Here’s What Everyone Forgot About The F-14 Tomcat

Featured in:

The F-14 is one of the most impressive and iconic American military aircraft of all time!

On a single day in December 1941, a surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy changed the face of naval warfare forever, marking both the end of the Battleship and the rise of a new era in naval air power.

Today’s modern carriers have more in common with small cities, housing thousands of service personnel in the most complex piece of engineering the world has ever seen. Representing billions of dollars, these floating airbases are only as safe as their defensive capabilities. We can think of no better example of naval airpower than Grumman’s F-14 Tomcat, arguably the best carrier-based aircraft of all time.

9. Out With The Old – Replacing The F4 Phantom

Via Worth Point

As far back as the 1950s, US Navy chiefs identified the need for a modern F4 replacement that could fulfill the Fleet Air Defense (FAD) role to protect Navy assets against long-range aircraft launched anti-ship missiles. While the F4 had a proven service record, it lacked the long range capability to be truly effective.

Via Wikimedia

Early research stages progressed through the TFX aircraft program and even considered a maritime version of General Dynamics F-111 before collaborating with Grumman on the VFX. The final design requirements calling for a tandem two-seat, twin-engine design with an operational speed of up to Mach 2.2, the resulting F14 breaking cover in 1968.

8. Cats And Traps – Essential For Routine Operations

Via Pinterest

Even the biggest Aircraft carriers are space limited, their decks are possibly the busiest and most dangerous runway facility found anywhere in the world. Even when operating at full re-heat, the F14 weighing 61,000lbs needs some assistance. This is where steam catapult systems come into their own, accelerating the jet to 170mph in 2-seconds subjecting the main wheel assembly to 4gs.

Via The National Interest

On return to the flight deck, a similar space limited issue presents itself, how to stop a fast-moving jet in the minimum of space. A slightly less technical solution does all the work, rows of cables spanning the deck with precisely calculated damping quickly bring the F14 to a stop, the pilot merely required to catch a single cable with the aircraft’s fuselage-mounted arresting hook.

7. Engines, Power, And Performance – Debunking A Cinematic White Lie

Via GE Aviation

Nearing the end of its useful operational life saw the last major upgrade, F14-Ds fitted with more powerful General Electric TF100 afterburning engines providing more thrust and greater fuel savings over earlier examples. Each of its twin TF100 units producing 16,200lbs of dry thrust gave the F14-D improved performance at high altitudes with a maximum speed of 1544mph.

Via Pinteret

This brings us nicely to Top Gun, the now-famous scene where Miramars finest make the unsubstantiated claim Maverick and co will be flying against the smaller and faster A4 Skyhawk. Smaller yes, but faster? Even at sea level, the F14 is a good 300mph faster.

6. Variable Geometry Wings – The Best Of Both Worlds

Via Pinterest

Modern carrier battlegroups tend to operate multi-role aircraft rather than accommodate different types of aircraft for different mission requirements. Originally required to not only provide carrier advance patrols (CAP) the F14 also had to be fast enough to perform interceptor duties when called upon. This wide array of operational requirements lead to the unique implementation of variable geometry wings.

Via Wikimedia

At take-off speeds, the wings remain swept forwards of maximum lift, only once airborne and accelerating towards supersonic speeds do they sweep backward for less drag. To date, the F14 is unique in this approach to design, no other carrier-based aircraft has ever used variable geometry. Interestingly, the fuselage itself also serves to generate lift, contributing around 50% to the aircraft’s design.

5. Overseas Operators – Few And Far Between

Via Pinterest

Unlike modern weapons platforms that seem to be sold en-mass to any friendly nation with a big enough bank balance, the F14 only ever found one foreign operator in a surprising region that hasn’t always been known for its pro-American behavior.

Via Defence Talk

If legitimate sales of the most advanced fighter jet to Iran seems an unlikely story, it gets even more peculiar that a nation with no navy to speak off would be interested in an aircraft designed to operate from a carrier. Regardless of these odd quirks, Iran is the only remaining operator of the F14, with an estimated 40 serviceable aircraft.

4. Two Man Crew – Two Very Different Roles

Via Formula 1 Results

Part of the Tomcat’s design brief called for a modern multi-role fighter with long-range interception capabilities that relied heavily on its AN/AWG-9 radar systems. These hugely complex pieces of equipment and associated interaction controls made it necessary for a two-man crew, pilot up-font while the rest of the aircraft’s operations were taken care of by the RIO (Radar Intercept Officer).

Via Capt Zeen

Aside from a few mirrored instruments, the two stations are unique, pilots having more flight data and a heads-up-display, while the RIO had limited forward visibility outside of the instrument panel. In the event of a pilot being incapacitated, both crew members would be forced to eject, there is no duplicate flight control system in the rear station.

3. Operational Capabilities – Response, Endurance, And Performance

Via War Thunder Forums

By modern standards, the F14 is seriously quick, faster than its direct replacement, and quicker still than the mighty F-22 Lighting, but these impressive figures only tell part of the story. From standstill to take off in 2-seconds, operating at altitudes up to 56,000 feet over ranges of 1600 nautical miles is good in anyone’s books. However, this stunning resume of power and performance is a balancing act.

Via The Drive

That astonishing top speed would never be possible over the same distance, just as the afterburners add performance they also severely reduce endurance. Typically employed in the carrier advance patrol environment, F-14 crews would operate around 160 miles ahead of the fleet at lower subsonic speeds until called upon.

2. Armament – Multi-Role Weapons Platform

Via Wikimedia

Throughout its operational life, the Tomcat performed air-to-air operations, carrying a mix of AIM-54 Phoenix, AIM-7 Sparrow, and the later AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, with long-range sorties calling for external fuel tanks, aside from the standard-fit 20mm canon, this would have been the standard configuration for all F-14 variants.

Via National Interest

From the early stages of development, it was clear the F-14 was more than just an interceptor or air-superiority fighter, its impressive array of capabilities left relatively untapped until 1992. Filling a capability gap in the US Navy’s arsenal, F-14s equipped with minor upgrades were pressed into action as ground-attack aircraft receiving the unofficial “Bombcat” designation.

1. End Of The Road – Retirement And Destruction

Via Wikimedia

With the US Navy opting for the newer and cheaper F-18 Hornet, the Tomcat’s days were numbered, the final operation units retired from active service in 2006. In total, 712 aircraft were produced, with Iran still operating the last surviving aircraft, encouraging the US government to enforce a less heroic end for the greatest carrier aircraft of all time.

Via Wikimedia

Save for a few dozen display airframes, the Tomcat ended its days at the mercy of salvage yards with strict instructions that all aircraft should be destroyed rather than risk spares finding their way to Iran’s Air Force.

Latest articles

Related articles


The aircraft was painted black, and soon earned its name: “Blackbird.” At Lockheed’s advanced development group, the legendary...

The Royal Air Force’s Plan to Make this Bomber...

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Vulcan “fighter” wasn’t the only air-to-air version of a heavy bomber....

The Stuka Dive Bomber: Hitler’s Ultimate Terror Weapon

Perhaps no weapon was as closely associated with the Nazi German in early in World War II...

During World War II, the ‘Wooden Wonder’ Freed Prisoners...

Special operations forces are famously known today for a special task—hostage and prisoner rescue. These missions usually...

Time for a Stealth A-10 Warthog?

Time for a stealth A-10 Warthog: Last year, this reporter happened to be outside on a warm and...


Operational F-4s have dwindled over the past decade, with some notable retirements and events. The advent of modern...