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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"Great-Looking Jet"

I'm flying the Super Hornet now, and it's a very capable jet. The thing is new, and it's as dependable as a Japanese car. Everything works, all the time. But I'm sorry- it just ain't sexy. The Tomcat is sexy. I remember forming up after a fight or something, looking over, thinking, 'Damn, that's a great-looking jet.' The Tomcat is like your 20-year-old cherry Corvette, and the Hornet is like a nice new Accord.>>> Jim "Mouth" McCall, VFA-102


December 30, 1970: Second Flight

After a hydraulic system failure, two Grumman test pilots ejected from the first pre-production F-14. Neither was harmed.

We were about a half mile short of the runway and 25 feet above the trees. Bill [Miller] quickly initiated the ejection sequence. Firing of the canopy and the two seats took 0.9 seconds as advertised; 0.4 seconds later the nosewheel hit a tree. This episode could have been avoided. During a lab test before the first flight, we had to shut the engines down because the aircraft lost hydraulic fluid. We later found out that a report from the lab was working its way through the system over Christmas, telling us that the failure in the test was a fatigue fracture of titanium hydraulic lines, the same failure experienced during our flight.>>>Bob Smyth, test pilot


40 Miles of Wiring

Before becoming a U.S. Navy officer, Lieutenant Commander Walt Winters spent 12 years as an electrician assigned to F-14s. What made the Tomcat such a high-maintenance aircraft (40 hours of maintenance per flight hour), says Winters, is the "40 miles of wiring that was inside of it. Old and brittle, the wires would constantly break and snap" from the stress of launch and landing.

After almost every flight, a team of 12 to 15 maintainers, including at least two electricians, two airframe specialists, and two engine mechanics, would descend upon an F-14 after the pilot had parked it on the flight deck. During flight operations, the team had only 60 minutes to check the Tomcat and ready it for its next launch. Only if a fix would take hours, such as replacing an engine, was an F-14 taken to a lower deck.

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