The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a unique fighter jet, brought to legend by the movie Top Gun. The fighter jet had great armament capacity.
The F-14 Tomcat was designed by Grumman in an attempt to win credit from the U.S. Navy, which was looking for a new shipborne aircraft to replace the F-4 Phantom II in its fleet. Designed in 1968, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat was equipped with the engines, the variable boom wing and the AWG-9 radar originally intended for the General Dynamics F-111 B shipborne fighter. On January 15, 1969, the F-14 won the final phase of the VFX program ahead of McDonnell Douglas (with their F6D Missileer rejected for its slow and unmaneuverable “bomb truck” concept) and a total of five other competing firms.
The F-14 took to the air on December 21, 1970. On the second flight, following a total hydraulic failure during the approach, the two test pilots are forced to eject. 24 May 1971, the second copy takes off, seven others will follow to be used for the flight tests. The F-14A entered service in October 1972.
The F-14 is an enormous technical success, with its variable geometry wings that allow it to be highly manoeuvrable and its two tail planes above the engines. A very efficient weapon system composed of a Hughes AWG-9 radar which, when coupled with the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles (which it is the only one to carry), allows it to spot an aircraft up to 160 km away and destroy it, but also to monitor 24 aircraft and destroy six at the same time. It can also carry 4 AIM-7 Sparrows and as many AIM-9 Sidewinters plus its left nose gun, a 20 mm M61-A1 multitube, for a total of 6577 kg of weight! Its two Pratt and Whitney F-401 turbofan engines allow it to fly at a maximum speed of around Mach 2.34, i.e. more than 2,500 km/h at high altitude, Mach 1.2, i.e. nearly 1,500 km/h at sea level, its maximum ceiling is more than 17,070 m and finally an autonomy of 3,200 km with its external tanks.
The F-14 is operational on the aircraft carrier Enterprise in 1974. The F-14 has 3 variants: the F-14 A, the first version to be put into service, followed by the B and D versions with a new engine. Only Iran ordered 80 examples for its army. The F-14 was still used until recently during operations in Iraq (Iraqi Freedom). Its long and glorious 30-year career in the Navy ended in September 2006, officially replaced by the F/A 18 Super Hornet. A Super Tomcat 21 version was considered with super-cruise capability, a reduced radar signature and greater range, but this was abandoned in favor of the F-18.
The F-14 was produced until 1992 with 558 units for the US Navy plus 79 for Iran, instead of 80 (Islamic revolution prevented delivery of the last unit), for a total of 637 aircraft.
The Bombcat is the result of the addition of a bombing capability to the F-14A and F-14B Upgrade. Relaunched in the late 1980s, the Bombcat became operational in 1992. It carries avionics similar to the F-14D, then from 1994, a LANTIRN pod, an infrared camera, and a target designation laser. In 2003, it was equipped with GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition).
The F-14C was an aborted project, an F-14B powered by two F-401s (the engine originally requested by the US Navy) and improved avionics for multi-role use.
The F-14D was the last version of the Tomcat and by far the best. It had the same engine as the F-14B, but was equipped with an APG-71 radar (an AWG-9 upgraded with modules from the F-15E’s APG-70, whose maximum range was extended to 370 km), a cockpit with multi-function displays and Link 16. 18 F-14As were converted to F-14D(R) and 37 new aircraft were built. It was delivered starting in 1991.
The first operational deployment of the Tomcat took place in Vietnam, when aircraft flew over Saigon during the evacuation. The American F-14s saw 2 air battles: on August 19, 1981, two F-14s of the VF-41 squadron shot down 2 Libyan Su-22 Fitter using Sidewinder, in self-defense. On January 4th 1989, two F-14s of VF-32 shot down two Libyan MIG-23s again in the Gulf of Sirte.
The aircraft participated in the Gulf War, carrying out patrols over the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, as well as escort and reconnaissance missions. One F-14 was lost and an Iraqi Mi-8 shot down. It was the F-15 that took the lion’s share, the AWG-9 radar being too well known to the Iraqis. It was deployed in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999 and in Afghanistan in 2001. Its last war mission, a bombing of a target in Iraq, was carried out on 8 February 2006 by an F-14 from VF-31. It was withdrawn on 22 September of the same year.
A total of 712 F-14s were built from 1969 to 1991. Grumman proposed a Super Tomcat 21, capable of super-cruising, with a reduced radar signature and greater range. But Congress preferred the F/A-18E and put an end to the F-14 in 1994.
The F-14 was a mythical aircraft, and it deserves it. It was the best of the airborne interceptors, and among the best fighters, during the 1970s and 1980s. It marked its time, and the famous movie “Top Gun” is a witness of it. If it did not really prove its value in combat in the West, it undoubtedly had a dissuasive function, especially at the time when almost all the aircraft carriers of the US Navy carried 24 examples of this aircraft.
At the time, it was very expensive (one example was estimated to cost 38 million dollars in 1998), and was hardly intended for export. Alas, aging very quickly in the 1990s, requiring nearly 50 hours of maintenance for one hour of flight, and increasingly dangerous for its crews, the Tomcat met a sad end. Although a few examples were donated to museums, most of them were scrapped in order to prevent spare parts from falling into the hands of Iran.
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