Grumman F-14 Tomcat History Part 2


The US Navy put the F-14A Tomcat into service in 1974 with VF-1 and VF-2. The F-14 took off on its maiden flight in December 1970 and was introduced to the group just three years later! If you compare this with the F-22A, over 10 years passed from the first flight to the introduction of service. Over time, there were 38 units/squadrons that would use this aircraft type. Twenty four deployable squadrons capable of operating from aircraft carriers, 2 training squadrons on the east and west coasts of the United States, 4 reserve squadrons and 8 test units. In the course of the budget cuts from 1988-1996, the deployable squadrons were reduced to 12, the reserve units were deleted and in the end there were only 3 test units that flew the F-14. When the last Tomcats were delivered in 1990-1992, they were delivered to VF-124, west coast training squadron.

With the introduction of the F-14B and D, the Tomcat finally became what it was meant to be from its beginning, the best fighter in the Navy. When the Cold War ended and there was basically no “real” enemy, the Tomcat was converted for other missions. So you could fly the F-14 on night missions and throw laser-guided bombs. The aim of the Tomcat was surprisingly better than that of the USAF (F-15E), it is believed that it is due to the aerodynamics of the weapon holder. Unfortunately there were never enough B’s and D’s to equip all squadrons with it, so there were at most only 5 squadrons with F-14Bs and 3 with D’s, and the F-14Ds were mainly used by the Pacific Fleet. The last two Tomcat squadrons that are [were] used in the Persian Gulf (February 2006) are the first D’s in the Atlantic fleet. After most F-14s had been modified, their service lives were bumped up from 6,000 to 9,000 flight hours, a planned to be in service until 2010.

In the beginning, most of the CVWs had two Tomcat squadrons in use, but a new concept was introduced in 1993 and most carrier wings then only carried one Tomcat unit. Two CVWs had 2 Tomcat squadrons attached to them at the end of the F-14 era. In May 2006 the F-14D of the VF-31 will be the last Tomcats to be decommissioned. The oldest Tomcat also flies there, so after 31 years of service the era in squadron use will end.

Training Units

VF-101 Grim Reapers: NAS Oceana and NAS Key West: F-14A, B, B Upgrade and D, this training squadron started in 1976 with the training of F-14 pilots and RIO´s. About 40 Tomcats were available to train the squadron for training, and in 1988 the Reapers got their first F-14B. Lieutenant Junior Matt Nieswand was the last Tomcat pilot to land on the USS Theodore Roosevelt on April 14, 2005 with his Tomcat Carrier Qualification. The squadron was deactivated on September 30, 2005.

VF-124 Gunfighters: NAS Miramar: F-14A and D, the Guns got their first Tomcat on October 8th, 1972, they trained all Tomcat squadrons on the west coast and the Pacific fleet. In November 1974, the first Tomcat of these squadrons landed on an aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk. The first F-14D came to the VF-124 on November 16, 1990. When the US Navy decided to move all Tomcat units to NAS Oceana, the squadron was deactivated on September 30, 1994.

Operational Squadrons

VF-1 Wolfpack: F-14A on October 14th, 1972 they got their first F-14A and in 1974, after successful training, they went on the first mission with the F-14A Tomcat on board USS Enterprise. This squadron was deactivated on September 30, 1993.

VF-2 Bounty Hunters: F-14A and D, October 1st, 1972, the first F-14A landed in Miramar for this squadron, and in 1993 the first D’s were delivered. In 1996 this squadron also moved to NAS Oceana and the Bounty Hunters became part of CVW-2, placed on board the USS Constellation. VF-2 flew 195 missions on Operation Iraqi Freedom (2002/2003) and dropped 217 GBU 12 and 4 GBU-16. When the Tomcats returned to Oceana in early 2003, a new aircraft was handed over to them, the F-18F Super Hornet and the squadron renamed as a VFA.

VF-11 Red Rippers: F-14A, B Upgrade and D, 1980 upgraded the squadron in Miramar from Phantom to Tomcat and were placed under the CVW-6. In 1992/93 the squadron was converted to the newly introduced F-14D and flew together with VF-31 on the CVW-14 on the USS Carl Vinson. They got the Mutha Prize in 1993! In 1994, the Red Rippers introduced night vision goggles (NVG system), the squadron was instrumental in the development of these. This was completed in 1996 and this year the season finally got the Lantirn pod. When they returned to Oceana on November 12, 1996, the modern Tomcats were taken from them and equipped with F-14B. The conversion was completed in 1997. As part of the CVW-7, they flew aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, and later on the John C. Stennis. Finally, the Red Rippers flew from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. In May 2005 the squadron was renamed VFA-11 and since then they have been flying the F-18F Super Hornet.

VF-14 Tophatters: F-14A, one of the oldest units in the US Navy, in 1999 it celebrated its 80th anniversary. In 1973 the squadron got its first F-14 and in 2001 this unit was also renamed VFA-14 and equipped with the F-18E Super Hornet.

VF-21 Freelancers: F-14A In 1984 this unit was assigned the first Tomcat and on January 31st, 1996 it was deactivated.

VF-24 Checkertails: F-14A and B, on December 9th 1975 the first F-14A was painted with the markings of this squadron. In 1991 it was one of the first squadrons to be upgraded to the more modern F-14B! After 21 years with the F-14, they were deactivated on August 20, 1996.

VF-31 Tomcatters: F-14A and D, January 22, 1981, VF-31 gets its first tomcats and goes on board the John F. Kennedy in 1982 under CVW-3. When the Tomcatters converted to the more powerful F-14D, they boarded the USS Carl Vinson with the sister squadron VF-11, later this squadron flew on the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS John C. Stennis. The VF-31 has been on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt since September 2005 and has been operating in the Persian Gulf. After their return in March 2006, the squadron exchanged their Tomcats for the F-18 Super Hornet and the last F-14 flight took place on June 28, 2006. VF-31 operated as the last Tomcat unit.

VF-32 Swordsmen: F-14A and B upgrade, this unit got its first F-14A in July 1974 and went on its first cruise with them in June 1975. Among other things, the squadron received the “Clifton” award for 17,000 accident-free flight hours with the F-14A in 10 years. The squadron operated for several years on the USS John F. Kennedy, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Enterprice and finally on the USS Harry S. Truman. VF-32 was the first deployment squadron in 1996/97 to fly a new camera in the TARPS container (KS-87). It transmits “real-time images” to the ground station, or via an E-2C or the aircraft carrier over a distance of 300 kilometers. Upon returning from the CVN-75 to the CVW-3 in the summer of 2005, this squadron’s Tomcats were decommissioned and they also received the F-18F Super Hornets and were renamed VFA-32.

VF-33 Starfighters: F-14A, in summer 1981 they got the first F-14A Tomcats. In April 1986, they flew aboard the USS America escort for F-111F of the 48th FW from Lakenheath, bombing Libya. Then they were based on the latest carrier of the US Navy, the USS Theodore Roosevelt. A year later, they went back to the USS America. The squadron was deactivated on October 1st, 1993.

VF-41 Black Aces: F-14A, in April 1976 this unit was converted from the F-4N Phantom to the F-14A and went on board the USS Nimitz with its well-known sister squadron VF-84 with the CVW-8. On August 19, 1981, a Black Aces Tomcat shot down an SU-22 over the Gulf of Sidra. Ronald Reagan personally gave the order at the time, since he was currently on board the USS Nimitz. On December 1st, 2001, the Black Aces gave up their Tomcats and were retrained to fly the F-18F Super Hornet.

VF-51 Screaming Eagles: F-14A, from June 1978 until deactivation on March 31, 1993 the VF-51 flew the F-14A: In early 1990 it was planned to equip this unit, together with VF-111, with F-14Ds; this was later discarded.

VF-74 Bedevilers: F-14A and B, retraining to the F-14A began in February 1983, the first trip went on the USS Saratoga in 1984, the VF-74 were also part of the escort for the attack of the F-111F in Libya. On August 11, 1988 the Bedevilers were the first Tomcat unit to receive the F-14A Plus (later F-14B). VF-74 was the unit with most “Su-27 style camouflage” aircraft. The unit was deactivated on April 30, 1994.

VF-84 Jolly Rogers: (Jack Ernie): F-14A, 1976 the conversion to the F-14A was completed and it went with VF-41 in December 1977 on the USS Nimitz. VF-84 was also the first season to be equipped with the TARPS container in 1979. With the Hollywood flick “The Final Countdown” the Tomcat became famous in 1979/80 and this was further expanded by “Top Gun” in 1986. VF-11 Tomcats ended up in Oceana, but this squadron will also retrain to the F-18F Super Hornet. The first F-18Fs have already landed in Oceana. A long era also comes to an end here.

VF-102 Diamondbacks: F-14A and B upgrade; In July 1981 the conversion from the F-4 Phantom to the Tomcat began, which was completed in May 1982. In 1994 the squadron was then equipped with the more powerful F-14B. On May 1st, 2002 the Tomcats of the Diamondbacks were exchanged for F-18F Super Hornets and the squadron was renamed VFA-102. Today VFA-102 is part of the CVW-5 in Atsugi, Japan.

VF-103 Sluggers / Jolly Rogers:  F-14A, B and B upgrade; In January 1983 VF-103 became the final F-14 squadron. In 1989 the F-14B was introduced. During 1995/1996 the name of the disbanding VF-84 squadron was transferred for historical reasons. The AN / AAQ-14 LANTIRN  pods were tested in 1996 on VF-103 aircraft, and were carried aboard with the squadron in June 1996 on the USS Enterprise. As part of CVW-17, they boarded the USS George Washington in 2000. Back in NAS Oceana, the Jolly Rogers were also equipped with the newer B model, and then the F-14B upgrade (-B+), and then set out on the USS John F. Kennedy. In December 2004 the Tomcats of the Jolly Rogers returned from the Last Tomcat Cruise and converted to F-18F Super Hornets in early 2005.

VF-111 Sundowners: F-14A; In October 1978 this unit was equipped with the Tomcat, and on March 31, 1995 it was deactivated.

VF-114 Aardvarks: F-14A; On December 15, 1975, the Phantom era ended and the F-14A was introduced to the Aardvarks. For budgetary reasons, they were deactivated on April 30, 1993.

VF-142 Ghostriders: F-14A and B; On April 1st, 1975 the Ghostriders got their first Tomcats, later on March 24th, 1989 the F-14B was introduced. The squadron was deactivated on April 30, 1995. This was the sister unit of VF-143.

VF-143 Pukin Dogs; F-14A and B; VF-143 got their first F-14A in April 1975; when the unit was ready for deployment it was moved from NAS Miramar to the east coast at NAS Oceana. Like its sister unit, the Pukin Dogs introduced the F-14B in 1989; later it was replaced by the F-14B Upgrade. VF-143’s cruise occurred on the USS George Washington 2005, then the squadron was renamed VFA-143 and is now flying F-18E Super Hornet.

VF-154 Black Knights: F-14A; In October 1983 the Black Knights were re-equipped with F-14A. VF-154 sent the first Tomcats to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield, later Desert Storm, aboard the USS Independence. In August 1991, the unit switched from NAS Miramar to NS Atsugi in Japan with CVW-5. After fitting the TARPS and LANTIRN systems on their Tomcats, the squadron was equipped for bombing missions. In 1998 the season received the Clifton Award. The Black Knights were part of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2002/2003, where they lost a machine. In September 2003 the squadron moved back to NAS Oceana, the Tomcats were retired, and the squadron moved to NAS Lemoore and converted to F-18F Super Hornet.

VF-191 Satan’s Kittens:  F-14A; This squadron, together with its sister squadron VF-194, has the shortest Tomcat story. On December 4, 1986, she was equipped with the F-14A, assigned to CVW-10 on the USS Independence. Shortly after training with VF-124, the training was abandoned, CVW-10 deactivated on June 1, 1988 and VF- 191 was deactivated on April 30, 1988.

VF-194 Red Lightings: F-14A; In December 1986 the first Tomcats came to this unit, but it then suffered the same fate as its sister unit VF-191, being deactivated on April 30, 1988.

VF-211 Flying Checkmates: F-14A and B; On December 23, 1975, the Christmas present of this season were brand new F-14As for the squadron. In April 1989 the unit was then equipped with the more powerful F-14B, but in 1992 the older F-14As returned. In 2002 the season received the Clifton Award. The last Checkmates Tomcats flew to Davis-Monthan in the AMARC in September 2004, the squadron then converted to the modern F-18F Super Hornet and was renamed VFA-211 on October 1, 2004.

VF-213 Black Lions: F-14A and D: In September 1976 the squadron retired their F-4B Phantoms and switched to the F-14A. In 1997 the Black Lions got their new F-14Ds and came to CVW-11 on the USS Carl Vinson, Unfortunately, it was the only F-14 squadron that took a safety stand-down from flying for a while, but by February 2006, the squadron is on the USS Theodore Roosevelt as part of CVW-8 and on the Last Tomcat Cruise. When the carrier returns to Norfolk in March 2006, the squadron in Oceana will also retrain for the F-18F Super Hornet. A long era also comes to an end here.

Reserve Squadrons

VF-201 Hunters: F-14A, in December 1987 the Hunters released their F-4S Phantom and got F-14A, at home on NAS Dallas, the squadron was converted to the F-18A on January 1st, 1999.

VF-202 Superheats: F-14A, April 10, 1987 the F-14A was also introduced here, but deactivated on December 31, 1994 due to the budget cuts and losses of some F-14As.

VF-301 Devil’s Disciples: F-14A, in October 1984 this unit finally got its first Tomcats, the squadron belonged to the all – CVWR-30 reserve squadron. After deactivation of the CVWR on December 31st, 1994, the squadron was disestablished on December 31st, 1994.

VF-302 Fighting Stallions: F-14A, in February 1985 the first Tomcats received the squadron symbol of this unit, it was also deactivated on December 31, 1994.

Test Units

NFWS and NSAWC: Top Gun F-14A, made famous by the film Top Gun, trained the best Tomcat drivers here. The training was conducted on NAS Miramar, from 1996 it was moved to NAS Fallon and renamed NSAWC. The last Tomcats were flown in Fallon in 2003.

VX-4 Evalutors and VX-9 Vampires: F-14A, B and D, these units test in Point Mugu and have all Tomcat variants (4 A´s, 3 B´s and 4 D´s) available. Here all innovations on the F -14 are tested and brought to the Fleet. VX-4 was deactivated on September 30, 1994. VX-9 flew their last Tomcat to NAS Oceana in 2004. There they were forwarded to active squadrons or flown to the AMARC.

NAWC-AD: F-14A, B and D, in Patuxent River, the Tomcats were also tested for certain weapons and equipment. Among other things, from July 14th 1995 the DFCS (Digital Flight Control System) was tested which was put into service with the US Navy 1998 (VF-14 and VF-41). By 2001 all Tomcats were equipped with it.

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.

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