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VFX (Navy Fighter Experimental)

The VFX concept was initiated in November 1967, when Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation submitted an unsolicited aircraft proposal to the Navy. Subsequently, the Chief of Naval Operations recommended a study be made to determine the feasibility of the VFX design. The Navy Fighter Study (NFS) concluded that the new fighter design was feasible and the Navy obtained authority in June 1968 to proceed with Contract Definition. Five companies submitted formal proposals. In January 1969, final evaluation of the proposals was completed and the contract for the F-14A, the designation given to the first development aircraft, was awarded to Grumman in February 1969.

Before the F-14, the carrier-based version of the proposed heavy fighter-bomber F-111B immediately earned the nickname Sea Pig. In 1968 the US House of Rerpesentatives rejected of further authorization for funding of the F-111B enabled the Navy to cancel the detested program that it had been trying to kill from inception. By dropping the F-111B, naval officials expected to open the way for a VFX-1 program (later to become the F-14A), a course they had been pushing since Clark Clifford became defense secretary. On 12 September 1968 the House finally approved an FY 1969 DoD budget that contained an additional $100 million to achieve VFX-1 aircraft initial operating capability by early 1973.

After the failure of the F-111B in the Navy’s TFX (Tactical Fighter Experimental) program, in July 1968 requests for proposals were issued for the new VFX (Navy Fighter Experimental) program. In light of developments in Cold War naval doctrine, the Navy was still in need of a high-performance interceptor to protect the fleet from attacks by air-launched anti-ship missiles.

The VFX (Navy Fighter Experimental) led to the creation of heavy deck interceptor fighter with variable geometry wing F-14, the Tomcat. The Navy wanted a plane with a crew of two persons (tandem) and a powerful on-board weapon control radar, capable of inducing long-range air combat missile (firing range of over 100 miles [160 km - approx military parity). The VFX requirement was for a twin-engined interceptor with a top speed of Mach 2.2, armed with a built-in M61 Vulcan to supplement its missiles, and with a secondary ground attack role. Missiles to be carried would be either six AIM-54 Phoenix or six AIM-7 Sparrow and four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.

Bids were received from Grumman, General Dynamics, Ling-Temco-Vought, McDonnell Douglas, and North American Rockwell. North American paired up with Rockwell to submit a VFX design - the Model NR-323 - a conservative approach for their VFX proposal, based on their design for their land-based F-X (F-15 program) proposal. Superficially resembling a cross between an F-16 and a fixed-wing A-5 Vigilante, their proposal was the only one to feature conventional instead of variable geometry wings. Engines were mounted in a pod underneath the aircraft. Crew were to sit in a nose arching over the chin-mounted intakes, giving the aircraft an interesting look akin to a cross between an F-16, MiG-29, and F-15. The complement of missiles was to be carried under and on the sides of the aircraft. Due to the lack of variable geometry wings, the aircraft featured folding wings and tail surfaces to allow for easier storage aboard the carrier. North American Rockwell’s proposal did not progress beyond paper and models, and was not a finalist in the competition.

Vought’s proposal was the V-507, a swing-wing, single tailed design, able to mount both the six-Phoenix or ten mixed-missile armaments specified. The engines were placed side-by-side, with semicircular intakes on either side of the fuselage. The mockup of the aircraft appeared to show the capability of the tail surfaces to cant downwards. One of the four swing-wing design submitted to the Navy, the design filled the specifications exactly. However, it was not among the designs selected for further development.

General Dynamics design was vaguely similar to their F-111 design, with geometry wings. Differences included being significantly smaller in length and wingspan, while having a larger vertical stabilizer. As per the requirements, the aircraft had crew in tandem, and, to fit better into the carrier, the tailfin folded down to reduce the aircraft’s height from 22 feet to 15 feet. As with the other designs, the armament of missiles would be carried under the fuselage. The General Dynamics proposal was not selected for further development.

McDonnell Douglas proposed possibly the most ambitious VFX design. Like three of the other four designs, their proposal featured variable geometry wings. They also incorporated canards into the design, as well as a double tail. The wings were mounted low on the aircraft, while engines dominated the fuselage. The fuselage was rather boxy and un-aerodynamic, it provided a large space to mount missiles. The ambitious proposal gained favor due to the anticipated good maneuverability that the canards and twin-tails lent themselves to. The design was one of the two finalist designs selected for further development in late 1968.

Grumman's work on the VFX began with the study of the "303" concept. Despite their involvement in the failed F-111B from the TFX competition, Grumman used their experience to create the design that won the VFX competition and would become the F-14 Tomcat. The Model 303 came in a number of different variants, both fixed and swing-wing.

  • 303-60 The January 1968 proposed aircraft: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing
  • 303A Nacelle Modification of 303-60: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing
  • 303B Design 303-60 updated for configuration comparison: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing (see above photo)
  • 303C Submerged Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing
  • 303D Submerged Engines, Low Variable-Sweep Wing
  • 303E Basically, the winning F-14 design: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing
  • 303F Submerged Engines, High Fixed Wing
  • 303G A fighter only version (AWG-10, 4 Sparrows) without Phoenix capability: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing

The winning design, the Model 303E, largely resembled the eventual F-14 Tomcat, except for having a single vertical stabilizer instead of the eventual twin-tailed design. Grumman won the VFX competition in January 1969, with the first F-14 Tomcat taking flight in December 1970.

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Page last modified: 28-04-2016 19:20:20 ZULU