fourteen (CVW–14), the first two F-14 squadrons, VF-1 “Wolfpack” and VF-2 “Bounty Hunters,” were stationed on the aircraft carrier.
In total, the Navy received 478 aircraft of the type F-14A, which included the twelve prototypes, and with which the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and F-8 Crusader were replaced as carrier fighter jets.
Because the unit costs of the Tomcat were predetermined by the Navy’s contract, the manufacture of the Tomcat put a significant financial strain on Grumman.
The high inflation in the United States continued throughout the 1980s leading to more problems for Grumman.
An economic relief came when Iran opted to purchase 80 Tomcats during the Shah’s reign, preventing the company from going bankrupt.
A high-tech camera pod that was attached to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat was known as the Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS).
The Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) for the F-14 was developed in the late 1970s for use on the fighter jet.
This system could be carried by approximately 65 F-14As and all F-14Ds. In 1996, the TARPS were retrofitted with a digital camera, resulting in the designation TARPS-DI.
The avionics and displays were also upgraded to allow for the use of precision-guided munitions, the defense systems had been upgraded as well as the structure of the aircraft was reinforced.
Several bomb tests that had already been conducted in the 1980s proved that the F-14 Tomcat can drop successfully unguided bombs.
A huge modernization plan, conceived by the Navy and Grumman in 1994, was intended to fill the gap between the A-6 and the coming arrival of the new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
As the F-14 had become more and more outdated, Grumman offered significantly enhanced variants, dubbed “Super Tomcats.”
Grumman developed the Super Tomcat 21 and pitched it as a low-cost alternative to the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF). The aircraft would be based on the F-14’s airframe and would be equipped with an upgraded AN/APG-71 radar.
The proposed Super Tomcat was not selected and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was ultimately selected by the United States Navy to replace both the A-6 Intruders and the F-14 “Tomcats”.
During a ceremony at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia on Friday, September 22, 2006, the last F-14 of the United States Navy was officially decommissioned.
On July 2, 2007, the United States declared that all F-14s that remained in service would be retired but wait a moment isn’t the F-14 Tomcat still flying?
The F-14 Tomcat is still alive and flying with the Iranian Air Force.
As we mentioned before, during the Shah’s reign, Iran was the only country that purchased 80 Tomcats for export.
The last batch of fighter jets that was ordered was not delivered because the Islamic Revolution had erupted in Iran in the intervening period.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran made many officials in the United States furious as their adversaries were operating one of the most US advanced fighter jets of that time.
US Pentagon ordered that all F-14 Tomcats had to be updated with new radar software in order to render Iranian knowledge of the system at the very least partially worthless.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Air Force (IRIAF) found the F-14 Tomcat to be a very significant asset during the war against Iraq.
The IRIAF’s F-14s were exclusively used for air superiority purposes during the war.
The Iranian Tomcats, of which there were only a dozen or so operational at a time due to a scarcity of replacement parts, shot down a total of 152 Iraqi airplanes and helicopters.
Major Jalil Zandi (TFB.8 of the IRIAF) of Iran is the world’s most successful F-14 pilot, having scored nine kills (nine according to US intelligence analyses, twelve according to Iranian sources).
Zandi retired with the rank of brigadier general and died in an automobile accident in 2001. He had a long and distinguished military career.
Even now, more than two decades after the ban was lifted, Iran still retains at least 40 operable F-14A fighter jets, which are displayed at military parades.
The Iranian F-14 Tomcats are still flying and are also modified by the Iranian Airforce giving them the ability to carry even more weapons.
The Tomcat was also featured in the movie Top Gun
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