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F-14 Tomcat

The last F-14 combat mission was completed 08 February 2006, when a pair of Tomcats landed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt after one dropped a bomb in Iraq. By early 2006 only 22 F-14 Tomcats remained in service, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The last two F-14 squadrons returned from theis last deployment on 10 March 2006. VF-213 Blacklions transition to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in April 2006, and the VF-31 Tomcatters give up their Tomcats in September 2006.

Fighter Squadron (VF) 31 returned home to Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana on Oct. 31, 2004, from a five-month Western Pacific deployment with the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). As part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14, the squadron became the last to fly F-14 Tomcats over the skies of the Pacific Fleet. The last of the aircraft in US service were officially retired on 22 September 2006 in a ceremony at Virginia's Oceana Naval Air Station.

Besides the United States, Iran was the only other country that deploys the F-14 Tomcat, and sales of military equipment to Iran was prohibited. By the end of 2006, Iran was the only country operating the F-14. US Customs made multiple arrests in conspiracies to transship military parts to Iran. One seuzure in 2001 involved 16 pallets containing military aircraft parts, missile parts, and other military items, including a crate containing an entire canopy to an F-14 Tomcat Fighter.

In a war against the Soviet Union, carrier battle groups - together with U.S. attack submarines - would be the vanguard of the so-called forward offensive strategy. Under this strategy, naval forces would attempt to gain control in the northern Norwegian Sea and might attempt to strike Soviet forces based on or near the Kola peninsula north of Norway. Carriers might also assist Marine forces in the mission of defending northern Norway from Soviet attack. The Navy intended such a strategy to force the Soviet Union either to withhold forces that might otherwise be used to attack sea lines of communication (where convoys resupplying friendly forces would transit) or to assist in the central European battle in order to attack Norway, defend the Soviet homeland, and protect Soviet ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) that carry strategic nuclear missiles. Soviet naval doctrine stated that protecting the SSBNs is the Soviet Navy's most important task. U.S. naval forces would also pursue a forward strategy in the area of the Kamchatka peninsula in the northern Pacific and in Vladivostok in the Sea of Japan, the other location for Soviet SSBNs.

The Navy planned to defend the carriers, using the strategy of defense in depth. The attacking Soviet aircraft will be met at long ranges by counterair aircraft based on the carriers. This requirement was initially met by the "Missileer," the name given to an aircraft of proposed in the 1950s. The F6D-1 Missileer was not a fighter at all, as a "fighter" is currently defined. It is merely a platform that launched air-to-air missiles. The theory behind the missileer is that high performance can be put into the weapon instead of the aircraft. On 21 July 1960 the Navy announced that a contract for the development of the Missileer aircraft for launching the Eagle long-range air-to-air guided missile, was being issued to the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. Eventually, the Navy development organizations became convinced that the F6D was too slow, too narrow in application, and too expensive [both the Phoenix missiles and the AN/AWG-9 radar used on its replacement, the F-14 Tomcat, evolved from the abortive Douglas F6D Missileer program].

The Navy recognized the advantages of applying the variable-sweep wing concept to multimission aircraft. One ideal application was for naval fleet defense fighters, which must be able to quickly intercept threats and yet slowly approach aircraft carriers to land. Variable-sweep wings in the fully swept (high-speed) configuration permit efficient supersonic dash and the carrier-approach requirements could be met with the wing in the unswept (low-speed) position.

Defense Secretary McNamara said the Navy's requirements should be met by the new Air Force fighter, the TFX. in the Air Force terminology. The Department of Defense selected General Dynamics to develop two versions of the TFX, the F-111A for the Air Force and the F-111B for the Navy. Roll out took place on October 15, 1964, and Secretary McNamara stated that the Air Force and Navy now had an aircraft with the range of a transport, capacity and endurance of a bomber, and agility of a fighter. However, the Navy canceled its portion of the program, in August 1968, having concluded the plane was too heavy for use on aircraft carriers. By that time commonality between the aircraft used by the two services had dropped significantly, with the adoption of different engines.

Following the disastrous attempt to achieve interservice aircraft commonality with the F-111, the Navy issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a new VFX fighter in July 1968. Competitors included Grumman, General Dynamics, Ling-Temco-Vought, McDonnell Douglas, and North American Rockwell. At the request of the Navy, the competing configurations were evaluated with wind-tunnel data from the Langley 8-Foot Transonic Pressure Tunnel, the 7- by 10-Foot High-Speed Tunnel, the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, and the 16-Foot Transonic Tunnel. Langley personnel also participated in briefings of their results to the industry teams and the Navy.

On January 14, 1969, the Navy announced the award of the contract for the VFX fighter, now designated F-14, to Grumman. The Navy bought 583 F-14As through 1988 and procured 55 F-14Ds (a new model) over the five-year period from 1988 to 1992. Consistent with its capability, the F-14D is expensive, with a projected average unit price tag of about $74 million [1988 dollars].

The first problem with the Tomcat that came into the spotlight (other than its engines which had a nasty habit of stalling during certain maneuvers) was that it was a very costly aircraft. Granted, it fulfilled the needs of the VFX (Naval Fighter Experimental) Program almost perfectly, and looked every bit the part of an air superiority fighter that could actually live up to what Grumman promised it could do. However, money and budgeting were constantly been a concern of many a one-star admiral and above.

When it launched off the deck of an aircraft carrier, it was the most feared fighter in the sky. The roar of it's engine is unforgettable. It was the most storied aircraft in the world, a veteran of countless sorties in peacetime and conflict, and popularized in novels and on the silver screen. The F-14B Tomcat was the backbone of naval aviation.

The F-14 Tomcat was a supersonic, twin-engine, variable sweep wing, two-place fighter designed to attack and destroy enemy aircraft at night and in all weather conditions. The F-14 can track up to 24 targets simultaneously with its advanced weapons control system and attack six with Phoenix AIM-54A missiles while continuing to scan the airspace. The Tomcat is the only U.S. plane capable of carrying the long-range Phoenix missile, which can fire at targets from distances of about 80 miles. Armament also includes a mix of other air intercept missiles, rockets and bombs.

Manufactured by Grumman Aircraft Corporation, the F-14 employed variable geometry wings to optimize aircraft performance throughout the flight envelope. The F-14 swing-wing could be manually controlled by the pilot or shifted automatically according to the plane's speed. It moved forward to allow the plane to land on tiny aircraft carrier decks at relatively low speeds and backward as the plane dashed out to intercept Soviet bombers. The multiple tasks of navigation, target acquisition, electronic counter measures (ECM), and weapons firing are divided between the pilot and the radar intercept officer (RIO).

When the F-14 Tomcat thundered off the aircraft carrier's deck into the sky, its wings automatically sweeping back to a 60-degree angle as the two afterburning turbofan engines each kick out 27,000 pounds of thrust, propelling the fighter at more than twice the speed of sound. Inside the wings and fuselage, five internal fuel tanks must securely hold up to 9,000 liters of highly volatile jet fuel under extremes of temperature, vibration, high G forces and other adverse conditions. If a sufficiently large leak in the fuel system should occur near a heat source, there could be disastrous consequences.

Overall, the Navy's Grumman F-14 Tomcat was without equal among Free World fighters. Six long-range AIM-54A Phoenix missiles can be guided against six separate threat aircraft at long range by the F-14's AWG-9 weapons control system. For medium-range combat, Sparrow missiles are carried; Sidewinders and a 20mm are available for dogfighting. In the latter role, the Tomcat's variable-sweep wings give the F-14 a combat maneuvering capability that could not have been achieved with a "standard" fixed planform wing.

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