Tomcat Tribute

The Navy’s fearsome fighter retires.

Feathers ruffled, a "Turkey" rests on the deck of the Harry S. Truman while a Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk hoists in supplies for the carrier population. (PHA Gregory A. Pierot, USN)
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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


Second Shift to VP

For five years, I was going to school during the day at Brooklyn's Polytechnic University and working as a second-shift electrician at Grumman's Calverton plant. Being second shift, we didn't get to see the airplane fly that often, but we'd get a few glimpses now and then, and that's all it took to keep us pumped up about it.

I remember George Skurla coming onto the factory floor in 1973. [Skurla, later president of Grumman, headed a management shake-up of the F-14 assembly process.] He really wanted to get 54 airplanes out by the holidays, and he'd show up once or twice a week. At first it was intimidating, and I wondered, 'Am I doing something wrong?' But I ended up looking forward to his visits. I never forgot the factory floor.>>> Scott Seymour, President, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems, and corporate vice President


[Radar Intercept Officers]

"Do You Have It?"


Coming out of the training command, where you learn self-reliance as a pilot, I struggled with this notion of the F-14 RIO. I especially disliked the idea that the RIO could fire both ejections seats when operating off a carrier. My plan was that if a RIO ever asked me "Do you have it?" I would either fly us out or eject us both.

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