Origins-The Story Of The Legendary F-14 Tomcat

INTRODUCTION

The F-14 Tomcat is the most well-known aircraft ever operated by the US Navy. Its sleek design and swing wings made it the ultimate cool fighter of its generation. Last month, I tracked the Origin and Evolution of the Su-27 in detail. Here, I will track the origin of the F-14 Tomcat, its development, the hurdles it faced during the Cold War and how it evolved into one of the most iconic fighters of its era.

ORIGINS

It was 1960, and the Soviets were developing a family of long range cruise missiles which could be launched from ships, submarines and aircraft. These missiles flew quickly and at low altitudes which made them ideal for targeting US Navy carriers. A sufficiently large number of these missiles could overwhelm the most advanced air defenses of that time. The US navy also lacked a long range fighter with a sufficiently large weapon load to intercept and destroy Soviet missiles and aircraft before they got too close to the carrier group. This made them realize the need for a fighter which can fly hundreds of km from the carrier and intercept Soviet bombers and missiles before it was too late.

The F-111B which was rejected in favor of a new design

In 1962, the existing long range F-111 of the USAF, re-designated as the F-111B was evaluated to be a possible naval fighter to fulfil this role due to its long range and heavy weapons load. But it was just too heavy at over 85,000 pounds to be a naval fighter. It was too clumsy as a fighter and its test flights failed, killing several pilots. Hence it was canceled in 1968 and the US Navy proceeded to obtain a specifically designed new fighter for their carriers. So in 1968, Grumman won the tender to build a next-generation air superiority fighter for the US Navy. It was required to fly at speeds greater than Mach 2.2, have excellent agility and be able to perform secondary strike roles. It would deploy the AIM-154 Phoenix ultra-long range Air to Air missile in conjunction with the long range AWG-9 radar.

The wind tunnel model of the F-14
Design 303E was finally selected

Grumman engineers tested hundreds of wind tunnel models in various configurations and finally the model which was chosen had a swing wing and twin turbojet engines. The unique feature of these turbojets was that each of the 20,000 pound thrust producing engines were separated by several feet physically. This proved to be an ideal layout as the space between the engines under the fuselage was employed for carrying the massive AIM-54 Phoenix missile and 2000 lb. bombs. This design required a tall tail stabilizer which would hamper movement in the hangars of aircraft carriers. So Grumman opted for a twin tail configuration which allowed the use of short tail stabilizers. Unlike the side by side seating used by the pilot and the radar intercept officer in the F-111, the F-14 featured tandem seating for its 2 man crew which resulted in further streamlining of the aircraft. The final design chosen was the Design 303E which is shown below.

The large amount of space between the engines is visible

The one feature which made the Tomcat so popular was its unique swing wing design. All the swing wing fighters of that era required the pilot to manually adjust the degree of sweep of the wings. But for the F-14, Grumman engineers decided to install an automatic swing wing system which would collect airspeed data from external sensors and adjust the degree of sweep accordingly. This freed up the pilot from an unnecessary task and allowed him to concentrate on flying the aircraft. The swept wing was however not for show, and it performed a very important aerodynamic function. When swept fully forward, it provided maximum surface area of wings necessary to generate lift during takeoff. This was very essentially as the F-14 was the heaviest US Navy fighter to be operated from carriers and the additional lift generated by forward swept wings would greatly aid in takeoff. Forward swept wings were also essential during landings. The wings automatically swept back fully as the F-14 approached supersonic speeds. This helped to reduce drag greatly and gave the Tomcat its iconic look.

F-14 with its wings fully extended during landing

The F-14 needed to be light enough for carrier takeoff, yet strong enough to land on a carrier (which is basically a controlled crash). So it needed to be made from a combination of materials which would impart strength, corrosion resistance, carry a huge payload and be light enough at the same time. Hence one of the main materials used was Titanium along with aluminum. This enables it to be 40,000 pounds lighter than the F-111B which made it ideal for carrier ops. The maximum weight of the F-14 when fully loaded with fuel and weapons exceeded 70,000 pounds, making it the heaviest carrier-borne fighter of its time.

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A peek inside the F-14s massive engine

The Navy wanted a working prototype within 2 years of the project commencement and announced massive penalties which Grumman had to pay if the Navy requirements were not met in time. Here are the list of penalties I obtained from the F-14 Tomcats association, which would be imposed if parameters were not met.

  • Empty Weight: $440,000 for each 100 lbs overweight
  • Acceleration: $440,000 for each second slow
  • Escort Radius: $1 million for each 10 nautical miles short
  • Approach Speed: $1.056 million for each knot fast
  • Maintainability: $450,000 for each extra maintenance man-hour per flight hour
  • Delivery to Navy Board of Inspection and Survey: $5,000 for each day late

These tough ‘incentives’ ensured that there was no delays from Grumman’s side. On a side note, what If these incentives were issued to Lockheed Martin for the F-35? On December 21st 1970, the first F-14A prototype took off. It was a successful flight in which the basic handling of the aircraft was tested. The happiness ended right there as the first prototype crashed during its 2nd flight, 9 days later due to a hydraulic pump failure. However both the test pilots ejected safely and the program continued smoothly afterward. 12 prototypes were built in total to test various parameters and systems.

The F-14 prototype during its first flight

However during intense testing carried out before weapons integration, 2 Tomcats were lost in extreme tests. But this didn’t impede the progress of the program and it successfully reached the final stages. The crucial weapons testing was a challenge as it required the large and heavy AIM-54 Phoenix missiles to be successfully fired. The challenge was that an F-14 carrying 6 Phoenix missiles must fire them continuously in a salvo to intercept 6 target drones from an altitude just above sea level to 100,000 ft. The powerful AWG-9 had to track 6 targets and guide all 6 missiles to their targets. This test was declared a success after 5 drones were successfully shot down and the 6th drone was narrowly missed by the last Phoenix. The Navy was happy with the performance parameters and approved the F-14 for production.

F-14 fires a Phoenix missile

Finally after almost 2 years of testing, serial production began in 1972 and the first F-14A was handed to the US navy on 8th October 1972. This shows the incredible efficiency of Grumman as the transition from project commissioning to full scale production of such a complex aircraft took just 4 years! Their Cold War rivals in contrast took 12 years for a similar achievement. Grumman was again given a tough task of producing around 700 fighters. It was deployed across the world in the US Navy’s massive supercarriers to project power unlike any other naval fighter of its time. It entered service on US carriers in 1974 and gradually replaced F-4 Phantoms. It was widely feared by its enemies and proved to be a success in the combat operations in took part later in its life.

F-14 breaks the sound barrier

TOMCATS IN COMBAT

The US Navy first deployed the Tomcat in Vietnam in 1975 to provide air cover during the evacuation of Americans from Saigon. Their earliest aerial successes were in combat against the Libyans in the early 1980s. Operating from the USS Nimitz, it managed to notch up several air to air victories against the Russian aircraft operated by the Libyan Air Force. The common weapon load combinations of the F-14 were

  • 2 Sidewinder + 2 Phoenix + 2 Sparrow AAMs
  • 2 Sidewinder + 4 Phoenix
  • 2 Sidewinder + 6 Sparrow
  • 4 Sidewinder + 4 Phoenix
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The usual missile load during the Cold War. Only 1 AIM-54 was generally carried.

There was also an option to carry 6 Phoenix missiles along with 2 Sidewinders, but this option was rarely used when operating from carriers as such a load made it impossible to land on a carrier unless the missiles were expended as it exceeded the carrier weight limitations during landing. So in an ideal combat mission, one of the above mentioned combination of AAMs were carried. The Phoenix missile had a speed of Mach 4+, a range of 200 km and a flight ceiling of 10-100,000 ft. This was very essential as it was the only AAM in the US inventory capable of dealing with hi-speed Russian cruise missiles. The F-14 also routinely did what every NATO aircraft type has done from the past 50 years, intercepting and escorting the nosy Russian Tu-95 bomber/recon aircraft which approached US carriers on a regular basis.

File:F-14 Tomcat VF-114 escorting TU-95 Bear.jpg
F-14 Tomcat VF-114 escorting TU-95 Bear
F-14 with a full load of 6 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles

From 1981, the Tomcat was assigned another role in addition to fleet defense. It was to become the main reconnaissance platform of the US Navy and was fitted with the advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS). Armed with these pods and their usual missiles, they carried out missions over Somalia, Libya, Iran, and Lebanon with great success. The first major combat event for the Tomcat was the 1991 Gulf War. Throughout the war, Combat Air Patrol, Reconnaissance and Aerial Escort was the main role of the F-14. But the long range radar and missiles of the F-14 was widely feared by the Iraqis. The Iraqi MiGs used to flee from the scene immediately after they were locked on by an F-14s radar and were usually shot down by USAF fighters. The TARPS was extensively utilized to carry out Recon and Battle Damage Assessment (BDA). But the F-14 didn’t taste any real blood and the only kill during the war for the Tomcat was an Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter.

The Tomcat in its ‘Bombcat’ mode

The A-6 intruder was the backbone of the USN attack missions. When the A-6 intruder was retired, the Navy urgently needed an aircraft to fill the attack role and the F-14s were upgraded with Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) for ground attack. These Tomcats were nicknamed ‘Bombcats’ as they carried out bombing operations when their intended role was a pure fighter. They carried out bombing missions using Laser Guided Bombs and Gravity bombs, but the days of the Tomcat was becoming numbered and the US Navy wanted a more economical and smaller multi-role aircraft. The 21st century was the beginning of the end of the F-14 Tomcat era.

F-14 drops a Laser Guided Bomb during testing
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The unique shape of the F-14 allowed it to be packed on the deck

IRANIAN TOMCATS!

The shocking part in the history of the F-14 is its export to Iran in the 1970s! Iran is currently viewed as a hostile nation by the US, but in the early 1970s it was a very close ally. This meant that the US offered full support to them including supplying hi-tech military equipment to counter Iraq and the Soviet Union.  The Shah wanted the latest American fighter and he was offered a choice of the F-14 or F-15. After a specially arranged air display demonstration, the F-14 was chosen. In 1974, Iran received 80 F-14s along with a shipment of 714 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. The F-14s had critical mission software and hardware removed, but yet it was superior to any other fighter at that time and was the only one which could counter the Mach 3 MiG-25 with its Phoenix missiles.

But Iran was a big gamble and in 1979, when the Shah was overthrown, the nation fell into disarray and the relationship with the US was strained. Iran was suddenly a hostile nation which possessed the most advanced American fighters and hundreds of Hi-tech missiles. Support for these F-14s was cutoff and the Iranians had to ground these fighters for lack of essential spares. However, they overcame the hurdle by depending on their local industry for spares and the Tomcats were flying combat missions against Iraq starting in 1980. Tomcats gradually increased their operational tempo and by the end of the war, it is estimated that the Iranian F-14s had shot down around 160 Iraqi combat aircraft (many with the Phoenix missile) and only 1 F-14 was lost in return. The Phoenix missile armed Tomcats conducted long range patrols near the Iran-Iraq border and this combination terrified the Iraqis as they had no counter against the long range radar and missiles of the F-14 Tomcat. It is interesting to note that the Iranians obtained more aerial kills with the Tomcat than the US Navy.

Iranian Tomcat with Sparrow, Sidewinder and Phoenix missles

Currently Iran operates a depleted fleet of around 28 F-14s which have locally made spares, radars and other systems. This has allowed them to operationally fly the F14 to an extent although its unknown if they are combat worthy. But as of now, they possess the only flying F-14s in the world.

RETIREMENT

By the 1980s, it was thought that the Tomcat was reaching the end of its useful life and becoming obsolete. But major upgrades ensured that it stayed at the top of its game for 2 more decades. But meanwhile, heavily modified F-14s called Super Tomcats with advanced avionics and improvements in performance were proposed by Grumman. But these projects were rejected for being too expensive and the US Navy decided to go with the F/A-18 to replace their F-14 fleet. The F/A-18 did the job of the Tomcat at about one third of the cost and was easier to maintain. The retirement of the F-14 started in the 90s and all of them were retired by 2006 and replaced by the F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets.

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The F-14 and the F/A-18
File:US Navy 030408-N-7986B-008 An F-A-18 Hornet (top), assigned to the Gunslingers of Strike Fighter Squadron One Zero Five (VFA-105) and an F-14 Tomcat assigned to the Swordsmen of Fighter Squadron Thirty Two (VF-32) prepare to la.jpg
The F/A-18 was smaller, lighter, cheaper and better

I have very often encountered the statement “The US Navy made a huge mistake by retiring the Tomcat”. But in fact there are several valid reasons. One being, Naval aircraft are subject to immense forces during take-off and landings on carriers which places immense stress on their airframe. This limits their service life to just 20 years when compared to Air Force fighters which easily serve for 30 years. The Cold war ended and the US Navy was looking for cheaper alternatives that could get the job done with more versatility. The Super Tomcat offerings were very high performance aircraft, but the Super Hornets outclassed them in operational and acquisition costs and offered better multi-role capabilities. Being considerably smaller, more number of Super Hornets could be carried on a carrier when compared to the Tomcat.

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File:Grumman Park.jpg
F-14 memorial

So what happened to the 400 odd F-14s that were retired? All of them weren’t scrapped of course. A large portion of these aircraft were stripped of sensitive equipment and displayed in museums, memorials and military bases around the US. A portion of them were scrapped and their parts were recycled. A small number are stripped and kept in reserve storage in case an emergency forces them to bring the F-14s back to life. But if you want to see an F-14 in action, Iran is your only option for now. This is how the most famous fighter of the US Navy ended its glorious service life and now lives on as static models and in the hearts of its pilots and its die-hard fans.

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48 thoughts on “Origins-The Story Of The Legendary F-14 Tomcat

  1. Lovely story that left almost all the context out of the picture:It was a huge success of the military-industrial-congressional-complex/MICC first of all..
    It was goldplated with unneeded technology for combat like the swing wing and dual engines.
    The F-14 was a heavy underpowered slug of an A/C in reality, whith swing wings weakening its airframe and the change of configuration made it a sitting duck in combat.
    The range which was laughable.
    Just compare the F-14 spec with the F-16XL.More payload, more range more maneuvreabillity and lesser costs.
    It really amazes me , how much the movie “Top-Gun” altered the public perception of this crap A/C.
    The F-14 is only legendary for its difficult maintanance.

    If you want to tell an amazing story, tell the one of the F-16: Conceived by the greatest military thinker the US ever had-Col.John Boyd together with the Fighter Mafia.
    It was pushed through all the resistance of the MICC and the Pentagon politics and was until today the ONLY ever A/C that was cheaper than its predeccessor the F-15.
    Read Robert Coram:”Boyd, the Fighter Pilot who changed the Art of War” and you will learn the true story of the F-4,F-14, F-111,F-15 and F16.Moreover you´ll see how the Pentagon works against what the pilot needs to win a war, but feeds the MICC plus the revolving door that makes Defense Industry CEO´s out of the Generals.

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    1. The Tomcat was stronger than the F-16 by miles!!! The swing wings did not weaken the airframe as you mentioned, and it was no sitting duck in air combat. Those swing wings are what made it outperform the F-15 in the July 1973 flyoff for the Shah of Iran. It was one of the best maneuvering aircraft down low, even though it was considered underpowered. During AIMVAL/ACEVAL from 1975 to 1978 it regularly outperformed the F-15. There was even gun camera footage circulated showing an F-15 squarely in the sights of a Tomcat. That Tomcat pilot was warned that he placed the sale of the F-15s to Japan in jeopardy because of that dogfight footage, as the sale was well along. Flight International did a story of the AIMVAL/ACEVAL flyoff in their 11/26/1977 issue, stating that the Tomcat even though it was supposed to be underpowered, even beat the F-15 in the vertical and in other flight regimes. The Tomcat had superb aerodynamics, with 40 percent of its total lift coming from the pancake between the engines. It could do a cobra (beyond 90 degrees AoA with wings swept) and a tail slide. The vaunted F-16, that I love a lot, cannot perform these maneuvers. The Tomcat was the first fighter that could pull 9G in maneuvers ( during tests, at 20,000 ft at mach 1.2, six phoenix, two drop tanks and two Sidewinders). That was in the 70s!!! So no one who knows can call the F-14 “crap”. You must have some real bias against this wonderful, magnificent machine, in the hands of a skilled pilot, held its own against even the F-16 and the F-18. Another thing, you want to see maneuverability, see the movie, “The Final Countdown” that came out in 1980-1981. Another thing; its technology was not unneeded. It was a force multipllier: it scared the hell out of many cold war era adversaries because of its capabilities. The Iraqis were made to suffer during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war when the combination of the AWG-9 radar and Phoenix accounted for a lot of the estimated 160 Iraqi fighters lost in air combat to Tomcats during that time. And they paid the price again when in the 1991 Gulf War their fighters were locked on by the familiar AWG-9, they turned and ran – straight into the patrolling F-15s and F-16 of the USAF. That led to Tomcat pilots calling their radars “MiG repellers”.
      ” The range which was laughable” was way greater than any F-16 or F-18.

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      1. That is a very good reply and a fair argument-thank you for that!You name incidents that were new to me, I´ll look it up.What I can say ad hoc is this:Of course the pilot makes the difference, but what you can not cheat on are the physics of the EM-theory explored by Col.John Boyd: The F-14 is heavier than a F-15 and F-16 ergo Maneuvreabillity can not be the same .It has a worse fuel fraction than both of em-so given the same ammount of fuel, its always short legged.More fuel more weight= less maneuvreabillity.Nobody cares how fast a jet is in a straight line because 99% of all dog fights happen below mach 1.The F-16 can not do a cobra-(which is useless in air combat, because you bleed all your energy)-because its so inherently unstable at those speeds , that some dumb General decided to hardwire a limit switch into the F-16´s AoA, to protect weak pilots.An active Radar is always a target and if you happen to be sitting in a F-14 you sure hope to do combat against Iraqi´s pilot, who happen to shoot down basically nobody.I have no bias against the F-14–really. I could´nt care less.I`m a German Engineer who happened to have a light interest about Pentagon Politics and if you view the F-14, F-18(which is based on the YF-17 that lost(!) the fly-off contest against the YF-16), F-22, F-35 in the light of this, you will be disgusted of those MICC-designed planes.

        You should do yourself a favour and read “Boyd-The Fighter Pilot who changed the Art of War” from Robert Coram for a start.It will lead you to a couple of other good sources of REAL knowledge.

        If you finish that book, let me know what you think about Col.John R.Boyd.
        The man who changed the world of aviation inside out with the EM-theory.
        The man who was the driving force behind the F-16.
        The greatest military mind the US ever had, whose tactics lead to the 100hrs success of Gulf war 1.

        Boyd said in a hearing of the Congress( http://www.c-span.org/video/?17753-1/us-military-reform-oper-desert-storm):

        “What does it take to win wars?
        -People.Why?Because wars are fought by people not weapons.They use weapons.
        -Strategy and tactics.Because wars fought without innovative ideas, become bloodbaths-winnable or not.
        -Hardware. Because weapons that don´t work or can´t be bought in adequate quantities, will bring down even the best people and the best ideas.”

        Look how many F-14´s could be bought (712 only with a hefty price tag of 38 million $ vs a F-16 4540(!) @ 18.8 million$ or the F-15 1198@ 30 million $).
        More available A/C´s mean more flying hours per pilot, which leads to better pilots.
        Thats why a F-22 or a F-35 as extreme examples , lead to pilots that are flying only 8 hours per month.

        I rest my case.All jets are magnificent machines.I like the ones who can win wars.The F-16 can do it best together with the A-10.The “Fighter Mafia” has faded away way too early. Good night everybody.

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      2. The F-14 cannot perform the Cobra, you have that maneuver confused with a “super stall” (similar to what the Draken could do). The Tomcat could not sustain 9G in maneuvers (however, it could instantaneously reach 9G). There is a video on youtube.com; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4arJFZbfKAg about the F-14 (great planes I believe) and they interviewed Lt. Lawrence “Music” Musczynski. He was one of the Tomcat pilots who shot down Su-22’s in 1981. He even is quoted as saying that at the merge he pulled into a 7G reversal turn. Notice he did not say 9G, because even though that was in a combat situation, the jet could not sustain 9G. Also, the F-14A usually was a poor performer against the F-15 in the vertical or horizontal. However, the uprated GE F110 F-14D was basically equal to the Eagle in ACM. It would come down to the quality of the pilot. Generally speaking, due to the Vipers very low frontal drag (better L/D ratio), it could out range both the Eagle and Tomcat. Even Navy pilots have admitted that the F-16N could out last the F-14 on the ACMI range. The Tomcat, Hornet, and Eagle all have far higher drag than the F-16.

        Also reference the article “F-14A vs F-14B” on: http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/the-dewline/2013/04/f-14a-versus-the-f-14b/ it gives a good review of the Tomcat’s thrust vs drag.

        The Tomcat was truly a great plane, it’s AWG-9 radar was far superior to anything else. It was a pretty good ACM machine (in the right hands). The F-14 together with the F-4 Phantom still remain my favorite aircraft. It was truly a beautiful jet.

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    2. Agree on the amazing F-16, however, you’re a clueless armchair commando with comments like that about the F-14. It has a literal 2000 mile range unrefueled. It’s external tanks are cleared to mach 1.8 and offer no G- limitation over the airframe. When configured on a mission with 2 AIM-54, 3 AIM-7 and 2 AIM-9 plus tanks and a gun, it can fight and fly past it’s peacetime 6.5g limit. It is not comparable to the clean F-16 or an F-15 that was designed to drop all its tanks whenever combat begins. It also doesn’t require the support an F-15 and F-16 need. An F-15 and F-16 are short ranged Amraam shooters without KC-10s or KC-136s present. I am intrigued by your comparison to the F-16XL, which has been tested and has a pamphlet to advertise its reported capability. I clearly state that if you took one pilot and let him fly all 3 aircraft he’d rank the F-16 best for ACM, F-15 second, and F-14 third, because the control system is more demanding than the F-15’s amazing controls. Size and weight of the F-14 are negated by the lift of the airframe-which has a lower stall speed than the wing, but if you want to keep reading Jane’s and using that for your educated guesses, go ahead, its not a crime be stupid in America.

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      1. No need for insults.I´m just a German Navy Vet and Engineer, who happened to be a Project Manager with an interest into Pentagon Politics and Aviation.See my other replies.
        You should read “Boyd-The Fighter Pilot who changed the Art of War” from Robert Coram for a start.It will lead you to a couple of other good sources of REAL knowledge.
        If you finish that book, let me know what you think about the statements of a man who changed the way we fight today:
        Col.John R.Boyd.
        The man who changed the world of aviation inside out with the EM-theory.
        The man who was really behind the F-16.
        The greatest military mind the US ever had, whose tactics lead to the 100hrs success of Gulf war 1.

        Boyd said in a hearing of the Congress( http://www.c-span.org/video/?17753-1/us-military-reform-oper-desert-storm):

        “What does it take to win wars?
        -People.Why?Because wars are fought by people not weapons.They use weapons.
        -Strategy and tactics.Because wars fought without innovative ideas, become bloodbaths-winnable or not.
        -Hardware. Because weapons that don´t work or can´t be bought in adequate quantities, will bring down even the best people and the best ideas.”

        Its not about creating the most complex war bird ever-and the F-14 was sure complex- but about the leanest meanest machine that could be bought in adequate numbers and thats where the F-14 failed enourmosly.You can not compare the F14 with the F16-they are like the cold blood vs the arabic race horse.The numbers alone tell the story: 712 vs 4540.Thats a service to the fighting forces by itself.The F15 has 104 to 0 kills to its name.It even shot down a Satellite.F-15&F-16 are still alive and kicking-why not the F-14 when it is such a good A/C according to your opinion?

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      2. “History has proven Boyd correct in picking the fixed-wing design. The variable-sweep wing was one of the major aviation engineering blunders of the century. Hollywood and the movie Top Gun notwithstanding, the F-14 Tomcat is a lumbering, poor performing, aerial truck. It weighs about fifty-four thousand pounds. Add on external fuel tanks and missiles and the weight is about seventy thousand pounds. It is what fighter pilots call a “grape”: squeeze it in a couple of hard turns and all the energy oozes out. That energy cannot be quickly regained, and the aircraft becomes an easy target.”

        Coram, Robert (2002-11-21). Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Kindle Locations 3796-3800). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

        Thats all I say now about the F-14 besides my other posting.Cheers.

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    3. F-16’s are good only in sustained combat when fighting an inferior enemy, they are like those warhorses which can run fast and wild but not too far, or those which may carry a lot of load but then won’t go to far… same inherent problems were carried over to the F-18 design ( which is an naval upgrade of the F-17 which lost to the F-16 ), heavy load short range or long range without any load. F-14 though expensive was a superb aircraft with superb performance parameters. That problem could have been solved thru more efficient engineering and production methods/standards. Even the F-15 was shit expensive when it was first made but costs were brought down eventually.

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    4. The F-16 without a doubt is the best up close combat plane to exist, one of the most maneuverable planes in the world, if I’m not mistaken wasn’t it the first aircraft to be able to do 9Gs? I like the F-14 and all but the F-16 would have no problem taking it down.F-16XL, a shame it didn’t go into service.

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      1. mr davis. im afraid your wrong about the f-16 taking down the f-14. every cat pilot has to be able to beat the f-16 in topgun because its the primary aggressor aircraft they face.

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    5. Friend, you are sadly misinformed regarding the performance of the F-14. The A model was under powered as it could only use the best engine available at the time. The TF30 was always envisioned as a “just get the jet into service” engine. The advanced technology turbofans were supposed to be installed earlier, but funding held it up.

      Gold plated technology. That is the way its supposed to be. Build the best jet you can to give yourself a technological advantage. This approach has worked time and time again over “simpler, cheaper” aircraft.

      The F-16 doesn’t really compare as it was just a lightweight knife fighter and bomb dropper…not even in the same class as the F-14. So I don’t know what you were thinking when you decided to roll that out there.

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    6. Thrust to weight in the F-14 was a wash with the F-15(even with the TF-30). The Cat had huge internal fuel storage(thats why it has such great range along with superior aerodynamics). Look at the fly off in Iran. Go look it up and read about it. The F-14 pilot knew in order to match or better the F-15 in thrust to weight all he had to do was dump a little extra fuel. He finished his fly off and made the sale. The rest is history.
      For those of you who say swing wing designed is dated, look at the Lockheed design proposal for the navy ATF during the 90’s. Guess what? It was a swing wing design. Thats right, the same guys who designed the raptor submitted a swing wing proposal for a naval raptor to replace the Cat.
      Look at what the design intent for the Tomcat. To punch out as far as they can reach to protect the expensive carrier and carrier task force. Range that has yet to be matched. Load out placed between the nacels had a “zero” drag penalty. Tomcats also hold the record for most bombs dropped during Iraq. Guess why? It had the best range and loiter time. Look it up.

      As for comments made above……Cobra useless in combat due to drop in air speed? Thats like saying the same with thrust vectoring. Loss of air speed there for useless. Its just another tool for the pilot. High alpha has always been more stable in twin vertical tail design. Most air combat occurs in the trans-sonic arena not slow air show speeds. One more thing, dont compare the Tomcat to the navy f-16n. They had a limited run and were stripper models. They didnt even carry a gun and were retired after use. They were great for dissimilar air combat training but could never fill the shoes and multi role of the f-14.
      Everyone knows the Cat was replaced due to politics. Everyone who is a Super bug nuthugger fanboi needs to ask themselves if its such a great plane why is the navy looking for the replacement already. The navy knows it doesnt have the money to mass buy the f-35. Thats right, look it up. They are looking for a replacement for the superbug and are funding research for it. The maintenance record also included the dated “A” models so that data is skewed. Anyone who says the f-14 is crap doesnt know their aviation history.

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      1. Sorry i misspoke, not “zero” drag penalty but very little drag penalty per Northrop Grumman VP Mike Ciminera.

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  2. My all time favorite aircraft. She wasn’t legend just because of films. She was a major deterrent. Enemy nations didn’t want to mess with us when we had her at the tip of our spear.

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  3. “the Super Hornets outclassed them in operational and acquisition costs and offered better multi-role capabilities”.

    I didn’t see the Super Hornets outclassed against the proposed Super Tomcat in terms in operational and acquisition costs.

    The design work on the advanced versions of the Grumman F-14 began as early as 1987 and should bring the F-14 design beyond the limits of the F-14D since the growth potential of the F-14 was not yet reached. And therefore, the Super Tomcats were developed as an alternative to a navalised ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter). But, the Super Tomcats were never more than design concepts or scale models.

    The first step into the future was the F-14D Quickstrike. It would have featured an improved APG-71 radar with new modes for air-to-air and air-to-ground strikes and modifications for more stand-off weapons like the Harpoon, HARM and SLAM (Standoff Land Attack Missile) missiles.

    Even though the F-14D Quickstrike did not meet the Navy’s requirements for range and payload (as specified for the ATF), it did come closer than anything else, especially the F/A-18E/F. There is another major difference between the F-14D Quickstrike and the F/A-18E/F: The development costs! The F-14D Quickstrike needed only software changes and some internal modifications, nothing more. The F/A-18E/F is nearly a complete new airframe with consequently high development costs.

    The next design-step should have been the ST21. ST21 stands for Super Tomcat for the 21st Century. It was an revolutionary upgrade of the existing F-14D model. The most obvious modification was the new glove area: Instead of the retractable glove-vanes of the A model, the glove was enlarged to take the place of the extended glove-vane. This modification should enhance the supersonic flight characteristics as well as the dogfighting capabilities. Additionally, this modification would have solved the structural problems in the glove area.

    Another very obvious modification was a newly introduced single piece windscreen. This would have given the pilot a much better frontsight compared to the relatively restricted view of todays Tomcats.

    Further aerodynamic improvements were revised wing leading edges and a Fowler flap system.

    Finally, the last visible modification were navigation and attack FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Sensors). The pods for this sensors found their place in the forward Phoenix rail fairings, which until then housed the oil cooling system for the AIM-54A missile. Since this cooling system is no more needed for the B and C missile, weight was saved by deleting it and a place for the new pods was free.

    The ST21 could have been equipped with an upgraded version of the F110 engine, the F110-GE-429. These engines would have given extra thrust and even more fuel efficiency: The engines puts out 29,000 to 30,000 lbs of thrust each in maximum afterburner.

    All the above mentioned modifications, including lighter avionics and engines, accounted for an increase in empty weight of 1,000 lbs and in gross weight of some 2,000 lbs. Structural changes in the glove allowed an extra 2,200 lbs of fuel in each glove while saving structural weight in the newly designed glove. This would increase the ST21s internal fuel quantity to 18,500 lbs! Further, the bring back capability increased from 9,000 lbs (F-14D) to some 16,000 lbs while the approach speed dropped 15 knots due to the new glove and wing design. The ST21 could launch at gross weight with a 7 knot tail wind on the deck.

    As well as the F-14D Quickstrike, the ST21 is just an upgrade, that means any of the already existing F-14Ds could have been remanufactured to ST21 standard at consequently low costs!

    As developed by Grumman engineers, the next step could have been the AST21 (Attack Super Tomcat 21st Century). The AST21 is simply a more attack-oriented model of the ST21 and was thought to be an alternative for the navalised ATF. Modifications on the AST21 are nuclear weapons capability, bomb stores under the engine nacelles (normally used for external fuel tanks) and a FAC (Forward Air Controller) mode modification to the radar system. Also, the TCS and IRST would be made removable to save weight in the air-to-ground role. If needed for air-to-air scenarios, they could be easily fitted and give the AST21 a full air-to-air suite.

    Additional armouring for the crew area and an Integrated Defensive Avionics Package (IDAP) were planned for the AST21, too. And since bombs would generally be carried in the tunnel, the AST21 would retain fighter-like manoeuvrability unlike any other attack aircraft. Again, the AST21 could be remanufactured by rebuilding existing F-14Ds.

    The final upgrade could have been the ASF-14 (Advanced Strike Fighter). While the F-14D Quickstrike, ST21 and AST21 would have preserved as much of the basic F-14 design and systems as possible, the ASF-14 would have only looked like an F-14. It would have taken full advantage of the new ATF and ATA (Advanced Tactical Attack Aircraft) technologies. But the ASF-14 would have been a lot more expensive to develop than the ST21 (but still a lot cheaper than the F/A-18E/F) and it wouldn’t have had that much more warfighting capabilities than the ST21. Remanufacturing would not have been possible, all ASF-14s would have been new aircraft. Therefore, the ST21 or AST21 would have been the more probable aircraft.

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  4. I guess quite some of you who read this now know about the replacement for the F-14 … the new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. I am expert enough to say if it is the better aeroplane for tomorrows Navy or not. I can only repeat what I have heard about it: And that makes me think that the F/A-18 is not the better air superiority/interceptor fighter; One pilot only, “short” long-range, less weapons bring-back capability, never capable to be an air superiority fighter as the F-14 with its radar and the AIM-54. Nevertheless, some vote pro F/A-18, some pro F-14.

    Navy statement (as of March 2001): “F/A-18E/F Super Hornet …. Leading Naval Aviation into the 21st Century. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a winner… it’s affordable… and it’s flying today, exceeding every operational goal. F/A-18E/F will outperform any top-line fighter aircraft of today and tomorrow.”

    Navy test pilot comments* (as of January 2002):
    ° “The (F/A-18E/F) aircraft is slower than most fighters fielded since the early 1960s.”
    ° A Hornet pilot who flew numerous side-by-side comparison flights with F/A-18E/F SuperHornets said: “We outran them, we out-flew them and we ran them out of gas. I was embarrassed for them”

    Navy F-14 pilots speak vividly about the Super Hornet (in an Associated Press article in late 2001):
    “Its the same old Hornet shit, repackaged, which was designed to keep the politicians happy.” He said that “it can never match the Tomcat’s long range, (Mach) 2.4 speed and predator mystique. (…) The capability the Tomcat has for speed is amazing, there is not another plane in the Navy’s inventory that can come anywhere close to it. You look at the plane on the ground and it looks intimidating, it looks like something that is made for war. I hope the liberal fudge packing, (…) who thought the Hornet could replace this avaition masterpiece rot in hell.”

    Also, there was a damning report of the Super Hornet in areas of critical operational requirements, while praising it for its improved aircraft carrier capabilities when compared to the original F/A-18A-D Hornet – something not high on the list of essential criteria.

    Three sentences on page eight of the report say it all:

    “The consequences of low specific excess power in comparison to the threat are poor climb rates, poor sustained turn capability, and a low maximum speed. Of greatest tactical significance is the lower maximum speed of the F/A-18E/F since this precludes the ability to avoid or disengage from aerial combat. In this regard, the F/A-18E/F is only marginally inferior to the F/A-18C/D, whose specific excess power is also considerably inferior to that of the primary threat, the MiG-29.”

    The F/A-18E/F has a similar performance deficiencies to the F-35 which the aircraft has a short range and does not have the performance envelope of a true air superiority fighter. They will be outclassed by the Su-27/30 Flanker family of fighters by most regional nations in all key performance parameters, aerodynamic, bigger weapons payload, radar / sensor performance by widely available fighters.

    The F/A-18E/F is acknowledged in the report as being no match for even the older and newer MiG-29 Fulcrum family. Space precludes quoting the report’s comments on the multitude of other areas where the Super Hornet is inferior to the 1970s-designed and 1980s-built original F/A-18 aircraft. Admittedly the Block II Super Hornet has a new APG-79 AESA radar and some electronic components not in the version Coyle gave evidence on, but the fundamental airframe and performance remain unaltered: it is heavier, slower, larger and uglier (its radar signature did not measure up to expectations) than the normal Hornet.

    Evidently the underwing aero-acoustic environment and resulting vibrations are so violent that some weapons are being damaged in transit to the target on a single flight – dumb bombs are fine in that environment but not long-range missiles containing sophisticated and relatively delicate components. To me there is nothing super about this Hornet; perhaps “Stingless Super Dog” is a better descriptor.

    Fundamental problems with the Super Hornet stem from the fact that this machine has seriously Degraded Operational Gradients (FT term for which the shorthand is DOG!).

    Little doubt the Super Hornet has some impressive systems e.g. APG-79 AESA, etc. and can provide the pilot with equally impressive SA (Situational Awareness). However, in a dog of an aircraft, all that impressive SA is going to do is tell Super Hornet pilots how and when they are going to die. QED.

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    1. Hello, It wasnt a Liberal fudge packer….It was Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, that voted in the mid 90s to stop aircraft production of f-14d. So you are right ,but it was a Conservative fudge eater……

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  5. Reported Super Hornet Problems

    Although the Navy has been working very hard to correct F/A-18E/F OPEVAL problems, it is worth summing them up: the production of the F/A-18E/F is significantly overweight with respect to its specifications (30,000 pounds empty weight). This is far in excess of what one would expect for a variant of an existing F/A-18 A, B, C, or D. Aircraft weight estimation methods could, and should, have been much better; in fact, when we look objectively at the F/A-18E/F, we see an aeroplane with a brand-new wing, new fuselage and new empennage – in other words, a new aeroplane. This is, therefore, what Congress would call a “new start.” Both Congress and the Department of Defence (DOD) had to be looking the other way when the Navy was permitted to slip this aeroplane by as a simple modification of an existing aeroplane.

    In combat-manoeuvring flight, the aircraft had severe “wing-drop” problems that defied resolution, despite the use of every aerodynamic analytical tool available. Eventually, one test pilot cam up with a “leaky-fold-joint” fix that opened chordwise air slots to aspirate the wing’s upper surface flow and thereby prevent the sharp stalling of one wing before the other. The stalled more or less together, but much easier and more severely than before. This new fix is what the aerodynamicists call a “band aid.” It causes aircraft buffeting, which is generally a source of wing drag. But a “fix” that combined “acceptable” wing drop with “acceptable” buffeting had been achieved. One test pilot commented dryly, “I’d like the buffeting levels to be a little lower so I could read the heads-up display!”

    Owing to its high drag and weight (and probably other factors), the F/A-18E is significantly poorer in acceleration than the F/A-18A. Also, its combat ceiling is substantially lower, and its transonic drag rise is very high. We have stayed in touch with some pilots at the Navy’s test center and have gathered some mind boggling anecdotal information. Here are some examples:

    An F/A-18A was used to “chase” an F-14D test flight. The F-14D was carrying four 2,000-pound bombs, two 280-gallon drop tanks, two Phoenix missiles and two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The chase airplane was in a relatively “clean” configuration with only a centerline fuel tank. At the end of each test flight, the chase airplane was several miles behind the test airplane when the chase airplane reached “bingo” fuel and had to return to base.

    An F/A-18E Super Hornet is tested using the same chase aeroplane, an earlier model Hornet, in the same configuration. The chase aeroplane does not need full thrust to stay with the test airplane.

    An F/A-18E/F in maximum afterburner thrust cannot exceed Mach 1.0 in level flight below 10,000 feet even when it is in the clean configuration (no external stores). At 10,000 feet, the F-14D can exceed Mach 1.6.

    A quote from a Hornet pilot is devastatingly frank: “The aircraft is slower than most fighters fielded since the early 1960s.”

    The most devastating comment came from a Hornet pilot who flew numerous side-by-side comparison flights with F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and says: “We outran them, we out-flew them and we ran them out of gas. I was embarrassed for them.”

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  6. I’d like to address a few comments left in this thread about the F-14. I’d like to say upfront that my only qualification is 35 years of intensive study in this field and hundreds of hours of interviews with both fleet and test Naval Aviators.

    I’m not sure where the idea of an F-14 being able to do a Cobra came from. I’m not saying that it’s a fabrication but I am saying that I find the idea farfetched. The TF-30 P414 was a notoriously finicky engine from the beginning. The Tomcat drivers that I have spoken to have all talked at length about the fear they had of engine compressor stall. The aircraft was especially prone to these at high AoA states due to disturbed airflow and more specifically combined with rapid throttle excursions. The results were often catastrophic for the engine and many times resulted in the loss of the aircraft. Aviation writer Art Hanley noted that, “The TF-30 engine ‘is extremely sensitive to airflow’ and that ‘engine failures caused by compressor stalls were encountered repeatedly.'” See http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1995-02-28/news/9502280127_1_kara-hultgreen-engine-failure-uss-abraham-lincoln for a detailed conversation about this limitation. In the NATOPS manual for the F-14A this type of maneuver is expressly prohibited.

    I also am not aware of where the idea that the Tomcat was short legged came from. The Tomcat had a 2050nm range for the F-110 GE 400 engines. It was always cited as one of the strengths of the aircraft not a limitation.

    As to the assumptions about Boyd, to read about EM is not necessarily to understand it. You cite the triumph of the F-16 but in this same book you give as an example, Corum quotes Boyd as talking extensively about the compromises between the YF-16 and the production block 10 F-16A. If I remember correctly he talks about the 121 pounds in the nose added by the production radar as altering the y-axis pitch moment because of the distance in armature from the center of gravity. He then goes on to say that even with the added power of the block 30 and 32 Falcons the weight makes them “jack of all trades and master of none,” because of now having a thrust to weight ratio far below 1-1. He says that a YF-16 would kick the living shit out of a production F-16 in a turn fight if it ever survived to the merge.

    The F/A-18 was derived from the YF-17 only in the most cursory elements. The airframe, engine and avionics are all markedly different as is the production methods. That being said, even if your assertions were true and the F/A-18 was almost identical to the YF-17, the YF-17 actually beat the F-16 in most metrics. However Northrop was not in a position to offer the same long term maintenance, training support and spares that General Dynamics was. GD offered incentives that made the F-16 the more attractive option merely from a financial perspective.

    In closing I’d like to say that I very much enjoy the spirit of intelligent discourse in this thread and look forward to further discussion. Thanks for your time.

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    1. About the F-14 Tomcat and the”Cobra” maneuver; read the book, “Fighter Combat” by Shaw. In it he stated that the Tomcat with its wings swept back exceeded 90 degrees AoA. There is also an old video (Great Planes: F-14 Tomcat), where the plane actually performed the cobra!
      Thanks.

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  7. here’s a simple note. the F 16 and a 15 cannot land on a carrier And need shore base facilities and Allies and their bases to fly out of. The G14 is obviously heavier due to the fact it has to land on the carrier however we could projec the f-14 any where we wanted in the world because it could land on the carrier. 75% of the earth is covered with water so no need for permission from so called allied bases to stage from.

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  8. Out of any technical detail/knowledge/wizard, I love F14 Tomcat -perhaps visually and fictionally etc- since I was a kid, long before Top Gun movie, and I love to read this article, thanks for the writer. I enjoy the discussion/debate too even if. I take it only very lightly, I mean who the hell we are speaking as if we know anything going inside the goverment & military & expert (and financialy power people too) in the case of USA.but i’s fun to read anyway LOL

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  9. Just because the F-14 outperforms the F/A-18 in some parameters does not mean that retiring them was a mistake. For one, the maintenance cost of the F-14. The F/A-18 is less complicated. Two, numbers for x amount of dollars. An F-14 costs more than an F/A-18 yet the F/A-18 still manages to do the F-14’s job albeit not as good for less amount of dollars. So, yes, it’s not always about the coolest most expensive plane, but the one that delivers that performance while being produced in superior numbers.

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  10. I grew up thinking the f14 was the coolest plane ever made why you ask because my father worked on that plane for grumman.I am also blessed to actually have a windshield from the f14.I would listen to my father talk endlessly about a majority of the jets you have spoken about here,brings back great memories for me Thank you.

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  11. i’m a tomcat fanboys. top gun have influenced me so much so that makes naval aviation as my favorite subject.

    but please, so many tomcat fanboys got a butthurt and begin to compare it with the super hornet. you, another tomcat fanboys just can’t move on and accept the reality that your fucking favorite machine is phased out. nothing is immortal mate, and just let that beloved jet rest in peace because it already at their end of their lifespan.

    yes, i do pointed my finger at you, who describe yourself as a another guest from australia. your butt seems so hurt so that you forget the fact (or deliberately forget?) that even your country relies on super-hornet-that-makes-your-butt-hurt.

    cheers.

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  12. Thrust to weight in the F-14 was a wash with the F-15(even with the TF-30). The Cat had huge internal fuel storage(thats why it has such great range along with superior aerodynamics). Look at the fly off in Iran. Go look it up and read about it. The F-14 pilot knew in order to match or better the F-15 in thrust to weight all he had to do was dump a little extra fuel. He finished his fly off and made the sale. The rest is history.
    For those of you who say swing wing designed is dated, look at the Lockheed design proposal for the navy ATF during the 90’s. Guess what? It was a swing wing design. Thats right, the same guys who designed the raptor submitted a swing wing proposal for a naval raptor to replace the Cat.
    Look at what the design intent for the Tomcat. To punch out as far as they can reach to protect the expensive carrier and carrier task force. Range that has yet to be matched. Load out placed between the nacels had a “zero” drag penalty. Tomcats also hold the record for most bombs dropped during Iraq. Guess why? It had the best range and loiter time. Look it up.

    As for comments made above……Cobra useless in combat due to drop in air speed? Thats like saying the same with thrust vectoring. Loss of air speed there for useless. Its just another tool for the pilot. High alpha has always been more stable in twin vertical tail design. Most air combat occurs in the trans-sonic arena not slow air show speeds. One more thing, dont compare the Tomcat to the navy f-16n. They had a limited run and were stripper models. They didnt even carry a gun and were retired after use. They were great for dissimilar air combat training but could never fill the shoes and multi role of the f-14.
    Everyone knows the Cat was replaced due to politics. Everyone who is a Super bug nuthugger fanboi needs to ask themselves if its such a great plane why is the navy looking for the replacement already. The navy knows it doesnt have the money to mass buy the f-35. Thats right, look it up. They are looking for a replacement for the superbug and are funding research for it. Anyone who says the f-14 was crap does know their aviation history.

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