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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First time I actually saw the airplane was when I went up to Grumman [for Navy acceptance trials]. I had seen drawings, and we'd been keeping track of it. It looked beautiful. You were just counting the days until you could get the chance to fly it. Down low, going real fast, there was nothing that could keep up with it. And it was rock steady. Just rock steady.>>> Jay "Spook" Yakeley, Commander, CVW-14, CCG-3


The Achille Lauro Incident


In 1985, the U.S. Navy sent F-14s to intercept an Egyptian airliner carrying four Palestinians who had hijacked a passenger liner. After murdering one passenger, the hijackers sailed to Egypt and negotiated safe passage in return for the safety of the remaining passengers.

After the Saratoga got word from the Pentagon via the 6th Fleet to find the 737, the carrier's airwing and crew scrambled to fire Tomcats into the darkness. Once we intercepted the airliner, Ralph Zia in the E2 told the Egyptian pilot to proceed to Sigonella, Italy [a NATO base], not his intended destination, Libya. Ralph got your basic 'It's too hard, and who are you, anyway?' Steve "Spoon" Weatherspoon and his RIO Woody Widay got up close, flipped on their lights, and the pilot became much more cooperative. We all know how big the Tomcat looks up close, even to an airliner.

We headed east down the Med at about .88 Mach, cruise speed for the 737 but a gas burner for us. We were covering huge distances and out of direct comms with the ship. The E-2 was rattling and shaking as it drove past its speed limit to stay within radio contact with us. Things got more hectic as we reached Sigonella. The 737 was way too low on his first approach and almost bought it until we flew past him to make him go around. He finally put it down. Thanks to outstanding tanker pilots and the Saratoga's skipper, we hit a tanker on the way home and got safely back to the carrier 500 miles away.>>> Ken "Frog" Burgess, VF-74

One hijacker was jailed; two paroled. The last, captured in Iraq in 2003, died in custody.


[Summing Up]

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