The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic, twin-engine, variable sweep wing, two-seat fighter designed to attack and destroy enemy aircraft at night or day, and in all weather conditions. Carrier-based, the Tomcat has variable geometry wings for easy storage and increased speed or manoeuvrability. Until its retirement in 2006, it was the primary air-superiority fighter for the U.S. Navy. It was the only airplane that could operate the long-range Phoenix air-to-air missile. In addition, it could carry AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, and carried an internal Vulcan 20mm cannon.
In the 1950s, the Navy was in the market for a high-tech air superiority fighter which could kill Russian "Bear" and "Badger" bombers hundreds of miles away from the carrier, before the Soviet aircraft could fire cruise missiles at the ship. The General Dynamics F-111 program was cancelled by the Navy (it was continued by the Air Force). In 1969, the Navy selected Grumman's prototype. The aircraft was designed to make obsolete, in matters of electronics and armament, every other fighter in the world. The F-14 was equipped to carry up to six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles with over a hundred-mile range. The radar was sophisticated enough to pick six targets from over 30 planes.
Because of the Tomcat's size, and the view it presented when seen from above, pilots jokingly called the plane the "Flying tennis court".
The F-14 began replacing the F-4 Phantom II in U.S. naval service in September 1974. It first saw combat over the Gulf of Sidra, off the coast of Libya, in August 1981. Two Tomcats shot down two Libyan Su-22 Fitters after one of the Fitters had fired a missile at them. In January 1989, F-14s again saw action against Libyan planes, this time two F-14s downed two MiG-23 Floggers off Tobruk.
F-14s were also active over the Persian Gulf when the US was escorting oil tankers in Operation Earnest Will. On August 8, 1987, an Iranian F-4 Phantom, a type which had been involved in strikes on shipping before, get a little close and two F-14s from the USS Constellation fired two Sparrow missiles. One missile malfunctioned, and the Phantom crew evaded the other and escaped.
During the Gulf War, F-14s were mainly involved in standing combat air patrols over the fleet and escorting strike packages. One Tomcat was shot down by an Iraqi SAM, the RIO being captured, but the pilot was rescued. On February 6, 1991, a Navy pilot off the USS Ranger scored the F-14’s final air-to-air victory ever in this conflict, an Mi-8 helicopter. Coincidentally, the F-14’s very first air-to-air victory was also an Iraqi helicopter, shot down by an Iranian Tomcat in the first days of the Iran-Iraq War.
The Tomcat in popular culture
The Tomcat had a gift for show business. Its first movie appearance was in The Final Countdown in 1980, where the USS Nimitz goes back in time to December 7, 1941. However, Top Gun made the Tomcat a star.
The Tomcat has been replaced by newer planes in the United States Navy. In order to prevent spare parts reaching the Iranian Air Force (Iran uses those planes based on purchases of 80 Tomcats and 633 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles they made under the Shah), the United States government is having the planes destroyed.
Type: Two-seat carrier-borne fighter
Powerplant: Two 20,900 lb. thrust Pratt & Whitney afterburning turbojets
Performance: Mach 2.34 (1564 mph) at altitude
Weight: (empty) 39,310 lbs. (normal take-off) 58,539 lbs.
Dimensions: Wingspan(unswept) 64 ft. (Swept) 38 ft. Length- 61 ft. Height- 16 ft.
Armament: 1 General Electric M61A-1 20 millimeter multi barrel Vulcan cannon with 675 rounds, and either
6 Hughes AIM-54 Phoenix missiles
Current operators: Iran
Previous operators: US Navy, US Marine Corps