Grumman F-14 Tomcat History, Part 1


First F-14A 159607 in IRIAF camouflage

Story and photos by Peter Boschert – this was written during the Tomcat’s final operational days.

The Hughes (Raytheon) AWG-9 was a weapon system for which an aircraft was sought! The Navy was looking for a replacement for its aging carrier-based fighters, especially the F-4 Phantom, in the late 1960s. When the F-111B program also threatened to fail (the aircraft was too big and too fast for carrier landings), Grumman launched the G303 in October 1967. Later, the jet was named the Tomcat, in honor of the role that Rear Admiral Tom “Tomcat “Connelly played in its development. The question of whether the aircraft should have rigid wings or the F-111’s swiveling wing was initially left open. The Navy did not respond to the offer, however, as attempts were still being made to save the F-111B. In July 1968 though, the US Navy decided against the F-111B and again advertised a fleet interceptor under the title VFX. Grumman offered the G303 against designs by Northrop American, LTV, General Dynamics and McDonnell-Douglas. Finally, Grumman was awarded the contract in January 1969.


In the spring of 1969, the decision was made in favor of the swivel wing, and it was agreed that six prototype YF-14 Tomcats should be built and tested intensively. The contract was later extended to twelve aircraft. The first flight-capable prototype took off on December 21, 1970 with two Grumman works pilots, William Miller and Robert Smythe, for a first short flight with the wings fully swung out. During the second test flight nine days later, the aircraft was lost due to hydraulic and engine damage. Miller and Smythe were able to eject themselves out of the crashing plane just above treetop height. The test program could hardly have gone any worse. Through May 1971, the F-14 was further developed before flight testing continued.

During this test campaign, another two machines were lost. On June 20, 1973, an AIM-7 missile collided with the prototype No. 5 shortly after it was fired. The jet crew was able to save themselves with ejection seats and later received the humorous title “The Tomcat pilots who shot themselves”. As a consequence of this accident, the pyrotechnic charges on the rocket pylons were increased. The weapon firing test had thus served its purpose.On July 29, 1973, William Miller died when he – flying alone – crashed with the No. 10 prototype. In October 1972 the first F-14As were delivered to NAS Miramar and the training of the first F-14 pilots began. With the hit movie “Top Gun” the Tomcat became well known and the influx to the US Navy was very big at that time! Everyone wanted to be a Tomcat driver.

The pilots soon gave the F-14A the nickname “Turkey” because of its large number of flaps, spoilers and slats. Initially, it was not very popular with its crews because it was a powerful aircraft, but it was also large, heavy, somewhat underpowered, sometimes not easy to handle, and was often a “difficult child” when landing on a carrier. The widely spaced engines resulted in the jet in afterburner operation immediately turning into a rotation that was difficult to catch in the event of an engine failure. The TF-30 engines were generally problematic. The worst was the tendency to lose turbine blades, which then flew around in the engine, destroyed it and also cut through the fuselage.

F-14A 159590,  NJ453,  NAS Miramar

The manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney, made an effort to develop a more reliable variant of the engine as quickly as possible, which was finally available with the TF-30-P-414. Additional protective steel cladding was installed in the air duct to protect at least the rest of the aircraft from engine damage. However, the new engine was bigger and heavier. By 1979, all aircraft had been converted to the new engine model, and reliability improved. In 1981 P&W brought an additional minor upgrade to the engines, and the TF-30-P-414A became the standard version. Nevertheless, Tomcats were still lost due to various engine failures.

The problems earned the TF-30 a bad name, but Pratt & Whitney could at least claim “mitigating circumstances”. The Tomcat had such excellent high-speed maneuverability that the engines were particularly stressed. Other high-performance aircraft of the time suffered similar problems with their engines too. Throughout their use, over 150 F-14 Tomcats crashed, the vast majority being –A versions!

F-14D,  161159,  AJ204

The crashes of the F-14B/D were relatively minor in number, 13 F-14Bs and 6 F-14Ds; these had other – more powerful – General Electric F110-GE-400 engines that also allow a start without afterburner on the aircraft carrier. The oldest aircraft in the U.S. Navy is an F-14 Tomcat 159600, it joined the Navy in July 1975 as the F-14A-85-GR, only flew during the VF-124 training session, and was named the fifth Tomcat in 1994 F-14D (R) standard rebuilt and still flies with bug number 111 on the VF-31.

The standard armament was originally 4 Phoenix, 2 Sidewinder and 2 Sparrow missiles, this has changed over time. At the end of the 1980s the first F-14s were equipped with bombs, the lower Phoenix rails served as a weapon platform for MK 82, MK 83, MK 84, MK 20, CBU-59, CBU-78, GBU-12, GBU-16, GBU- 24, GBU-31, and GBU-38 bombs.
-AIM-54 Phoenix
-AIM-7 Sparrow (missile for medium range air combat with a semi-active radar)
-AIM-9 Sidewinder (with an infrared search head)
-M61 Vulcan cannon with 675 rounds of ammunition

The radar guided missiles are controlled by the Hughes AN / AWG-9 Pulse Doppler radar and the AN/AWG-15 fire control computer. The AN/AWG-9 gives the Tomcat long-range airspace observation capabilities in the range up to 160 km and more. It can target 24 targets and attack six of them at the same time with Phoenix missiles.

The aerodynamic container is approximately 5.18 m long and weighs 794 kg. It contains a camera in the nose, another panorama camera in the middle part and an infrared scanner in the rear part. The TARPS container is attached to the right rear station in the “fuselage tunnel” and occupies all the rocket stations there. Since it requires additional electrical cables, fifty Tomcats were modified especially for TARPS. The system is controlled by the radar interception officer in the back seat, who has a new TARPS display on which he can track the reconnaissance data. The pilot can switch the cameras on and off using a switch on the joystick. TARPS was introduced to the fleet in 1980 and proved very valuable. Tomcats still fly with a TARPS container today.

Commissioning and Operations
In September 1974 the USS Enterprice sailed into the Pacific. The first two F-14 squadrons VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters were on board. During the Vietnam Evacuation in 1975, the brand new Tomcats flew protection missions, but were not involved in fighting. The F-14A first encountered enemy aircraft over the Mediterranean in 1981. Libyan leader Ghaddafi had declared the Gulf of Sidra was in Libyan territorial waters. US President Ronald Reagan drove the USS Nimitz carrier group into the Gulf to challenge Ghaddafi.

VF-41 Black Aces F-14A at NAS Oceana

On August 18th, 1981 there was a confrontation between two Tomcats and Libyan jets, but no shots were fired. The next day, the Libyan pilots were more aggressive. Two Sukhoi SU-22 ground attack planes attacked two VF-41 Black Aces Tomcats. The leading Su-22 fired an air-to-air missile, which, however, did not pursue the target. The two F-14s returned fire with AIM-9L rockets and shot down the Libyan aircraft.

In October 1985, four Tomcats – VF-74 Bedevilers and VF-103 Sluggers, stationed on the USS Saratoga (CVN-60) – intercepted a Boeing 737 of an Egyptian airline, which carried the terrorists who had kidnapped the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.

In March 1986, Libya launched surface-to-air missiles on F-14s patrolling the Gulf of Sidra, operating from the USS America (CVN-66) and USS Saratoga (CVN-60). As a countermeasure, the F-14 destroyed the missile position and sank some Libyan patrol boats.

In April 1986, Tomcats provided fighter protection for the Tripoli and Benghazi bombing raids by F-111 Aardvarks flown during Operation Eldorado Canyon.

VF-32 Swordsmen F-14B

In January 1989, two VF-32 Swordsmen Tomcats destroyed two attacking Libyan MIG-23s with AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow missiles.

These were the only U.S. fighter plane combats that did not occur during a war.

In the Gulf War, F-14As flew air and reconnaissance patrols; the only Tomcat aerial victory occurred on February 6, 1991, when an F-14A of VF-,1 from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, shot down a Mi-8 helicopter with an AIM-9M. The VF-103 Sluggers lost an F-14A Plus due to enemy fire on January 21, 1991, both crew members survived after a rescue operation.

The Tomcat did a great job, but from today’s perspective it is out of date; the US Navy has already retired all F-14A and B versions, they went to museums or to the aircraft cemetery in Davis-Monthan (AMARC). Their tasks are carried out by the new F-18E/F Super Hornets. It remains to be seen whether this is a good replacement. The F/A-18A and C were to replace the Tomcat, but due to their design did not deliver the performance of the F-14. The F-14B’s and D were equipped with newer ground target systems and laser designators (Lantirn) at the end of the 80s, this is located on the right wing station where the Sparrow usually hung! The Lantirn container is almost identical to that of the F-15E. They were now able to drop both free-falling and laser-guided bombs with pinpoint accuracy. The “new” F-14s were now jokingly called Bombcats.

VF-31 Tomcatters F-14D, 164350 

At the moment the last two F-14 squadrons are in the Persian Gulf, they are on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt (VF-31 and VF-213) at CVW-8. (About the F-14 squadrons in the second part) Iran had ordered 80 F-14A Tomcat and 79 have also been delivered, the gods are fighting over the exact numbers of how many are still in use today!

• F-14A Tomcat – First production version (delivered from 1973) for the US Navy (554 pieces).
• F-14A/TARPS – F-14A’s, equipped with the TARPS system, were used for reconnaissance collecting (50 pieces).
• F-14B Tomcat – prototype of an F-14 with F401-P-400 engines (2 pieces). One model flew on September 12, 1973, the second was not completed; the program was discontinued for cost reasons.
• F-14C Tomcat – planned development of a Tomcat with TF30-P-414A engines and more modern avionics, program discontinued due to cost reasons.
• F-14A (Plus) Tomcat – The main difference between this version and the F-14A, which was built on November 14, 1987, is the new F110-GE-400 engines from General Electric. This replacement was necessary because the originally installed TF30 engines from P&W could never totally satisfy the Fleet’s needs. They were inefficient, difficult to maintain, and moreover unreliable and prone to accidents. The most common cause of the loss of Tomcats was that turbine blades broke, flew through the engine and destroyed it. In 1991 the F-14A (Plus) Tomcat was renamed the F-14B Tomcat. (Newly built: 38 airframes, converted F-14As were another 47 airframes, for the sum of 85 in total)
• F-14D Tomcat – The F-14D was delivered from 1990, or converted from older aircraft. This represents a fundamental modernization within the scope of the limited expansion options of the aircraft. New are the AN / APG-71 radar system, digital flight control, improved countermeasures for self-protection , night vision compatibility, target transfer capacity and various components that now allow the F-14 to attack ground targets (which was not intended when the aircraft was originally designed). (Newly built: 37 airframes, converted from F-14A / F-14D (R) equal another 18 airframes, totaling 55 examples). The last Tomcat was handed over to the US Navy in Miramar on August 14, 1992.

Task: Carrier-based multipurpose fighter
Manufacturer: Grumman Aerospace Corporation
Unit cost: $ 38 million
First flight: December 21, 1970
Ready for use: from September 1974
Decommissioned from the United States Armed Forces in April, 2006
Crew: two, one pilot and one radar interception officer (RIO)
Length 19.10 m
Wingspan 19.55 m swung out, 11.65 m swung in, 10.15 m swung in (below deck)
Wingspan 9.97 m
Height 4.88 m
Wing area 52.49 m2
Empty 18,191 kg
Takeoff weight (empty) 26,633 kg
Takeoff weight (with 4 AIM-7 sparrows) 27,068 kg
Takeoff weight (with 6 AIM-54 Phoenix) 32.098 kg
Maximum at start 33.724 kg
Landing weight 23,510 kg
Fuel (max.internal) 7,348 kg
Fuel (max.external) 1,724 kg
Engines Two turbofan engines with afterburner
F-14A: originally Pratt & Whitney TF-30P-412A, now F110-GE-400 like F-14B
F-14B and F-14D: Two General Electric F110-GE-400
TF-30P-412A: 68 KN dry thrust per engine, 93 with afterburner
F110-GE-400: 74 kN dry thrust per engine, 120 with afterburner
Maximum speed Mach 2.37 (= 2,517 km / h)
Combat range:
maximum range 4,232 km
Service ceiling over 56,000 ft (= 17,070 m)
Guns: 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan with 675 rounds
Bombs / rockets 6,577 kg, consisting of AIM-54 Phoenix, AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-7 Sparrow. F-14D can carry additional guided and unguided bombs

Thanks to CHINFO (Pentagon) and AIRLANT PAO (NAS Oceana) for visiting NAS Oceana and the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Peter Boschert

Peter is a photographer covering events in the United States and in Europe. He likes to cover Nellis AFB, NAS Fallon and RAF Lakenheath.

You may also like...