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Grumman F-14 Tomcat

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a variable geometry wing aircraft, which is the United States Navy's primary maritime air superiority fight, fleet defence interceptor, and tactical reconnaissance platform from 1974, until September 22nd, 2006, when it officially retired from active duty in the United States Armed Forces, having been replaced by the McDonnel Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. However, some countries still operate F-14s, such as the Iran.

For full description page of the image above, click here.

The Tomcat replaced the McDonnel Douglas F-4 Phantom II when it first entered service in 1972 with the United States Navy, and it was the first American teen-series fighters which were designed incorporating the lessons learnt in air combat with MiGs in the Vietnam War.


The F-14 Tomcat was designed as both an air superiority fighter and a long range, naval interceptor. The F-14 has a two seat cockpit with a canopy that affords 360 degree visibility. The plane features variable geometry wings that swing automatically during flight. For high-speed intercept, they are swept back; they swing forward to allow the F-14 to turn sharply and dogfight. It was designed to improve on the F-4 Phantom's air combat performance in several respects. The F-14's fuselage and wings allow it to climb faster than the F-4, while the twin-tail arrangement offers better stability. During the Vietnam conflict, the F-4's lack of a gun was criticized by fighter pilots, and the belated use of a 20 mm gun pod attached to a hardpoint, while useful, was not an optimal solution. As a result, Grumman equipped the F-14 with an internal 20 mm Vulcan Gatling-type gun mounted on the left side, and can carry Phoenix, Sparrow, and Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles. The U.S. Navy wanted the F-14 to have a thrust-to-weight ratio of one or greater, though this was not achieved until after the F-14 entered service because of delays in engine development.

1. Wings and Fuselage

The fuselage consists of a large flat area called the "pancake". Fuel, electronics, flight controls, and the wing-sweep mechanism are all housed in the fuselage "pancake". The "pancake" also provides additional lift. The wings pivot from two extensions on either side of the "pancake", called wing gloves. The twin engines are housed in nacelles below and slightly to the rear, with the fuselage smoothly blending into the shape of the exhaust nozzles. The nacelles are spaced apart 1 - 3 feet. This produces a wide tunnel between the nacelles which causes some drag. However, this tunnel provides space to carry Phoenix or Sparrow missiles, assorted bombs, or the TARPS reconnaissance pod, and increases fuel capacity and room for equipment.

The F-14's wing sweep can be varied between 20° and 68° in flight, and is automatically controlled by an air data computer. This maintains the wing sweep to give the optimum lift-to-drag ratio as the Mach number varies, but the system can be manually overridden by the pilot if necessary. When the aircraft is parked, the wings can be "overswept" to 75°, where they overlap the tail to save space on tight carrier decks. In an emergency, the F-14 can land with the wings fully swept to 68°, although this is far from optimum and presents a significant safety hazard. The F-14 can also fly and land safely with the wings swept asymmetrically, in emergencies.

2. Armament

The Tomcat was originally designed to combat both highly maneuverable aircraft and the Soviet cruise missile/bomber threat. As a result, the aircraft was designed to act effectively in every aspect of air combat. For weaponry, the Tomcat was mainly designed as a platform for the formidable AIM-54 Phoenix, but unlike the stillborn F-111B it could also engage medium and short range threats. As such, the F-14 was a full air superiority fighter and not only a long range interceptor. It had the standard US gun, the M61 Vulcan, with 676 rounds and 4,000 or 6,000 RPM selectable (the latter usually for air-to ground missions). Over 6,700 kg of stores could be carried for combat missions in several hard points under the belly and on wing-mounted hardpoints. Commonly, this meant a maximum of two - four Phoenixs or Sparrows on the belly stations, two Phoenixs/Sparrows on the wing hardpoints, and two Sidewinders on the wing hardpoints. On occasion, four AIM-7 Sparrows (on the belly) and four AIM-9 Sidewinders (on the wingmounts) were carried, similar to the F-4 and F-15.

The theoretical maximum load of six Phoenix missiles was so heavy that such a combination was never used operationally. This meant the capability to engage six targets went unused, although early testing proved it was possible and the F-14 was never operationally required to engage six hostile targets simultaneously. Tomcats were rarely sent on patrol alone.

Operational History...

The F-14 began replacing the F-4 Phantom II in USN service starting in September 1974 with squadrons VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters aboard USS Enterprise and participated in the American withdrawal of Saigon. The F-14 had its first kills on August 19th, 1981 over the Gulf of Sidra in what is known as the Gulf of Sidra incident after two F-14s from VF-41 Black Aces were engaged by two Libyan Su-22 "Fitters". The F-14s evaded the short range heat seeking AA-2 "Atoll" missile and returned fire, downing both Libyan aircraft. U.S. Navy F-14s once again were pitted against Libyan aircraft on January 4th, 1989, when two F-14s from VF-32 shot down two Libyan MiG-23 "Floggers" over the Gulf of Sidra in a second Gulf of Sidr incident.

While the Tomcat was being used in combat in its intended air superiority mission over the skies of Iran in the early 1980s, the US Navy found itself flying regular daily combat missions over Lebanon to photograph activity in the Bekaa Valley. At the time, the Tomcat had been thought too large and vulnerable to be used overland, but the need for imagery was so great that Tomcat aircrews developed high speed medium altitude tactics to deal with considerable AAA and SA-7 SAM threat in the Bekaa area. An urgent combat need was stated to address the Tomcat vulnerability in this type of mission. The first exposure of a Tomcat to a SA-2 was over Somalia in April 1983 when a local battery was unaware of two Tomcats scheduled for a TARPS missions in prelude to an upcoming international exercise in vicinity of Berbera. An SA-2 was fired at the second Tomcat while conducting 10 thousand foot mapping profile at max conserve setting. The Tomcat aircrews spotted the missile launch and dove for the deck thereby evading it without damage.

During the Gulf of Sidra operations in 1986, the Tomcats were used in over-water missions only due to their vulnerability overland. It was not until Desert Shield that US Navy Tomcats were introduced to overland combat operations on a regular basis.

The participation of the F-14 Tomcat in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm consisted of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the Red Sea and Persian Gulf and overland missions consisting of strike escort and reconnaissance. Until the waning days of Desert Storm, in-country air superiority was tasked to USAF F-15 Eagles due to the way the Air Tasking Orders (ATO) delegated primary overland CAP stations to the F-15 Eagle. The governing Rules of Engagement (ROE) also dictated a strict Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) requirement when employing Beyond Visual Range weapons such as the AIM-7 Sparrow and particularly the AIM-54 Phoenix. This hampered the Tomcat from using its most powerful weapon. Furthermore, the powerful emissions from the AWG-9 radar are detectable at great range with a radar warning receiver. Iraqi fighters routinely displayed countertactics as soon as the Tomcats "lit them up" with the AWG-9. The Iraqis would immediately abandon the attack while well out of range, perhaps indicating their familiarity with both the Tomcat and the AIM-54 from previous encounters with Iranian F-14s. The US Navy suffered its only F-14 loss from enemy action on January 21th, 1991 when b/n 161430, an F-14A upgraded to an F-14A+, from VF-103 was shot down by an SA-2 surface-to-air missile while on an escort mission near Al Asad airbase in Iraq. Both crew survived ejection with the pilot being rescued by USAF Special Forces and the RIO being captured and held by Iraqi troops as a POW until the end of the war. The F-14 also achieved its final kill, an Mi-8 "Hip" helicopter, with an AIM-9 Sidewinder.

In 1995, F-14s from VF-14 and VF-41 participated in Operation Deliberate Force as well as Operation Allied Force in 1999, and in 1998, VF-32 and VF-213 participated in Operation Desert Fox. On 15 February 2001 the Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM was added to the Tomcat's arsenal. On 7 October 2001 F-14s would lead some of the first strikes into Afghanistan marking the start of Operation Enduring Freedom and the first F-14 drop of a JDAM occurred on 11 March 2002. F-14s from VF-2, VF-31, VF-32, VF-154, and VF-213 would also participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The F-14s of VF-31 and VF-213 deployed on its last combat cruise on USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2005.


The remaining intact US Navy F-14 aircraft have been stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group "Boneyard", at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. As of July 2007, many of the remaining 165 aircraft were being shredded to prevent parts from being acquired by Iran, the only other nation to buy the F-14. By July 2007, 23 F-14s had been shredded at a cost of $900,000. Because of the strength of the landing gear, it was removed before shredding and cut up with a torch.

Specifications (F-14D Super Tomcat)...

1. General Characteristics

Crew: 2 (Pilot and Radar Intercept Officer)
Length: 62 ft 9 in (19.1 m)
Spread: 64 ft (19.5 m)
Swept: 38 ft (11.58 m)
Height: 16 ft (4.88 m)
Wing area: 565 ft² (54.5 m²)
Airfoil: NACA 64A209.65 mod root, 64A208.91 mod tip
Empty weight: 43,735 lb (19,838 kg)
Loaded weight: 61,000 lb (27,700 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 74,350 lb (33,720 kg)
Powerplant: 2× General Electric F110-GE-400 afterburning turbofans
Dry thrust: 13,810 lbf (61.4 kN) each
Thrust with afterburner: 27,800 lbf (124.7 kN) each

2. Performance

Maximum speed: Mach 2.34 (1,544 mph, 2,485 km/h) at high altitude
Combat radius: 500 nmi (575 mi, 926 km)
Ferry range: 1,600 nmi (1,840 mi, 2,960 km)
Rate of climb: >45,000 ft/min (229 m/s)
Wing loading: 113.4 lb/ft² (553.9 kg/m²)
Thrust/weight: 0.91

3. Armament (13 000 lb (5,900 kg) of ordnance) including:

Guns: 1× M61 Vulcan 20 mm Gatling Gun
Missiles: AIM-54 Phoenix, AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air
Loading configurations:
2× AIM-9 + 6× AIM-54
2× AIM-9 + 2× AIM-54 + 3× AIM-7 (Most common loadout)
2× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-54 + 2× AIM-7
2× AIM-9 + 6× AIM-7
4× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-54
4× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-7
Bombs: GBU-10, GBU-12, GBU-16, GBU-24, GBU-24E Paveway I/II/III LGB, GBU-31, GBU-38 JDAM, Mk-20 Rockeye II, Mk-82, Mk-83, and Mk-84 series iron bombs

4. Avionics

Hughes AN/APG-71 radar


YF-14 '157984' displayed outside of the National Museum of Naval Aviation in April, 2008. For full description page, click here.

To see full list of surviving F-14s, click here.

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