[1.0] Creating The Tomcat

v1.1.5 / chapter 1 of 2 / 01 jun 16 / greg goebel

* The F-14 Tomcat was born from the ashes of the unsuccessful General Dynamics F-111B program, an aircraft the US Navy never wanted. The Tomcat was what the Navy did want, though its introduction to fleet service was not without its difficulties.

Grumman F-14 Tomcat

[1.3] TOMCAT IN SERVICE 1974:1991


* In the late 1950s, the US Navy was interested in obtaining an interceptor to protect carrier battle groups from adversary strike aircraft, and the Douglas company proposed an aircraft named the "F6D-1 Missileer". The Missileer was to carry advanced radar and eight big Bendix "AAM-M-10 Eagle" long-range air-to-air missiles (AAMs) to knock down intruders at distances of up to 205 kilometers (110 NMI), before they could get close enough to be a real threat.

The whole idea was at least a bit ahead of its time, and the development program didn't go well. The Missileer itself began to look unpromising, since it was envisioned as a lumbering "missile truck" that would not be capable of close-in dogfighting, and the Eagle missile program faltered as well. The Missileer was canceled in December 1960. However, the work on the advanced radar was not abandoned, and the Navy still retained a requirement for a fleet-defense interceptor.

In the early 1960s, American Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara wanted to promote commonality of equipment between the different branches of the US armed services, and he believed that the Navy requirement for a fleet-defense interceptor could be filled with a navalized version of the Air Force's "variable geometry" or "swing-wing" General Dynamics F-111A tactical fighter. Few thought this was a good idea since the F-111 was a big, heavy machine, not all that adaptable to carrier operation, but McNamara insisted.

The Navy never became very enthusiastic about the "F-111B", as their variant was designated. The initial prototype performed its initial flight on 18 May 1965, with flight trials leading to a Navy report in October 1965 that concluded the F-111B was highly unsatisfactory. Attempts were made to fix the problems, but it was impossible. Congress cut funds in May 1968, work was halted in July, and the program was formally axed in December, after the construction of a total of seven F-111B prototypes and evaluation aircraft.

The Grumman company had actually been responsible for developing the F-111B as a subcontractor for General Dynamics. In January 1966, following the highly negative Navy report on the F-111B, at the Navy's request Grumman began work on a set of designs for a more effective carrier-based interceptor, with the company designation of "G-303", derived from their F-111B work. Grumman submitted their finalist proposals to the Navy in October 1967.

In July 1968, when the F-111B was clearly dead, the Navy began a new competition for a fleet defense interceptor under the "VFX" program. Grumman submitted the G-303 against proposals from North American, LTV, General Dynamics, and McDonnell Douglas. Grumman, which tended to have a leg up in any competition for the Navy since the company had been supplying highly satisfactory aircraft to the service for decades, won the award in January 1969. The project was assigned high priority; the Navy was worried about new Soviet threat aircraft like the MiG-25 Foxbat, and the decade of delays in fielding an improved fighter that had piled up from the canceled Missileer and F-111B programs left the admirals very worried.

A mockup of the definitive G-303 concept was inspected by Navy officials in the spring of 1969. Although some of the earlier concepts had featured fixed wings, the mockup used swing wings. An initial development contract for six prototype and evaluation "YF-14A Tomcats", as the type was designated, was awarded to Grumman that same year. The contract was later modified to fund twelve YF-14As. Development went forward under Grumman program manager Mike Pelehach.

Incidentally, the name "Tomcat" was selected partly in tribute to Navy Admirals Thomas Connolly and Thomas Moorer. Connolly had gone public against the F-111B in 1966, when he was deputy Chief of Naval Operations, an act which some believe cost him his career. He had flown a Grumman F4F Wildcat in World War II under the callsign "Tomcat", and he was such a strong supporter of the program that the aircraft was referred to as "Tom's Cat". What else would it have been named? The fact that Admiral Moorer was Chief of Naval Operations didn't hurt, either.

The initial prototype F-14A performed its first flight on 21 December 1970, with company test pilots William "Bob" Miller and Robert Smythe in the cockpit. It was a short hop with the wings left in the forward position. The second flight was on 30 December 1970, when the prototype suffered a catastrophic hydraulic systems failure. Both Miller and Smythe ejected safely from just above the treetops, but of course the aircraft was completely destroyed.

The second prototype made its first flight on 24 May 1971 and the program moved swiftly after that, though there were serious cost overruns, as well as a few more accidents:

Initial deliveries of production Tomcats to the Navy took place in October 1972, with the aircraft arriving at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar in California.



* The F-14A was a big aircraft, with tandem seating for a pilot in front and radar intercept officer (RIO) in back on Martin-Baker GRU-7A "zero-zero (zero speed, zero altitude)" ejection seats. The cockpit layouts were specialized for the pilot and RIO and had little duplication. The aircrew sat under a single clamshell canopy that hinged open from the back. Field of view from the cockpit was said to be very good. The aircrew got into the cockpit on fold-out steps mounted on the forward fuselage.

The variable-geometry wing scheme incorporated a number of advanced features. One was the fit of "glove vanes", which were small triangular foreplanes mounted in the wing gloves that were automatically extended at high speeds as the main wings were swept back, compensating for any change in aircraft pitch caused by the change in wing geometry.

The wing sweep was controlled by a "Mach sweep programmer" that automatically moved the wings through the range of 20 degrees to 68 degrees sweep, as dictated by flight requirements. The pilot could also set the sweep manually, and could select a special 55-degree mode for ground attack. The wings could be set back 75 degrees to an "oversweep" position, overlapping the horizontal tailplane, for carrier-deck storage. The aircraft could be flown with each wing at a different sweep -- one fully swept, one fully extended -- but though this was apparently done on occasion as an airshow stunt, it certainly wasn't operational practice.

The wings featured spoilers to improve maneuverability, plus full-span trailing-edge flaps and leading-edge slats to improve low-speed handling. The inboard flaps were of course disabled when wing sweep blocked their movement. The spoiler position could be tweaked by a thumbwheel on the pilot's control stick during landing approach to adjust speed and angle of descent without requiring a change in aircraft attitude, a scheme known as "Direct Lift Control (DLC)".

The tail assembly featured "all moving" slab tailplanes, with differential action for roll control, and twin outward-canted tailfins; some early concepts had featured a large single tailfin. There were also twin ventral fins. The mockup had featured long ventral fins that folded to the outside for landing, but in practice the ventral fins were fixed. There were hydraulically-operated speed brakes on the top and bottom of the rear fuselage forward of the engine exhausts.

The F-14A followed in the Grumman tradition of building rugged aircraft. It was made primarily of aircraft aluminum alloy and titanium, with selective use of graphite-epoxy composite assemblies. The aircraft was initially powered by twin Pratt & Whitney (P&W) TF30-P-412 bypass turbojets with 54.9 kN (5,600 kgp / 12,350 lbf) dry thrust and 93 kN (9,480 kgp / 20,900 lbf) afterburning thrust each. The TF30 was one of the items inherited from the F-111B.

The engines were fitted in separate housings underneath the fuselage. The major rationale for this configuration was that it ensured adequate airflow the engines, engine airflow having been a major problem for the F-111. It also gave maintenance crews direct access to the engines and made engine replacement easier, though it had a few drawbacks as well. Each engine had a wedge-style inlet with a variable ramp in the throat, and was canted slightly away from the fuselage. A single external tank with a capacity of 1,011 liters (267 US gallons) could be carried under each engine pod. A retractable inflight refueling probe was fitted to the right side of the nose.

The main single-wheel landing gear retracted forward into the wing gloves, rotating 90 degrees to lie flat. The steerable nose gear had twin wheels, a catapult hookup, and retracted forward as well. There was a stinger-type arresting hook on the belly between the engine exhausts.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan (spread)       19.55 meters        64 feet 2 inches
   wingspan (closed)       11.65 meters        38 feet 2 inches
   wing area               52.49 sq_meters     565 sq_feet
   length                  19.10 meters        62 feet 8 inches
   height                  4.88 meters         16 feet

   empty weight            18,190 kilograms    40,100 pounds
   loaded weight           33,725 kilograms    74,350 pounds

   max speed at altitude   2,520 KPH           1,565 MPH / 1,360 KT
   service ceiling         17,100 meters       56,000 feet
   combat patrol radius    1,235 kilometers    765 MI / 665 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   The combat patrol radius is given with external tanks.

The Tomcat's distinctive weapon was the big Hughes "AIM-54 Phoenix" AAM. The Phoenix had a range of 200 kilometers (125 miles) and a fully active radar seeker, which allowed the missile to perform its terminal-phase attack on a target without requiring that the Tomcat keep the target "illuminated" with radar. In principle, it gave the Tomcat the ability to destroy intruders at very long standoff distance.

The Phoenix was another item inherited from the F-111B, being the ultimate evolution of the Hughes Falcon series of AAMs. It owed something to the Hughes "GAR-9" missile developed for the experimental Lockheed YF-12A interceptor version of the SR-71 Blackbird. In principle the Tomcat, which was the only aircraft to ever employ the Phoenix operationally, could carry six Phoenix missiles, with four carried in the fuselage "tunnel" between the engines and two on wing pylons. However, the Phoenix, nicknamed the "Buffalo" because of its size, was so heavy that a Tomcat couldn't carry six of them if the aircraft were to land on a carrier, though no such restriction existed if the Tomcat was operating off a land base. Another problem with carrying six Phoenix missiles was that the drag of the two extra missiles on the wing glove pylons cut into aircraft performance and flight endurance.

AIM-54 Phoenix AAMs

In practice, a full armament load usually consisted of four Phoenix missiles on the tunnel stations, plus two AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing (SARH) medium-range AAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinder heatseeking short-range AAMs, for a total of eight AAMs. A Sparrow and a Sidewinder were carried on a special dual rack mounted on each wing glove pylon, with a Sparrow on the bottom of the rack and a Sidewinder to the outside. This unusual configuration was used because mounting stores pylons on a swing wing is tricky, and there was limited room on the wing gloves. If the Phoenix wasn't carried, there were also recesses in the fuselage tunnel for carriage of four more Sparrows.

The Phoenix and Sparrow were controlled by a Hughes AN/AWG-9 radar and the AN/AWG-15 fire control computer. The AN/AWG-9 was also inherited from the F-111B, with roots going back to the Missileer program as well as the "AN/ASG-1" radar, developed by the Air Force for the canceled North American F-108 Rapier Mach 3 interceptor program and the Lockheed YF-12A. The AN/AWG-9 gave the Tomcat a wide-area air-surveillance capability, with a range of 160 kilometers (100 miles) or more. The radar could search while tracking 24 targets, and engage six targets simultaneously, impressive for the era. The AN/AWG-9 was an impressive piece of gear; a Patuxent River test pilot who help evaluate the prototype Tomcats commented that when his RIO fired up the radar for the first time "I almost fell out of my seat -- it seemed like you could see the entire East Coast."

The RIO handled the radar and fired the missiles. He also handled other chores, like managing the big circuit box that controlled the aircraft's electrical systems. He even had control over both ejection seats on carrier takeoffs, a circumstance that could make pilots nervous until the aircrew got their teamwork together. The Tomcat was a complicated aircraft, it needed two crewmen to fly and fight in it, and they had to work very tightly to be effective.

Early F-14As were fitted with a steerable "AN/ALR-23 Infrared Search & Track (IRST)" sensor under the nose that could be slaved to the radar or used independently. In the early 1980s, the IRST was replaced in Tomcat production with the Northrop "AN/AXX-1 Television Camera Set (TCS)", a steerable daylight video camera with a telephoto lens, and the TCS was retrofitted to the earlier F-14As. TCS allowed a Tomcat to inspect a target at long range before engaging it, at least in daylight / clear weather conditions. The inability to determine if a target was a friend or a foe had been one of the limiting factors for use of "beyond visual range (BVR)" AAMs such as the Sparrow in Vietnam.

Other stock avionics included a UHF radio; identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder and interrogator; an inertial navigation system (INS); a TACAN radio beacon navigation system; an automatic direction finder; and a radar altimeter. The F-14A was originally also fitted with an AN/APR-45 radar warning receiver (RWR) system; an AN/ALQ-126 deception jammer system, with antennas in the tips of the tailplane and under the nose; and AN/ALE-39 chaff-flare dispensers, mounted under a "boattail" fixture on the end of the fuselage.

The Tomcat featured a built-in General Electric (GE) M61A1 six-barreled Gatling-type 20 millimeter cannon, with an ammunition store of 675 rounds. The cannon was fitted under the left side of the cockpit.

* The Tomcat took up the reconnaissance role early on. In 1979, the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland, began development of the "Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS)" for the Tomcat. TARPS was derived from a reconnaissance system developed for the LTV A-7 strike fighter but not fielded for that aircraft. The streamlined pod was about 5.18 meters (17 feet) long; weighed 794 kilograms (1,750 pounds); and included a CAI KS-87B serial frame camera in the nose, a Fairchild KA-99 panoramic camera in the midsection, and a Honeywell AN/AAD-5 infrared line scanner in the rear.

TARPS was carried on the right rear fuselage tunnel station. The pod required additional control, power, and environmental control connections, and so Tomcats had to be specially modified to carry it, with about 50 aircraft given TARPS capability. The modifications did not rule out carriage of the Phoenix on that station. The system was controlled by the RIO in the back seat, who had a specialized TARPS display to observe reconnaissance data, though the pilot did have a camera on-off switch on his stick as well. AAMs could still be carried on the wing glove pylons for self-defense.

TARPS was introduced in 1980 and proved an extremely valuable, since dedicated reconnaissance aircraft like the Vought RF-8G Crusader were being phased out. TARPS was only supposed to be an interim solution, since the Navy was hoping to obtain a dedicated reconnaissance version of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet -- but that didn't happen. The TARPS Tomcat would be a Navy firstline reconnaissance asset for the rest of the century.


[1.3] TOMCAT IN SERVICE 1974:1991

* The Tomcat entered operational service with Navy fighter squadrons VF-1 and VF-2 on board the carrier USS ENTERPRISE in September 1974. The Navy eventually acquired 478 F-14As, including the 12 development aircraft brought up to service spec, with the type replacing the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and Vought F-8 Crusader in US Navy service. Tomcat production put Grumman under severe financial stress, since the contract with the Navy had specified a fixed delivery cost and the late 1970s were times of abnormally high price inflation in the US. Grumman was forced to plead with the government for changes in the contract before the Tomcat drove the company out of business, and the government did agree to modify the terms.

Pilots called the F-14A the "Turkey" because of its profusion of control surfaces on carrier approach, looking like wings and feathers spread out everywhere. The nickname might have also initially reflected some distaste for the type, since the F-14A was not wildly popular with its aircrews at first. It was a capable aircraft, but also big, heavy, somewhat underpowered, and something of a handful on carrier approach -- less stable than the McDonnell F-4 Phantom that most new Tomcat pilots were familiar with, though the swing wing did make landings slower. Landings weren't too much of a problem in daylight and fair weather, but night landings could be dicey, and there were tales of pilots who were shaking so bad after a night landing that they could barely get out of the cockpit.

It also had a few nasty handling characteristics. The widely-separated engines meant that if an engine was lost while in afterburner, the Tomcat would immediately go into an unrecoverable spin. The P&W TF30 engines proved particularly troublesome. The worst of the engine problems was a tendency to shed fan blades, with the blades slicing through the aircraft's fuselage. Intense effort by P&W led to the development of the more reliable "TF30-P-414" variant, and a steel lining was installed in the engine duct to protect the aircraft from engine failures, if at the expense of increased aircraft weight. By 1979, all F-14As had been upgraded to the new engine fit and the aircraft's reliability then rose to more acceptable levels. In 1981, P&W introduced a minor upgrade of the engine, the "TF30-P-414A", with further improved reliability.

The TF30 problems gave the engine a terrible reputation, but Pratt & Whitney could at least plead mitigating circumstances. One of the major difficulties was that the Tomcat had such excellent high-speed maneuverability, well beyond that of the previous generation of fighters. This implied an equally unprecedented level of tweaking throttle settings during high-thrust flight, and it put an entirely unexpected level of stress on the engine. The same problem would be encountered with other contemporary high-performance fighters with other engines. F-14 pilots felt that they had to "fly the engines", one saying: "Any aggressive move you wanted to make, you had to worry about how the engines would like it -- like you had to ask their permission."

Despite its limitations, the Tomcat was regarded as well suited to its designed role of providing air defense for carrier battle groups. Its ability to loiter for extended periods at extended range, coupled with its advanced missile armament and powerful radar, made it an impressive shield against intruders such as adversary strike aircraft and -- with the introduction of the definitive AIM-54C Phoenix variant in 1979 -- long-range antiship missiles. The Tomcat's automatic swing wings also give it good maneuverability in close-in combat.

The only concern with the Tomcat in the fleet-defense role was that it was never been seriously tested in action in such a scenario. There were many test firings of the Phoenix that demonstrated a high kill ratio, including a test performed in 1973 with a Tomcat ripple-firing six Phoenix missiles to destroy six targets. This exercise was described by the pilot involved, Commander John "Smoke" Wilson, as financially equivalent to "setting fire to a ten-story car park filled with brand-new Cadillacs." However, there were criticisms that this particular test was highly contrived and unrepresentative of a real combat environment.

Throughout the Tomcat's operational career there were doubts about the Phoenix, though it seems F-14 pilots themselves were impressed it. One called it a "crazed little kamikaze", like a "mad dog", and another gave an exciting report on what it was like to fire one:


Two explosive charges push it away from the aircraft, so when you launch it, you hear THUMP, THUMP. It drops away and you don't hear it for a few seconds -- but you're so excited, time has slowed, and you're wondering if something's wrong. Then you see this huge arcing contrail out in front of the airplane. It climbs to about 100,000 feet [30,500 meters] and you lose sight of it. You just watch for the explosion in the distance. A 1,000 pound [450 kilogram] missile coming down from 100,000 feet -- that's an enormous amount of kinetic energy, never mind the warhead.


* US Navy pilots never actually shot down any adversary with a Phoenix, but that is by no means saying that the Tomcat never fired a shot in anger. Although Tomcats performed top cover flights during the evacuation of Vietnam in 1975, they saw no action in that exercise. The F-14A saw its first combat in 1981, during confrontations between the US and Libya. The US government under Ronald Reagan had "fingered" Colonel Mohamar Qaddafi, the whimsical Libyan dictator, as a sponsor for international terrorism and felt he needed to be "suppressed".

Colonel Qaddafi had declared the Gulf of Sidra, bounded by Libya's coast in the Mediterranean, as Libyan waters, and in defiance in the summer of 1981 Reagan ordered the US Navy to steam into the gulf as a "freedom of navigation" exercise -- backed up by a great deal of firepower. There was a confrontation between US Navy Tomcats and Libyan fighters on 18 August, but nobody made any wrong moves and nobody opened fire.

The next day the Libyans got more aggressive and fighting broke out. Two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 ground-attack fighters ran into two US Navy F-14As, piloted by Commander Henry "Hank" Kleeman and Lieutenant Larry "Music" Muczynski from the carrier USS NIMITZ. The Su-22s approached head-on, with the first firing an AAM that failed to track. Both Tomcats focused on the lead Su-22 since it was the most immediate threat -- but when Muczynski reported that he had a target lock on the bandit, Kleeman turned to get on the tail of the second Su-22, which was passing them.

Both F-14As fired AIM-9L Sidewinders and scored hits; the Libyan pilots ejected, though only one parachute was seen to open. It hadn't been much of a contest, Muczynski saying their opponents were "a couple of bush-leaguers who couldn't even make the second-string team." In reality, it seems unlikely that the Libyans had been spoiling for a fight, since if they had been they would have sent air-superiority aircraft, not strike fighters. It appears the Libyans had unwittingly crossed some invisible line and spooked the Americans.

However, it was an early and classic example of Ronald Reagan's grasp of political theater, which as a professional actor he understood instinctively, and it went over very well in the American news media and the public. The squabble had been otherwise of little consequence, except in one respect: the US military had got into a fight and traded shots in what was supposed to be peacetime. The big Cold War was still on in earnest for the time being, while the era of continuous dirty little fights was being born.

* Tomcats from the carrier USS INDEPENDENCE equipped with the TARPS pod performed reconnaissance sorties in support of the American invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada in October 1983 and in support of US operations in Lebanon in the last months of 1983. Neither of these operations were much to write home about, either. The motivation for the Grenada operation was questionable, and the planning hasty and poor. The poorly-thought-out US intervention in Lebanon proved a humiliating fiasco that made the Americans appear weak. At least the Grenada operation went over well with the US public, and it did demonstrate the need to implement reforms in the military, particularly to improve joint operations. The Lebanon fiasco was generally swept under the carpet; it would come back to haunt the Americans later, since it emboldened Islamic terrorists to believe the US was easily intimidated.

The next action the Tomcats got into was much more successful, though it was mostly theater as well. In October 1985, four Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise liner ACHILLE LAURO in the Mediterranean, where they murdered Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly American tourist. The terrorists managed to cut a deal with Egypt to take an Egyptair Boeing 737 airliner to Libya. American signals intelligence was monitoring the whole affair, and seven Tomcats were scrambled from the carrier USS SARATOGA to intercept the airliner.

It was dark when the Tomcats arrived, and when they told the Egyptian 737 pilot to proceed to the NATO base at Signorella, Italy, he balked and demanded to know who they were. One F-14 moved up close to the 737 and turned on its lights; once the jetliner's pilot saw the big fighter hanging in the sky next to him, he became more cooperative. The 737 put down in Signorella, coming in dangerously low on the first pass, the pilot likely being in a poor emotional state -- but the Tomcats flew past and forced him to come around again. The terrorists were arrested and tried by the Italians. It might not have been a massive blow to terrorism, but it was great action-movie stuff; it is little wonder in hindsight why Ronald Reagan was so popular in his time.

* Despite such distractions, Reagan had not forgotten Colonel Qaddafi. In March and April of 1986, the US Navy challenged the Libyans in the Gulf of Sidra again under Operation PRAIRIE FIRE, and got a response. The Libyans fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) at some Navy aircraft, and Libyan MiG-25 Foxbat fighters confronted US Navy Tomcats. In response, Navy aircraft flew strikes against Libyan targets on 24 through 26 March. Tomcats flew top cover but did little or no shooting.

Then, on 2 April 1986, a bomb went off in a Berlin disco that was a popular hangout for US servicemen, killing two people, including one GI, and injuring 200. Signals intelligence linked the bombing to terrorists backed by the Libyans. The evidence was unambiguous and Reagan authorized another strike, a big one this time, designated Operation EL DORADO CANYON. A large combined US Navy and US Air Force air fleet struck selective targets in Libya in a precisely-organized operation on the night of 15 April 1986. US Navy Tomcats provided air cover for the operation, protecting both Navy and USAF aircraft. The Air Force strike aircraft were operating from the UK and the extreme range made Air Force fighter protection impractical. In any case, the Tomcats didn't fire a shot.

The strikes came close to killing Colonel Qaddafi and Libyan support for terrorism seemed to go on the fade, but the US Navy was not done with Qaddafi just yet. The US Navy performed yet another "freedom of navigation" exercise in the Gulf of Sidra in early 1989, and on 4 January 1989 two Tomcats from the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (JFK) were on combat patrol when they were confronted by two Libyan MiG-23 fighters.

The crews of the two Tomcats included the squadron boss, Commander Joseph B. "Beads" Connelly, with Commander Leo F. Enright in the back seat, and Lieutenant Hermon C. Cook III, with Commander Steven P. Collins in the back seat. A Grumman E-2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft warned them of the takeoff and approach of the MiGs, which the Tomcats then picked up on their own AN/AWG-9 radar at long range. The MiGs were on an approach vector, and when the Tomcats changed their own course several times, the MiGs changed their course to keep on coming at them.

This all was monitored on board the JFK, and the Tomcat crews were given the authorization: "Warning yellow, weapons hold" -- indicating they recognized as being under threat ("warning yellow") and were free to prepare for and engage in combat ("weapons hold", as opposed to "weapons tight"). The fighters launched two Sparrows and a Sidewinder, with one Sparrow and the Sidewinder scoring kills. Both Libyan pilots ejected successfully, but were apparently lost at sea. The press made a bit of a fuss about the kills, misinterpreting the "weapons hold" command as meaning "hold your fire" and suggesting the Tomcat crews were trigger-happy, but the Navy said it was done by the book.

* Tomcats flew air patrols again during the 1988:1989 Persian Gulf convoy operations, occasionally firing missiles at Iranian F-4 Phantoms but not scoring any kills. F-14s also flew during the 1991 Gulf War, performing air patrols to protect Navy ships, which as it turned out were never presented with any real threat. It appears that the only kill scored by F-14As during the conflict was of a Mil Mi-8 "Hip" helicopter, shot down by two Tomcats on 6 February 1991.

TARPS-equipped Tomcats did get more into the thick of things, with one being shot down by ground fire, on 21 January 1991. Both aircrew ejected safely. The pilot, Lieutenant Devon Jones, was rescued by a combat search-and-rescue team, but his back-seater, Lieutenant Lawrence R. "Rat" Slade was captured and remained a prisoner for the rest of the brief war. This was apparently the only combat loss of a US Navy Tomcat.

* During the rest of the year, the final act of the end of the USSR played itself out, and by the end of 1991 the Soviet Union was history, and so was the Cold War. It was the Tomcat's fortune (or misfortune) to go into service in the role of defending Navy fleet elements at a time when threats to US ships in the open ocean sea were on the decline, and so during that era the Tomcat didn't really see a great deal of shooting action.

F-14 Tomcat launch from USS KITTY HAWK

On the other hand, the sputtering quarrels it did see action in were the shape of the future. Although Colonel Qaddafi had been at the top of the Reagan Administration's antiterrorist list, the "Libyan Lunatic" doesn't seem as such a threat compared to what would come later, and in hindsight Qaddafi seems a little bit like a comic-opera dictator decked out with too much gold braid. The Tomcat would see more action from that time, but mostly in a different role, as discussed later.