In designing the cockpit, we worked with the project pilot who went through system by system with each of the engineers in order to whittle down the number of discrete controls in order to justify every one that the engineer thought was necessary. In the flight control system the number of caution and warning indicators was reduced. Some of the engineers wanted a first level warning of every first level system, but we simplified the number of cautions and warnings. The objective, among other things was that it was a Navy airplane and the Navy didn’t want a pinball machine in the cockpit. They didn’t want a pilot being distracted while he’s being shot off the catapult.
Since the airplane was capable of a long-endurance mission—six hours in the airplane—we tried to make the cockpits comfortable. If you’ve ever sat on an ejection seat, it’s like sitting on a brick. We made use of tempurpedic foam-the same stuff they’re yaking about for mattresses. We had people sitting in the mockup for 6 to 12 hours in the configuration that we intended to produce, so we wound up with a comfortable cockpit.
Packaging some of the stuff to fit the narrower contours of the F-14 was a challenge, but we never wound up with boxes left sitting on the desk. When you package a fighter, if you have any voids in the airplane you didn’t do your job right.
The canopy would have been made out of one piece but we couldn’t find anybody who could make a big enough piece of plexiglas at the time.
Integrating the head up display was a problem. Given the technology at the time, it was a huge box: the optics were about ten inches in diameter. Being able to fit the reflector plate under the windshield at an angle that would avoid double images was tough. The line of vision is collimated at infinity. The symbology is off in the distance it you don’t know have the HUD and windshield matched correctly: Targets could appear to be where they are not. The HUD has a flat reflector plate, and you end up with refraction problems that can cause double images if the curvature of the windshield is not correct.
We gave the F-14 a flat windshield as opposed to the F-15’s single curvature. A flat window fit into the windshield gave more ballistic protection; it was more bullet-proof than the two side shields.
We got it right because somebody else had made the mistake before we did. The F-111 had a sharply raked windshield for aerodynamic reasons and it created problems. The F-14 windshield is raked at only 30 degrees so you don’t reflect more of the light coming in than you refract. It’s a pull and tug operation: The aerodynamics guys would like no windshield on the airplane. They’d like a bullet. Then we come along and put a bump there.”
An F-14 Every Week
Bob Klein, vice president of logistics and technology at Northrop Grumman, was the company’s last chief engineer of the F-14 program. He worked on an assembly line while in high school, in 1974.
“We built an F-14 once a week. Grumman had a program that took two scholarship winners, and if you were studying engineering you’d work in production for one month, seeing how airplanes are put together. I learned more in that one month (on the assembly line) than in the rest of my career.