Tales of the F-14

More recollections of the fabled fighter

(Dave Parsons)
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(Continued from page 3)

We took an F-14 and instrumented it, flew it, and compared (fatigue measurements) to fleet data. We found it had 20 percent more life left in it. We saved the Navy $250 million, and added another life to the nine lives of the Tomcat. Well, I guess it was two lives, since it was 20 percent.

We had this great 8-inch by 8-inch display in the back seat. With that and the (Lightning) pod, the F-14 could carry a 2,000-pound weapon. It became the number one choice for fleet missions...We implemented the Lightning pod, laser-guided and GPS guided weapons very quickly. We went from turning on the pod to implementing it in the fleet in six months...The best way to do something ‘lean’ is to gather a tight group of people, give them very little money, and very little time.”

Like Sitting in a Cadillac

Charlie Brown, a Vietnam-era combat pilot who flew Bearcats and two years in Phantom IIs, was part of the F-14 design team as well as an experimental test pilot with Grumman.

“The [Navy] specs called for Mach 2.34. We actually tested the airplane for Mach 2.5. I flew it 2.5 a couple times. When you fly a Phantom, it’s built for 2.0, but when you fly that fast you know it. It’s like sitting on a beach ball; you don’t know which way it’ll go, it’s so sensitive. In a F-14 it’s like sitting in a Cadillac. It’s solid. You don’t realize you’re going that fast.

On December 30, 1970 Grumman took its new warplane for its second flight. It ended in a crash, and accusations were made regarding the choice of materials.

They wanted to get it in the air that year. The first flight [lead pilot] Bob Smyth and [project pilot] Bill Miller were going to takeoff, circle the field and land. I think it was a 35-minute flight. For the second flight, they took off and they got into the operations area and were testing, and the chase pilot recognized a loss of hydraulic fluid, being red and streaming on the airplane or streaming off the tailpipe. They proceeded to lose system after system...At 100 or 200 feet from landing the airplane went full nose down so they punched out. What happened was simple and understandable. Before you put up for first flight you put it through systems mockup and ground testing for vibration and things.... A short time before flight the flight test department decided they needed a parameter to check hydraulic pulsations in the system. We used titanium lines to lighten airplane instead of tried-and-true aluminum.... They connected a pressure sensor somewhere around the pressure pump. It was this line that failed. The configuration had not gone through the full ground test workup with the rest of airplane and systems. This small line was not clamped adequately and the vibration of the second flight was enough to crack the line. The whole titanium system was badmouthed for failing, but that’s not what really happened…

“The physics of getting supersonic air into the engine required rectangular air inlets. The engine only accepts subsonic air, or it’ll stall. How do you slow that air down? With moveable ramps. Hydraulic pistons move in such a fashion to slow air down as it goes to the forward compressor section of engine. These are computer-controlled. The air coming to the engine also has to have a fairly smooth flow, particularly with the TF30 engine from the F-111B program [which was sensitive to airflow disturbances and rapid throttle changes]. To get the airflow down in high Mach and maneuvering situations...was another challenge to the inlet designers. It was a challenge and we handled it…

“The F-14 was crafted to win dogfights. The tools it had for this mission were ideal at long and short ranges…

“The Tomcat’s air-to-air weapons mix was just unmatched. The Phoenix gives you up to 110-mile range. It launches and...[after a programmed number of feet] the missile turns on its own radar where told to look. It was a launch-and-leave situation. You can launch six and track more than 30 targets. One step down was the Sparrow, at 20-25 miles. Then you step down to infrared sidewinder. Now you’re talking feet-you’ve got that 25-mm gun, with about 600 rounds of ammo, so you have a full minute of firing time.


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