F-14 Tomcat

Missing image
Sailors prepare an F-14 Tomcat for flight on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003).

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a U.S. Navy supersonic, twin-engine, variable sweep wing, two-seat strike fighter. The Tomcat's primary missions are air superiority, fleet air defense and precision strike against ground targets.

The sole foreign customer for the Tomcat was the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) at the time of the Shah of Iran. A total of 80 aircraft were ordered, but only 79 were delivered, as the last unit was embargoed and turned over to the USN. Some of the surviving Iranian F-14's are reportedly still operational today.



The F-14 was developed to take the place of the aborted General Dynamics F-111B, a navalized version of the U.S. Air Force tactical strike aircraft. Intended to provide fleet air defense, the F-111B proved unmaneuverable, overweight, and, in general, poorly suited to aircraft carrier operations, leading to its cancellation in 1968.

To facilitate early introduction of the F-14 into service the first version of the aircraft was planned using the engine and weapons system technology from the F-111B, and then, progressively introduce new engines and a new weapons system into the F-14 new airframe. Thus, the designation F-14A was assigned to the new aircraft equipped with updated TF-30 engines and the AN/AWG-9 weapons system from the F-111B. A F-14B was planned to follow using the engine from the advanced technology engine competition. Then, the 'B' would be followed by the F-14C with a new weapons system replacing the AN/AWG-9. In the event, the AN/AWG-9 replacement was delayed and when it arrived, as the AN/APG-71, the designation assigned to the new aircraft was F-14D. The F-14C, thus, was never produced.

The Tomcat was intended as an uncompromised air superiority fighter and interceptor, charged with defending carrier battle groups against Soviet Navy aircraft armed with cruise missiles. It carried the Hughes AN/AWG-9 long-range radar originally developed for the F-111B, capable of detecting bomber-sized targets at ranges exceeding 160 km (100 miles), tracking 24 targets and engaging six simultaneously. Originally, the F-14's primary weapon was the AIM-54 Phoenix missile, capable of engaging a target at up to 200 km (120 miles), but this was removed from service on 30 September 2004. The F-14 was the only aircraft to carry this weapon, which was designed as an integral part of the Tomcat weapons system. Medium-range armament is provided by the AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing missile, backed by AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared missiles and a single M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon for close-in use. The F-14 was designed with some air-to-ground capability, but this was not explored until late in its career; Tomcats have now been equipped to carry the LANTIRN targeting system for the use of laser-guided bombs and other precision-guided weapons. Some F-14s are also equipped to carry the Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) pod, giving the Navy what was then its only manned tactical reconnaissance platform.

The F-14 is perhaps the most maneuverable and agile of all swing-wing aircraft. The flat, pancake-like section between the engines acts as an airfoil to provide additional lift, giving the Tomcat an effective wing area about 40% greater than its actual wing dimensions. This results in relatively low effective wing loading. The Tomcat also has a Mach Sweep Programmer (MSP) that automatically adjusts the wing angle for optimum flight performance (the only VG aircraft so equipped -- a similar system was tested but not used for the Panavia Tornado ADV), and movable glove vanes that improve airflow over the wings in fast turns, though these were subsequently removed on later variants. Most variable-geometry aircraft are optimized for fast, low-altitude attack, emphasizing good gust response rather than maneuverability. Despite the Tomcat's considerable size, its agility compares well to many other fighters, although that created problems with the TF30 turbofans, which are subject to compressor stalls in violent maneuvers or high alpha.

The F-14 entered the fleet in 1973, replacing the F-4 Phantom II. VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters were the first Navy fighter squadrons to received the new aircraft. The F-14B, introduced in November 1987, incorporated new General Electric F110 engines. In 1995, an upgrade program was initiated to incorporate new digital avionics and weapon system improvements to strengthen its multi-mission competitive edge. The F-14D, delivered in 1990 in reduced numbers, was a major upgrade with F-110 engines, new AN/APG-71 radar system, Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) and Infrared Search and Track (IRST). Additionally, all F-14 variants were given precision strike capability using the LANTIRN targeting system, night vision compatibility, new defensive countermeasures systems and a new digital flight control system.

An F-14A of , in the old color scheme from the beginning of its service.
An F-14A of VF-84 Jolly Rogers, in the old color scheme from the beginning of its service.

The F-14 is rapidly disappearing from U.S. Navy service. It originally was slated to remain in service through at least 2008, but all F-14As have already been retired, and the remaining -B and -D aircraft are now expected to be gone far before 2008. It is being replaced by the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet.

The Tomcat is said to be named for the late Vice Admiral Thomas Connolly, whose testimony before the Senate was critical in the cancellation of the deeply-flawed TFX project. Connolly's call sign was "Tomcat," hence the popular name which also conformed with the Navy's tradition of giving feline names to Grumman fighters. Ironically, much of the F-14's equipment was re-used from the TFX, including the radar, Phoenix missile, and the Pratt & Whitney TF30 engines.

The Tomcat had extremely limited foreign export sales due to its cost and initial lack of ground attack capacity, but its foreign export sales make for one of the more colorful events in its history. The United States in the late 1970s supplied F-14s to Iran, only to have them fall into the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the 1979 revolution. The US subsequently cut off tech support for the Iranian Tomcats. From that point forward, Iran used the fighter primarily as an airborne radar controller, escorted and protected by other fighters. Iran was unable to regain any substantial ability to maintain the aircraft after that (despite receiving spare parts and missiles for the aircraft during the Iran-Contra affair) and their ability to operate the aircraft as of 2004, while unknown, is estimated to be extremely limited. This may in part be due to purported sabotage of the aircraft or their missile systems by Grumman engineers during the revolution. A handful of the Tomcats were kept flyable by cannibalizing the rest of the planes in the fleet. Some rumors suggest that a few of the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles supplied to Iran before the revolution were sold to the Soviet Union, where they may have strongly influenced the development of the similar Vympel AA-9 'Amos' long-range missile. It is also believed that the MIM-23 HAWK surface-to-air defence missiles that were also a carry over from the pre-revolution period have been adapted to be used as air-to-air missiles and integrated for use with the F-14.

Grumman had submitted several proposals to the Navy to upgrade the Tomcat beyond the D model (such as the Super Tomcat 21, the cheaper QuickStrike version, and the more advanced Attack Super Tomcat 21) but the Super Hornet was chosen as the future Navy attack aircraft instead. Speculation was that Grumman felt they were the only serious option for the Navy to consider and quoted them an inflated estimate for building new F-14s (the airframes already in use were approaching the end of their lives). In an act of reprisal, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney ordered Grumman to destroy the tooling and molds for the F-14. There is some debate whether the destruction was actually carried out in full, however Grumman was acquired by Northrop in 1994 (the F-14 was probably the only program keeping them in business), sealing the fate of the F-14.

Ironically, the original F-14 was intended to be a multi-role aircraft with a potent strike capability from the outset but complexity and budget constraints meant that this support was dropped before the F-14 was brought into service. However this capability was resurrected later in its life with the ability for later model F-14s to carry the LANTIRN pod. With this accessory the F-14 could deliver Laser-guided bombs or many other Navy air-to-ground munitions with a fair amount of accuracy and over intermediate ranges. After the retirement of the A-6 attack aircraft, the F-14 was the longest range strike platform on U.S. supercarriers. It is debatable, and to many doubtful, whether the Super Hornet will be able to deliver the quantity of munitions that the F-14 can over similar ranges. Unfortunately, without the ability to re-manufacture or replace the F-14 fleet, the tired and high-maintenance airframes and engines fitted mostly with technology from the 1970s are on their way out, though by many standards it is still superior to the fighters of many airforces.


USN Squadrons

  • VF-1 Wolfpack (Disestablished September 30, 1993)
  • VF-2 Bounty Hunters (Redesignated VFA-2 with F/A-18F July 1, 2003)
  • VF-11 Red Rippers (Redesignated to VFA-11 with F/A-18F in May, 2005)
  • VF-14 Tophatters (Redesignated VFA-14 with F/A-18E December 1, 2001)
  • VF-21 Freelancers (Disestablished January 31, 1996)
  • VF-24 Fighting Renegades (Disestablished August 20, 1996)
  • VF-31 Tomcatters (Active; scheduled for redesignation to VFA-31 with F/A-18F in 2006)
  • VF-32 Swordsmen (To be redesignated VFA-32 with F/A-18F on October 1, 2005)
  • VF-33 Starfighters (Disestablished October 1, 1993)
  • VF-41 Black Aces (Redesignated VFA-41 with F/A-18F, December 1, 2001)
  • VF-51 Screaming Eagles (Disestablished March 31, 1995)
  • VF-74 Bedevilers (Disestablished April 30, 1994)
  • VF-84 Jolly Rogers (Disestblished October 1, 1995)
  • VF-101 Grim Reapers (Active Fleet Readiness Squadron; scheduled for deactivation in September 2005)
  • VF-102 Diamondbacks (Redesignated VFA-102 with F/A-18F in May 1, 2002)
  • VF-103 Sluggers/Jolly Rogers (Redesignated VFA-103 with F/A-18F May 1, 2002)
  • VF-111 Sundowners (Disestablished March 31, 1995)
  • VF-114 Aardvarks (Disestablished April 30, 1993)
  • VF-124 Gunfighters (Disestablished September 30, 1994)
  • VF-142 Ghostriders (Disestablished April 30, 1995)
  • VF-143 Pukin' Dogs (Redesignated VFA-143 with F/A-18E in early 2005)
  • VF-154 Black Knights (Redesignated VFA-154 with F/A-18F October 1, 2003)
  • VF-191 Satan's Kittens (Disestablished April 30, 1988)
  • VF-194 Red Lightnings (Disestablished April 30, 1988)
  • VF-201 Hunters (Redesignated VFA-201 with F/A-18A January 1, 1999)
  • VF-202 Superheats (Disestablished December 31, 1999)
  • VF-211 Fighting Checkmates (Redesignated VFA-211 with F/A-18F October 1, 2004)
  • VF-213 Black Lions (Active; scheduled for redesignation to VFA-213 with F/A-18F in 2006)
  • VF-301 Devil's Disciples (Disestablished December 31, 1994)
  • VF-302 Stallions (Disestablished December 31, 1994)
  • VX-4 Evaluators
  • VX-9 Vampires

IRIAF Squadrons

Specifications (F-14 Tomcat)

Missing image
An F-14 launches an AIM-7 Sparrow

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2 (Pilot and Radar Intercept Officer)
  • Length: 61 ft 9 in (18.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 64 ft (19 m) unswept, 38 ft (11.4 m) swept
  • Height: 16 ft (4.8 m)
  • Wing area: 565 ft² (54.5 m²)
  • Empty: lb ( kg)
  • Loaded: lb ( kg)
  • Maximum takeoff: 72,900 lb (32,805 kg)
  • Powerplant:


  • Maximum speed: 1,544 mph (2,485 km/h) Mach 2.34
  • Range: 576 miles (927 km)
  • Service ceiling: 50,000+ ft (15,000+ m)
  • Rate of climb: 30,000 ft/min (9,145 m/min)
  • Wing loading: 113.4 lb/ft² (553.9 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.72:1


F-14s in Combat

Missing image
An F-14 launcher an AIM-54 Phoenix during training

F-14s of the U. S. Navy have shot down five enemy aircraft for no losses. One has been lost to a surface-to-air missile.

F-14s in Fiction

  • The Tomcat has appeared in several military novels, films, and television series, the most notable being the 1986 film Top Gun.
  • James W. Huston's novel "Flash Point" is about a group of US naval aviators flying Tomcats.
  • The 1980 time-travel film Final Countdown featured the VF-84 "Jolly Rogers" F-14 fighter squadron aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz.
  • Tomcats were also featured in Tom Clancy's novel Red Storm Rising.
  • The VF-1 Valkyrie robot mecha design in The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Japanese animated series (dubbed and adapted outside Japan as part of Robotech) were also based on the Tomcat.
    • The 2002-2004 animated prequel series Macross Zero featured a F-14A+2 design (a fictional variant of the F-14 Tomcat).
  • Also in the 1982 cartoon G.I. Joe (which it was known as the Sky Striker).
  • The F-14 Tomcat Split-tail also appeared in Dan Brown's mystery novel Deception Point.
  • In the animated series SWAT Kats, the Turbo Kat is very simliar to the Tomcat.

External links

Related content

Template:Commons Related development: F-111B

Comparable aircraft:

Designation Series F-10 - F-11 - YF-12 - F-14 - F-15 - F-16 - YF-17

See also:

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

de:Grumman F-14

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