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F-14 Tomcat

Name: F14 Tomcat

Purpose: Interceptor for Navy

Max speed:
Mach 2

Grumman Aircraft Corp

Other Info:
Designed to carry a lot of payload. Weapons platform for the AGM54 Phoenix

Models known:
F14A, F14B, F14C Tomcat
F14D SuperTomcat
F14A+ SuperTomcat
F/A 14 Bombcat

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The F14 Tomcat's first appearance was in the second part of 1970 and it was the first aircraft from a totally new generation of american fighters, ment to replace the existing airpark of ageing aircraft like the F100 SuperSaber and F-5 Tigershark, F-105 Thunderchief for the Marines and the F4 Phantom for the Navy.
The F14 Tomcat first entered service in November 1970, but it didn't saw much action in what was then left of the Vietnam war.
The Tomcat was built as the first out of a generation which was expected to succesfully counteract the new russian generation of powerful fighters, like the MiG19 and especially the MiG21 Fishbed.
The Tomcat herrited some of its characteristics from the aborted Avenger bomber project, like the jet intakes, model which was later used in the F-15 too.
The F14 Tomcat was made for the job of defending the fleet against any uninvited Soviet or other potentially hostile bombers. For that, it was very big, bigger than any existent fighter at the time and it also had the biggest payload, of no less than 8,000 kg, compared to only 1,500kg of the MiG21.
It also had an extended range, it could reach Mach 2 (which was the standard new maximum speed neccessity for that time) and it could reach a respectable altitude, 18,000m, compared to 17,000m of the MiG21 and less than 15,000m of any other american fighter in service at the time.
The Tomcat entered service in an already agitated world. In it's history, it will see many wars, small conflicts and border incidents.

F-14 TomcatAs you see in this picture, the F14 Tomcat is the first fighter with variable geometry. Well, you can't see in the picture that it's the first fighter of that type, but you can see that its a fighter of that kind

The F14 Tomcat has a variable geometry, which means that at low speeds and low altitudes, its wings could change the incidential angle to fit the aerodynamic requirements. At low speeds the wings sweep forward and provide more stability for the aircraft, as you can see in the picture above. At high speeds and high altitudes, the wings could sweep back and make the aircraft more airodynamic.

F-14 Tomcat US Navy F14C Tomcat at carrier take-off

This wings-sweep is operated automatically by the aircraft's digital fly-by- wire and computers systems, but the pilot could manually overrun the system and sweep the wings as he wants to.
Because the F14 Tomcat is an interceptor, its main weapon is an air-air missile. But the earlier versions of F14 could not fire the AMRAAM missiles, for the simple reason that it had just not been invented yet, so the F14s were originally equipped with the long-range radar-guided Phoenix missiles.
Due to the increasing nombers of an already numerous Soviet Air Force, the US Navy, the US Marines and The Pentagon wanted an interceptor that could be outnumbered in an aerial fight. So, the F14s were each quipped with 3 Phoenix missiles.

F-14 Tomcat US Navy F14C Tomcat

In november 1973, exactley 3 years after the first aircraft entered active service, a demonstration for the Pentagon officials was going to make the F14 one of the most longevive navy aircraft in history and prove the excellent choice of this interceptor for the missile. In a simulated air-air combat situation, 6 enemy aircraft were supposed to attack an aircraft carrier fleet. Two F14 Tomcats would be sent to intercept and destroy the intruders before they can reach the necessary range to fire their weapons at the aircraft carrier battlegroup.
Before of the demo, the Pentagon didn't really believed the the F14s are going to be able to deal with the intruders, so the high military officials that were going to watch the demo waren't really convinced of the capabilities of this new strategy, but during the demo, the F14s fired all their Phoenixes on the enemy, and 5 missiles out of 6 were able to destroy their targets !
The Pentagon was impressed, especially because the 6th missile failed only due to a construction error and not because of its structure, of the strategy of this plan or the F14.

F-14 Tomcat An F14 Tomcat armed with a fully load of 6 AIM54A Phoenix long range air-to-air radar-guided missiles

So, The Pentagon ordered an entire fleet of F14 Tomcats equipped with Phoenix missiles, and so begins the history of this wonderful aircraft still in service today.
The F14 saw a lot of action during the years, it participated in many military operation and it was all the time the key of the carrier's aerial defense.
During the carrier defense missions, the F14 Tomcat would carry out an almoust daily interception of Soviet Tu95 Bear strategic nuclear bombers. The Soviets were intentionatly getting too close to the american carriers on a daily basis in order to test their defences, and not once or twice, the Tomcats got very close to the Soviet bombers and escorted them out of the carrier's red circle.

F-14 Tomcat This is such a mission from the late 1970s, you can observe the two big Tu95 Bears and their amazingally huge twin-counter rotating blades being escorted out of range by this Navy F14A Tomcat

It's interesting that the only country that bought F14s was Iran, when in 1975 the shah of Iran ordered 44 aircraft.
But the F14 was more implicated in smaller conflicts and border incidents rather than in actual full-blast wars. One of those examples is the Libyan incident in 1982.
In october 1982, an american carrier was patroling in the Mediterranian Sea, as usually. But at one time, a fleet E-2 Hawkeye spotted two unidentified aircraft flying straight towards the carrier battlegroup. As unidentified aircraft are not allowed more closely than a certain distance of a carrier, two F14s were deployed to intercept, evaulate, and if needed, shoot down the intruders. So the F14s took-off normally, and set the course for the two unidentified aircraft. As they approach, certain characteristics of the two foreign aircraft, such as speed, course, the flight tactic and radar evaluations identified the two aircraft as being 2 Libyan MiG23 Floggers. This kind of incident has happened many times before, because it often happened that Libyan fighters would fly straight towards a carrier fleet simply to test the American's reaction or to test the carrier's defense. Usually, when the F14s were sent to intercept them, the Libyans' turned home. But that didn't happened this time, and the two enemy MiG23s were flying straight towards the carrier force. So now, the mission of the two F14s quickly transformed from Recconoisance to Interception, with the permission to fully engage and shoot down the MiGs.
So the F14s' pilots prepared themselves and their aircraft for aerial combat, tunning their radars on A/A mode, making the neccesary switches primary to engagements and getting their aircraft as close to sea-level as possible, because in a maritime engagement it is better to start the dogfight from downwards, so that while your radar isn't interfearing with the surface of the water, your enemy's radar is. They also made a half-role in order to put their bodies to -1 G, so that their bodies could get "a feel" of the much higher G-forces they will suffer during the dogfight.

The Lybian MiG23 Floggers were equipped with the Apex air-air missile, which has a maximum range of 20km. The F14 pilots knew that the 20km limit was the point of no-return.
So they engaged the MiGs and shot them down in a dogfight, after which they head course for home.
The next day, Lybian authorities came rushing in the United Nations' forums acusing the United States of shooting down their aircraft and by doing so, of being guilty of attacking a peaceful Lybia. In return, the americans presented the movie of the whole engagement, as it was saw and heard by the pilots of the two Tomcats, and the situation cooled down with time.
The end of the cold war bringed serious changes in the Armed Forces of the formerly enemy two blocks, the Communist Block and the Western Block.

As a result of dis-ammorsing the world's most longevive and dangerous war, the countries of the former Communist Block and the Soviet Union were now much weaken by this new world order, so they couldn't afford to maintain anymore the huge parks of weaponry they had in active service. The Soviet Union was in a very precarious financial condition, and that has contributed too to the end of the Cold War. The other european countries which formely formed the Warsaw Pact together with the Soviet Union, countries like Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Czehoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary were not as weaken as the Soviet Union, but for them it was the beginning of a long agony, as they would try to get back to democracy and head towards private property business and market economy. The dangers of a total nuclear war between two world-rueling superpowers was gone. As both sides were looking for ways to cut down the formerly huge funding for military applications, the Soviet Union, The Russian Federation as it camed to be a little while later, did not had the neccesary funding for mainaining as well as developing new huge quantities of nuclear, chemical and conventional weaponry, while in the West, severe budget cutbacks have forced the US Armed Forces to look for new ways of maintaining a much cheaper, but equally capabile modern military. Old aircraft with a very specific task and which could not integrate in the new multirole type of concept would be removed from the fleet, aircraft like the A6 Intruder and the A-7 Corsair II would be slowly retracted from active service and replaced with new multirole aircraft like the new F/A 18 Hornet.
This particular situation striked directly to the F-14, which was built for a very specific job, -just like the A6 was built for ground attack and the A-7-, as an interceptor. So, the F14s had now to incorporate new capabilities in their arsenal, or they would face extingution, just like the A6 and the A7. But while these disscusions were still undergowing, in the morning of the 6th of august 1990, Saddam Husein, the dictatorial president of Iraq, invaded its southern neighbour, Kuwait, under the pretext that Kuwait has lowered the oil price, and also that Saddam wanted Kuwait to become Iraq's 19th provence.

F-14 Tomcat US Navy F14B Tomcat on an attack mission, deep in Kuwait, 1991

The United Nations imediately condamned the agression, and soon begun to accumulate forces in the area, in case Saddam would not leave peacefully at once. This was called Operation Desert Shield. After many months while American, French, Britain, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Sweden and many other forces gathered together in bases around Iraq, teaming up with countries like Dahrein, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Greece, Turkey and the United Arabian Emirates, the F14s were preparing in the 6 aircraft carriers mushring around Iraq's coastal waters to gain air supremacy above Iraq in a matter of days. Undoubtebly, the two heroes of the Gulf war in the area of fighters were the American F-14 Tomcat and the F15 Eagle, proving once again the huge military power and technological superiority of the United States compared to the ones of its Allies during the war.
The Strike Operation was called Operation Desert Fox, and at 4am on the 17th of january 1991 Allied aircraft rushed into Kuwait and then into Iraq, smashing any iraqi resistence and begining a campaign that would forever remain in the history books.
This campaign prooved once again the power of the allmighty Tomcat, and for the first time since its appearence, the F14s were equipped with ground-striking capability. After the Gulf War, as it would become to be known, the F14s were re-fitted with newer technology, so that they could also accomodate the new AMRAAM missile, as well as air-ground capabilities, being able of firing the Maverick IR, TV and laser-guided air-ground missiles, as well as other types of ammunition.
The F14 Tomcat, altough being the US Navy's interceptor for more than three decades and altough the Navy still has absolutely no real replacement for such a fighter, will slowly be replaced from the carrier decks by the smaller, lighter, cheaper and more agile F/A 18 Hornet.

F-14 Tomcat Seen here on the carrier deck is an F14 Tomcat in the right sitting on permanent hold near an F/A 18C Hornet. The interceptor that defended the carrier for 30 years and its agile replacement, the Hornet

The F14's engines were significantly improved, and the new F14A+ Tomcat has new engines which deliver more thrust, burn less fuel and are easier to maintain than the original ones.

F-14 Tomcat The Helmets weared by F-16 pilots and F14 Tomcat pilots, the two fighters that go against each other on a daily basis in the Top Gun Flight School at Miramar

But action for the Tomcats didn't ended there. They would see more action in the 90s, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in further small UN or US punishment campaigns against Iraq, until the late 90s, when in December the 17th, 1998, at about 5:06am Iraqi time, 280 Tomahawk cruise missiles accompanied by several F14 Tomcats, F18 Hornets and A6E Intruders departured from USS Enterprise striked a short list of targets in Baghdad, Basram and other military locations with lightning precision and ferocity during Operation Desert Fox, initiated by U.S. President Bill Clinton for many reasons, whcih include Iraq's denial in letting UN weapon inspectors to visit its chemical weaponry factories sites, in its involving in international weapon trades and as well as in attacking and herassing UN aircraft in patrol over the no-fly zones in Northern and Southern Iraq, to protect the Kurd minority in the N and the Kuweitian citizens in the South. Iraq was implicated during the last months of 1998 in no less than 430 ??? aerial herassement incidents with the UN aircraft in patrol, including a famous one when an iraqi radar illegaly illuminated 4 british Tornadoes which were on patrol mission in the no-fly zone, having as a result the taking-off of an American F-16C Fighting Falcon from a military base inside Saudi Arabia which fired a AGM-84A HARM(High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) towards the radar sources, resulting in (as the Iraqi foreign secretary says) the killing of 2 iraqi soldiers operating the vehicles and in the destruction of one mobile Surface to Air Missile installation and its assistant mobile radar vehicle.

F-14 Tomcat Hey, nice view guys !

Even after this agitated "life", the F-14s are yet to be pulled-out of the fleet, as new F/A 14 Bombcat modified versions with more dedicated air-ground strike capability are being deployed into active service as we speak, and as the F14 Tomcat is still the only long-range fleet-defending interceptor aboard US aircraft carriers, waiting to be replaced by a new generation of fighters, probably the Joint Strike Fighter Project, but even after the JSF would have entered active service in the US Navy, the F14s would still be in very small nombers aboard american carriers, still doing the mission for which they were first designed, - Fleet Defense -, but integrating of course more offensive and multirole capabilities, such as air superiority and dedicated ground attack.

F-14 Tomcat An F14 Tomcat during air-to-air refueling from an KC-10 Extender

F14 Tomcats were also aboard USS Dwight D Eisenhower in march 1999, during the Kosovo campaign, helping a UN military alliance to sustain peace in Europe, altough that campaign is highly discussible and the alliance has been much smaller than the one in the begining of the decade, in the Gulf War, but it was for maintaining the peace in mainland Europe and prevent Serbian forces to exterminate albanian ethnics in the area. Altough it had bad and unconclusive results, and altough it didn't reached its goals, the Kosovo campaign remains as another proof of the United Nations detearence in maintaining peace around the world, either by political, social and economical agreements, or, as it unfortunately is the case more often, by force.
So, at the end of another decade, the F14 Tomcat is still in active service, defending US carrier battlegroups of any uninvited guests; ending adecade which begun in the freenzy of the end of the world's most dangerous war, the Cold War and which has ended as a new type of small, border, internal or interethnical conflicts appear in various parts of the world, so proved by the Bosnian, Chechnyan, Serbian, Iraqi, Kosovarian and Chechnyan again campaign, as well as smaller conflicts between Isreal and Lebanon in 1996, Haiti in 1992 and Indonesia in 1999.

F-14 Tomcat The almighty F14 Tomcat on a carrier landing, just the second after it hatched the cables
F-14 Tomcat Image from the deck of a typical US aircraft carrier. You can see two Hornets on tandem nuclear steam catapoult take-off

But for a few more years, the US carriers can still rely on an old, but not outdated interceptor, which has done its job ful-time and it is still there to defend the carrier's perimeter, the almighty, - F14 Tomcat -.

All pictures are provided by the US Navy.