F-14 Tomcat

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A Tomcat fies over a burning Iraqi oil complex during Desert Storm.

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.[1] 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.[2] In January 1989, F-14s again saw action against Libyan planes, this time two F-14s downed two MiG-23 Floggers off Tobruk.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5] 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.

An F-14 shows off six Phoenix missiles.

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 movie Top Gun was supposed to star Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. The way it worked out, though, it had the F-14 as the star, and relegated Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis to supporting roles.

The F-14 performed equally well on the small screen, frequently guest-starring on the TV series JAG and playing a supporting role on the anime series Area 88.


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

4 Hughes AIM-54 Phoenix missiles and 2 AIM-7 Sparrow missiles or 2 AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles

2 Hughes AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, 2 AIM-7 Sparrow missiles, and 2 AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles

Current operators: Iran

Previous operators: US Navy, US Marine Corps

External links


  1. Fighter, by Jim Winchester, 2006
  2. Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy, by Craig L. Symonds, 1995
  3. Article in Time Magazine
  4. Iranian F-4 Phantom II Units in Combat, by Farzad Bishop and Tom Cooper, Osprey Publishing, 2003
  5. F-14 Tomcat Combat