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170 F-14s could provide the same level of Defense as 290 F-15s but USAF bought the Eagle instead of the Tomcat. Here’s why.

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The Phoenix missile system alone was far more capable than the Eagle’s AIM-7 Sparrow. Studies indicated 170 F-14 Tomcats could provide the same level of Defense as 290 F-15 Eagles.

Advancements during the Cold War in Soviet long range patrol and bomber aircraft dictated a requirement for a fleet defense fighter that could engage high-altitude bombers from well beyond visual range. The iconic F-14 Tomcat was Grumman’s answer. Equipped with long range AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles, F-14s could engage multiple hostiles over 90 miles away. Needing an interceptor’s high speed while carrying this heavy ordnance, Grumman produced the highly effective variable sweep wing of the F-14, enabling it to operate at a wide range of airspeeds.

Following Grumman’s tradition of naming its aircraft after cats, the new “Tomcat” made its first flight in December 1970. After a number of changes following flight testing, the first F-14As were delivered to the Navy in June 1972, with Fighter Squadron (VF) 124 designated to provide crew training.

In the same year the F-14 was also offered to the US Air Force, as the photos in this post show.

Taken at the Grumman Calverton test facility in the summer of 1972, the interesting images in this post show the mock-up of the so called “ADCOM F-14” created by Grumman in response to an U.S. Air Force (USAF) proposal to replace the Convair F-106 Delta Dart as an Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM) interceptor in the 1970s. Note the simulated “Buzz Code” and Aerospace Defense Command livery and emblem on the tail.

To meet this need, Grumman developed an F-14B Tomcat Interceptor variant, with a single example in mock-up form produced in 1972. The modifications included changes to the missile launchers and increased internal fuel capacity, but little interest was shown and the project quickly died.

Actually the USAF tested the F-14 but the USAF opted to purchase more F-15 Eagles. As told by David F. Brown in his book Tomcat Alley: A Photographic Roll Call of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, when comparing the air defense capabilities of both, the purchase of the F-15 seemed foolish. The Phoenix missile system alone was far more capable than the Eagle’s AIM-7 Sparrow. Studies indicated 170 Tomcats could provide the same level of Defense as 290 F-15 Eagles. General Daniel `Chappie’ James, the former Commander of NORAD, personally evaluated the Tomcat. He recommended that it be purchased by the USAF.

Today it is the F-15 Eagle which guards the sky over the continental United States; the F-14 was defeated by interservice rivalry, by politics and…… by its high cost.

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