The Navy's fearsome fighter retires.
- Air & Space magazine, September 2006
PHA Gregory A. Pierot, USN
Was it the size? The F-14 was big. At 65,000 fully loaded pounds, it was the heaviest fighter ever to be catapulted from an aircraft carrier. Or was it the fluid maneuverability of an aircraft that large, or its Mach 2-plus speed, or the chest-thrumming roar of two powerful engines? Maybe it was simply the fact that in a movie with one of Hollywood's biggest stars, the Grumman F-14 stole the show. Probably all of those factors account for the Tomcat phenomenon: Though it rarely got the chance to prove its air superiority, the F-14 is wildly popular with aviation enthusiasts around the world.
They have the Soviets to thank. Were it not for the Tupolev Tu-95 Bear bomber and increasingly capable anti-ship weapons, there would have been no need for a supersonic fleet protector. With a radar and missile suite powerful enough to destroy a threat from 100 miles away, the F-14 was built to whup the Bear and its formidable fighter escorts. In its 34-year career, however, the F-14 shot down only five enemy aircraft, four of them Libyan fighters opposing in 1981 and 1989 the U.S. presidents' carrier-backed contention that the Gulf of Sidra was international, not Libyan, waters.>>> The Editors
Some statements were compiled for the book Grumman F-14 Tomcat: Bye-bye Baby by Dave Parsons, George Hall, and Bob Lawson (Zenith Press, 2006) and are used with permission.
You are on the Landing Signal Officer platform of the USS Kitty Hawk, off the coast of California. It's a warm December night in 1993. Out of the starry black sky comes an ungodly roar followed by an enormous slab of a wing and huge vertical stabilizers. Thirty tons of Tomcat hurtles by, eclipsing the stars, trailing fire, feeling for the 3 wire. The beast slams onto the deck and instantly goes to full power (in case the hook misses), which rattles your very bones and literally takes your breath away. The airplane has just conveyed the message, "I am the biggest, baddest Grumman cat ever to fly off a carrier. YOU GOT THAT, you miserable civilian scum?">>> Patricia Trenner, Air & Space
How the Tomcat Got Its Name
By now the story of Vice Admiral Thomas Connolly and his support for the Grumman F-14 has become a Navy legend. As the deputy chief of naval operations, Connolly famously testified against the General Dynamics F-111B, countering a powerful Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who believed an all-service airplane would reduce cost. The F-111B was canceled, and Grumman won a contract to replace it. Historians have written that Connolly's 1966 testimony was a career ender, but it won him immortality in the naming of the F-14. The aviator had flown Wildcats in World War II; his call sign: "Tomcat." Another influential Tom, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, was the chief of naval operations at the time, and his name may have helped the cause.
Don't Call Me Turkey
At first I didn't like it when I heard the nickname "turkey." I thought it was disrespectful, until one day I was in the ready room watching a recovery. When you're in the ready room, everything just stops when an airplane is recovered. Everybody's watching the TV screen to make sure it goes okay. So I'm watching the airplane come in, and it has so many moving surfaces-these huge horizontal stabilators that are as big as an A-4's main wing and they move differentially, and the spoilers rise on the wing, and it's flapping and rocking. And I had to admit: It looked just like a turkey.>>> Dave "Hey Joe" Parsons, VF-102, -32, -101
Snakes in the Cockpit
BY THE TIME I SWITCHED to the F-14, I had over 1,000 hours and 300 traps in the F-4 Phantom. The F-4 was very stable in the landing configuration compared to the F-14. The Tomcat's swing wing allowed slower, safer approach speeds, but that required more and larger flight control deflections. It looked like we were beating snakes in the cockpit. Day traps were fun. Night traps were different. Some pilots couldn't get to sleep for hours afterward.
One of our first-cruise [radar intercept officers], after a night trap, asked his pilot why it took so long to get out of the cockpit after engine shutdown. The RIO would stand on the flight deck waiting and waiting. The pilot, an experienced combat veteran, explained that he needed time for his knees to stop shaking before he could safely climb down the ladder. The RIO told me he never looked at night traps the same way again- and never asked another pilot why it took so long to get out of the cockpit.>>> CJ "Heater" Heatley, VF-21
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
I had good and bad days in the jet, but I think I was only terrified twice. In 1978, we were chained on the deck near the tower, and Marc "Tag" Ostertag and Tim "Spike" Prendergast were ready to launch. Suddenly, the release assembly fails and they start down the cat in slow motion. Supposedly never happened before or since. Don't you hate it when they say that? Tag lights the burners, but the jet limps off the bow and disappears. Just then the jet's nose raises above the waves, and all we see is the glow of the seat rockets and then two chutes. But wait a minute - there goes the Tomcat, straight up in full afterburner like the space shuttle. Pull that thousand pounds out of the nose and watch out. The thing climbs to about 2,000 feet, flops over on its back, and next thing ya know it's headed straight at us. We're strapped in and waiting to die. It hit the water right alongside the ship. I wasn't sure I was ready to try my luck on the bow cats after that, but we did. My God, the stuff we laugh about now.>>> Monroe "Hawk" Smith, CO, Topgun, VF-123