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[2.0] Iranian Tomcats / Tomcat Improvements

v1.1.5 / chapter 2 of 2 / 01 jul 14 / greg goebel

* The only export user of the Tomcat was Iran, which obtained the F-14A, with the type seeing combat in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. In the meantime, the US Navy had gone on to acquire the improved F-14B and F-14D in limited numbers. Navy F-14s kept busy in the post-Cold War world, being given improvements and even being pressed into the strike role as the "Bombcat", not long before the type's retirement in 2006.

F-14 Tomcat


[2.1] TOMCAT IN IRANIAN SERVICE
[2.2] F-14B / F-14D
[2.3] PROPOSED TOMCAT VARIANTS / TOMCAT UPGRADES
[2.4] BOMBCAT / TOMCAT IN SERVICE 1992:2005
[2.5] COMMENTS, SOURCES, & REVISION HISTORY

[2.1] TOMCAT IN IRANIAN SERVICE

* The only foreign user of the F-14 was Iran. The Shah of Iran ordered 40 "F-14AGRs" in 1974 under Project PERSIAN KING, followed by 40 more in 1975. The Iranians paid about $2 billion USD for the deal, effectively saving Grumman from bankruptcy at a time when the company was in severe financial trouble. The F-14GRs were almost stock F-14As with some minor changes, such as a desert survival kit, no carrier landing system, and no door over the retractable flight refueling probe. There was considerable concern that Iran was biting off more than it could chew with the Tomcat, but Iran is a large country and required a capable interceptor to patrol the northern border. The Tomcat, with its powerful radar Phoenix missile, seemed to fit the bill. Tales circulated that the Shah wanted an interceptor to deal with Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat incursions, but that wasn't really a problem -- the stories were just to help sell American politicians on the deal.

Air and ground crews were trained in the USA from before the first deliveries of the Tomcat to Iran. 79 new-build aircraft were delivered before the Shah's downfall in the Iranian Revolution and his death from cancer not long afterward. The 80th Iranian Tomcat was retained stateside by the US Navy. 284 of the 714 Phoenix missiles on order were also delivered. These were simplified versions of the missile, lacking the electronic counter-countermeasures capabilities of their US Navy equivalents. The Iranians also acquired stocks of AIM-7E Sparrows and AIM-9P Sidewinders for their Tomcats. Iranian F-14s were painted in a neat, thoroughly un-naval desert camouflage scheme featuring a sand-colored base and banding with several shades of brown. They were supported by a fleet of six Boeing 707 jetliners rigged as flight refueling tankers, fitted with a Beech 1800 hose-&-drogue refueling pod near each wingtip. Apparently some Iranian Boeing 747s were also fitted out as tankers.

During the transition period between the regimes, the nervous Americans negotiated to buy back the Iranian Tomcats or arrange their sale to a third party, but the Islamic Republic decided to hang on to them. Most of the Iranian Tomcat pilots remained in Iran with their aircraft, though a fair number of groundcrew went elsewhere. One squadron was made up of pilots who were deemed insufficiently motivated to the cause of the Islamic Revolution, and so clearly loyal pilots from other types were pressed into service as RIOs to keep an eye on them. Ironically, during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, that squadron proved the most aggressive and effective: ideology be hanged, they just liked to fly and fight.

The story of the operations of Iranian Tomcats during the conflict remained unknown for a long time, but sketchy details have been gradually leaking out of the Islamic Republic, and though the claims of both sides are extremely hard to sort out, it appears the Iraqis were thoroughly frightened of it. Although the Iraqis only admitted to eight losses to F-14s, there is little doubt that is a considerable underestimate. While Iranian Tomcats scored many kills with Sparrows and Sidewinders, the Phoenix AAM was murderously effective. Targets were engaged at long range and the Phoenix would all but vaporize them without warning -- at extended distances, the AN/AWG-9 wouldn't trip the RWR on Iraqi aircraft -- with the Iraqis left with little clue of what had happened. However, at the same time the Iranians didn't know much more than the fact that the target had simply disappeared from the radarscope.

One Iranian pilot commented: "The AIM-54 was truly a deadly system. During the testing in Iran, we tracked an AIM-54A at Mach 4.4 and 24,000 meters before it scored a direct hit on the target drone. This large and hefty missile had no snap-up or snap-down limits, and could maneuver at up to 17 gees." A handful of the Iranian AIM-54s had been sabotaged by American technicians before they left Iran, but the rest, stored in packing crates, were undamaged, and the sabotaged missiles were returned to service.

Iranian pilots stated that eventually the Iraqis would simply turn tail when they realized they were being illuminated by an AN/AWG-9 -- as well they might, since the Tomcat could pick them off even before they could spot it in return. In close combat, the Tomcat was still superior to the MiG-23, able to out-turn it and catch up easily if the MiG tried to flee. There were even a number of intercepts of Foxbats, though they demanded careful setup and timing since the intercept window was very narrow. When Iranian Tomcat pilots later heard critical comments about the F-14 being an "expensive failure", they just laughed.

Four Tomcats were lost in the war -- two from combat, two from non-combat incidents. The Iranians were able to keep them flying through the conflict, partly due to the fact that a considerable stockpile of spares was built up before the fall of the Shah, partly due to the fact that Iranian industry was clever at figuring out how to build spares. However, the fighting wore down the Tomcat fleet, and in the aftermath of the war only about 15 were fully functional. Efforts to keep the Tomcats flying went slowly in the 1990s, but in 2001 -- with the US Bush II Administration flexing its muscles in Afghanistan, threatening Iraq, and referring to Iran as a charter member of the "Axis of Evil" -- a major refurbishment program was initiated to get the fleet of 58 surviving Tomcats back up to scratch.

The Iranians have not only been able to recondition and build spares for the Tomcat, they have performed some minor improvements, and also now produce the Sidewinder, Sparrow, and Phoenix AAMs locally. They even went so far as to build the MIM-23 Hawk SAM and adapt it as an AAM, the "AIM-23C Sejil", with a modified Hawk guidance system under the control of the AN/AWG-9. A Tomcat can carry three -- one under each wing, one in the centerline tunnel. Iranian Tomcats are now painted in an air-superiority color scheme of blue and gray in a disruptive pattern.

* A story persists that the Soviet Union obtained both the F-14 and the Phoenix missile for reverse-engineering from Iran, either being handed examples by the Islamic Republic or by a defecting Iranian pilot. However, the Iranians have a long tradition of distrust of the Bear to the north, the idea that they would have handed over a Tomcat is implausible on the face of it, and there are no records of any defections of Iranian pilots to the USSR. The puzzling item in this tale is the fact that the Soviet "AA-9 Amos" AAM looks almost identical to a Phoenix; however, Soviet intelligence was notably competent and could have obtained the relevant data elsewhere.

Whatever the case, the Americans perceived that the Phoenix had been compromised during the time when the AIM-54C variant was in development. As a result, the missile's development program was modified to ensure that the new variant of the Phoenix could defeat countermeasures developed against older variants.

BACK_TO_TOP

[2.2] F-14B / F-14D

* The F-14A's TF30 engine was never entirely satisfactory, and in fact it had only been specified because the Navy was in such a hurry to get the Tomcat into service. The TF30 had been intended from the outset as a interim engine fit until sometime better became available.

Pratt & Whitney came up with a better engine, the P&W F401-P-400 bypass turbojet with 56.7 kN (5,775 kgp / 12,740 lbf) thrust. Two prototypes of the "F-14B" fitted with this engine were to be built. The first prototype, rebuilt from the seventh YF-14, performed its initial flight on 12 September 1973. The Navy also wanted to build an "F-14C" with the TF30-P-414A and improved avionics. However, the F401 engine development program ran into trouble. Both the F-14B and the F-14C were canceled, and the second F-14B prototype never flew.

The Navy didn't give up on the idea of a Tomcat with a more satisfactory engine, and in the early 1980s the service selected a variant of the GE F101 bypass turbojet, developed for the Rockwell B-1 bomber, for evaluation on the Tomcat. The old F-14B prototype was pulled out of storage, fitted with the an "F101-DFE (Derivative Fighter Engine)", and performed an initial flight in this configuration on 14 July 1981. Performance was so impressive that the Navy decided to authorize development of a production version of the new engine, the GE "F110", which featured fan and afterburner derived from the GE F404 engine used on the F/A-18 Hornet. The F-14B prototype was re-engined again, with GE F110-GE-400 engines, performing its first flight in this configuration on 29 September 1986 with test pilot Joe Burke at the controls. Five more Tomcats were upgraded with the F110 for development and evaluation.

The new engine was everything desired, and on 15 February 1987 the Navy placed a contract for an initial batch of production F110 engines. They were to be used to manufacture of what amounted to a stock F-14A fitted with the GE engines, originally designated the "F-14A (Plus)". Refit of the new engine was straightforward since its form-factor was very similar to that of the TF30, demanding only minor airframe modifications.

38 new-build F-14A (Plus) Tomcats were built, along with 32 conversions from F-14As, the first entering service in late 1988. None of the new-build machines were configured for TARPS. In 1991, the F-14A (Plus) was redesignated the "F-14B", recycling the designation of the F401 demonstrator, which had been converted to the new configuration.

It was difficult to tell an F-14B from an F-14A. The F-14B had bigger exhaust nozzles, no wing glove vanes, a modified door near the gun port, and antennas for a new AN/ALR-67 radar warning receiver (RWR) under the wing gloves. The new engines not only provided improved performance, for example allowing carrier takeoffs without afterburner, they also were more fuel-economical, permitting longer loiter times and a greater radius of action. They could be operated without the obnoxious babying demanded by the old TF30s.

* The Navy also decided to obtain an F110-powered Tomcat with a substantially improved digital avionics suite, including an AN/APG-71 radar system; a modernized cockpit layout, featuring new display systems and compatible with night-vision goggles (NVGs); new Martin-Baker Mark 17 NACES ejection seats; an AN/ALR-67 RWR; dual MIL-STD 1553B digital data buses; and both IRST and TCS sensors. The new variant was designated the "F-14D", with four conversions from F-14As as development prototypes, the first flying on 24 November 1987.

   GRUMMAN F-14D TOMCAT:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   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            18,950 kilograms    41,780 pounds
   loaded weight           33,725 kilograms    74,350 pounds

   max speed at altitude   2,000 KPH           1,240 MPH / 1,080 KT
   service ceiling         16,150 meters       53,000 feet
   combat patrol radius    1,995 kilometers    1,240 MI / 1,075 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The AN/APG-71 was a considerable improvement over the powerful but elderly AN/AWG-9 radar. It was derived from the AN/APG-70 built for the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, with about 60% commonality between the two radars, and provided improved search and tracking at slightly longer ranges than the AN/AWG-9, as well as greater resistance to countermeasures. The IRST and TCS sensors were fitted in a distinctive dual chin pod that provided a recognition item for the F-14D relative to the F-14A, at least when viewed from head-on where the pod's "double-barreled" appearance was obvious.

F-14D nose detail

A total of 37 F-14Ds was built, the first entering operational service in November 1990, along with 18 "F-14D(R)" upgrades from F-14As. The original intent had been to upgrade the entire Tomcat fleet to F-14D standards, but with the end of the Cold War the full upgrade program was judged too expensive. The F-14Ds were the last Tomcats built, with the final production tally as follows:

   ___________________________________

   variant        new    update   sum
   ___________________________________

   F-14A          557        -    557
   F-14A (Iran)    80        -     80
   F-14B           38       32     70
   F-14D           37        -     37
   F-14D(R)         -       18     18
   ___________________________________

   totals         712       50    762
   ___________________________________

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[2.3] PROPOSED TOMCAT VARIANTS / TOMCAT UPGRADES

* There were several proposals for improved Tomcat variants. In the early 1970s, the US Air Force was after an "Improved Manned Interceptor (IMI)" for continental defense, and Grumman modified one of the Tomcat mockups to demonstrate a solution based on the Tomcat. This concept featured conformal fuel tanks to provide considerably extended range, but the Air Force didn't bite. Grumman also proposed several cost-reduced Tomcat variants to the Navy, with designations such as "F-14T", "F-14X", and "F-14 Optimod", that went nowhere as well, and a dedicated reconnaissance variant, the "RF-14", was dropped in favor of the Tomcat-TARPS solution.

Much later, the Navy had hopes to develop a new-technology "stealthy" strike aircraft, the "A-12 Avenger", to replace the Grumman A-6 Intruder, but the A-12 program went off the rails and was axed in 1991. With the A-6 facing obsolescence and the A-12 program dead, the Navy was faced with having no heavy precision strike aircraft in its inventory.

Grumman proposed production of strike-optimized F-14s. That was not as big a stretch as it might have seemed, since Grumman had basically designed the Tomcat as a multirole machine. Even before the F-14 performed its first flight Grumman had published images of the machine carrying a heavy bombload, and apparently the Tomcat's AN/AWG-15 fire-control computer included support for the strike mission. The company came forward with the notion again several times in the 1970s and 1980s, but the Navy didn't bite on it.

With the cancellation of the A-12, Grumman came back to the idea once again, proposing a "QuickStrike" derivative of the F-14D that could be developed in a short time. The QuickStrike F-14D was to feature an improved AN/APG-71 radar, a substantially improved cockpit, carriage of targeting and navigation pods, and a revised stores carriage system to allow the machine to tote a heavy warload under its fuselage and wings.

This concept led to the "Super Tomcat 21", which featured all the refinements of the QuickStrike F-14D, plus advanced General Electric F110-GE-129 engines with thrust-vectoring nozzles; more fuel capacity; improved flight control surfaces to permit takeoffs at higher weights; and a new single-piece wraparound windshield. The new GE engines would permit the ability to cruise at supersonic speed without using afterburner. Grumman tweaked the design further to add more fuel and further improved flight control surfaces, resulting in the "Attack Super Tomcat 21". However, by the mid-1990s all these proposals were dead -- which at least prevented Grumman from coming up with still more long-winded names for further F-14 attack variants.

The problem with the schemes for the improved Tomcats was that the money simply wasn't there. The end of the Cold War meant a certain retrenchment in defense spending, at least for a time, and the Navy had committed to a scaled-up version of the F/A-18 Hornet, the McDonnell Douglas "F/A-18E/F Super Hornet" as their multirole combat aircraft for the future. There wasn't money to buy another major combat aircraft type.

In terms of payload-range in the strike role the "Super Bug" wasn't quite in the same league as the A-6 or the advanced Tomcat strike variants, but the Navy believed that the F/A-18E/F could well meet the service's operational requirements; it was the future and there was no prospect of building more Tomcats. However, as discussed below, the notion of an attack Tomcat didn't go away.

* Although the Navy couldn't get new Tomcats, it could provide modest upgrades for those it had in service to keep them flying and capable. In 1988, the Navy initiated the "Multi-Mission Capability Avionics Program (MMCAP)", first known as the "F-14++" program, to modernize their F-14A/Bs. This featured installation of the improved AN/ALR-67 RWR; fit of Swedish BOL chaff-flare dispensers on the rear end of the Sidewinder launch rails; an improved mission computer; two MIL-STD 1553B digital databuses; and a new "Programmable Tactical Information Display System (PTIDS)" for the RIO in the back seat. The first MMCAP F-14A was redelivered in 1994.

A program to refit the F-14B with a modern HUD was initiated in 1997, using a Flight Visions Sparrow Hawk HUD instead of the more expensive Kaiser HUD used in the F-14D. The Sparrow Hawk in principle only cost about a third as much as the Kaiser HUD, but it turned out the Sparrow Hawk didn't meet military reliability specifications and required substantial redesign, raising the price substantially -- though it still remained cheaper than the Kaiser HUD. Apparently F-14As retained their original HUD.

There was also an effort to refit F-14As with NACES ejection seats, but this program was canceled, and it is unclear if any F-14As were fitted with the new ejection seats. Yet another minor upgrade replaced the old AN/ALE-39 chaff-flare dispenser on the F-14B and F-14D with the modern AN/ALE-47 dispenser, resulting in a much more effective system integrated with the BOL chaff dispensers.

One of the most interesting upgrades was the GEC-Marconi "Digital Flight Control System (DFCS)", with implementation begun in 1996 and Northrop Grumman participating in systems integration. The idea behind DFCS was to replace the Tomcat's old analog flight-control system with a modern digital FCS featuring advanced software. DFCS was based on technology developed for the Eurofighter Typhoon and was a definite plus for the Tomcat. DFCS not only did much to tame the Tomcat's infamous spin departure characteristics, reducing the likelihood of departure and improving recovery when it occurred, but also substantially improved approach handling and was far easier to maintain.

* Along with modest refinements to the Tomcat itself, the TARPS reconnaissance pod was improved. The original TARPS pod recorded all of its imagery on photographic film, which meant that reconnaissance data wasn't available until the Tomcat had landed and the film was developed. Modern reconnaissance platforms carry "electro-optic (EO)" sensors to take digital images that not only do not require development, but can be relayed over a datalink to provide real-time imagery to reconnaissance users.

The Navy decided to modernize TARPS by replacing the KS-87B film camera in the forward pod station with a Pulnix digital camera. The Pulnix camera was arranged to shoot only out the bottom-facing window and could take 200 frames. The updated "TARPS Digital (TARPS-DI)" pod was introduced in 1996. The pod was further updated beginning in 1998 to the "TARPS-CD" configuration, featuring an improved digital camera system. In 1999, some Tomcats were fitted with the "Fast Tactical Imagery (FTI)" datalink to allow transmission of EO imagery in real time. The datalink could also transmit TCS imagery.

BACK_TO_TOP

[2.4] BOMBCAT / TOMCAT IN SERVICE 1992:2005

* Despite the fact that by the advanced strike versions of the Tomcat hadn't panned out, the idea of a strike Tomcat remained alive, with the concept that the existing fleet of F-14s could be assigned the job. The Navy had been experimenting with dropping bombs from Tomcats as far back as 1987, though weapons clearance went at a very slow pace. It wasn't until 1992 that the Tomcat was even cleared to carry "iron bombs" operationally.

Although the advanced strike Tomcat concepts had featured wing pylons to carry weapons, the standard Tomcat was restricted to carriage of four bombs on munitions adapters mounted on the Phoenix stores stations. It was possible to fit "triple ejector racks (TERs)" that could carry three stores each, but that was apparently only done to carry practice bombs.

Even after clearing the Tomcat for bomb carriage, the Navy still seemed half-hearted about the idea. Tomcats did perform a few strikes in Bosnia in 1995, but they had no means to designate targets for laser-guided bombs (LGBs) themselves and Hornets had to provide "buddy designation" for them. However, by this time the attack Tomcat concept was building up momentum, driven by the time gap between the phaseout of the A-6 Intruder and the arrival of the Super Hornet. By 1994 Grumman and the Navy were proposing ambitious plans for Tomcat upgrades to plug that gap, but Congress balked. The upgrades were priced in the billions, a bit much for an interim solution, and they would take too long to implement to meet the looming gap.

The solution finally devised was a limited cheap and quick upgrade, with fit of the Lockheed Martin "Low Altitude Navigation & Targeting Infra-Red for Night (LANTIRN)" targeting pod system to the Tomcat, which gave the F-14 a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera for night operations and a laser target designator to direct LGBs. The upgraded Tomcats also went through a "service life extension program (SLEP)" to keep their airframes airworthy and were fitted with a set of modest improvements, detailed under the MMCAP program description above.

Although LANTIRN was traditionally a two-pod system -- including an AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod with terrain-following radar and a wide-angle FLIR, plus a an AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod with a steerable FLIR and a laser target designator -- the decision was made to only use the targeting pod. This was apparently done for cost reasons, though the Tomcat's LANTIRN targeting pod did feature some improvements over its baseline configuration, most significantly a Global Positioning System / Inertial Navigation System (GPS-INS) capability that allowed a Tomcat to find its own location at any time. The pod was carried on the right wing glove pylon.

Fit of the AN/AAQ-14 pod didn't require any updates to the F-14's own system software, which would have substantially increased the time and expense of the upgrade. It did require that the Tomcat have the MIL-STD 1553B bus, fitted standard to the F-14D and available on MMCAP F-14A/Bs. The RIO received pod imagery on his display and guided LGBs using a new hand controller. Initially the hand controller replaced the RIO's TARPS control panel, meaning a Tomcat configured for LANTIRN couldn't carry TARPS and the reverse, but eventually a workaround was developed that allowed a Tomcat to carry LANTIRN or TARPS as needed.

* Initial flight of a LANTIRN-equipped Tomcat was on 21 March 1995 and the test program went smoothly. Official rollout of the first "F-14 Precision Strike Fighter" was on 14 June 1996. The "Bombcat" had finally come of age and was on its first operational cruise by the end of the month, on the carrier USS ENTERPRISE. Lockheed Martin engineers were on board the carrier to provide fixes and make changes as required. The Bombcats flew sorties over Bosnia but did not see any combat.

Interestingly, Bombcat crews reported that the FLIR on board the LANTIRN pod was more effective in checking out distant targets than the old TCS system. The FLIR had 4x, 10x, and 20x magnification capabilities and could be steered 150 degrees off the aircraft centerline. Later on, when the FTI datalink was fitted to the F-14, LANTIRN FLIR imagery could be relayed along and TARPS and TCS data to provide night reconnaissance imagery in real time.

The LANTIRN Bombcat made its combat debut in Operation DESERT FOX, air strikes conducted against Iraq in December 1998 after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein evicted UN arms inspectors. The Bombcats saw more combat in the NATO air campaign against Serbia over Kosovo in the spring of 1999, flying hundreds of sorties, and then in more strikes on Iraqi air-defense targets.

Tomcats also flew in the air-defense role during the Iraq strikes, and on 6 January 1999, one fired two Phoenix missiles at two Iraqi MiG-25s. Both missiles missed. This was the first time the US Navy had ever fired the Phoenix in anger. Two more were fired at Iraqi fighters in September 1999, missing again. Apparently in both cases, the Iraqi fighters were at extreme range and just trying to be an nuisance, and the missiles were mainly fired to suggest that the Iraqis get lost. They were also the last times the US Navy fired the Phoenix in anger. Plans were made to modify the Tomcat for carriage of the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, a much more modern weapon if with considerably less range, but it never happened.

* In any case, by this time the Bombcat was receiving a new strike capability in the form of the GPS-aided GBU-31/32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) GPS-guided bomb. Tomcat LANTIRN pods were also improved to permit high-altitude operation up to 12,200 meters (40,000 feet), with the first updated "LANTIRN 40K" pod going into service in 2001.

Bombcats got a chance to use their new weaponry during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, the American intervention in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001:2002, following attacks by Islamic terrorists on the United States. Bombcats performed close-support strikes using LGBs and JDAMs, and also marked targets with LANTIRN for F/A-18 Hornets. F-14s also participated in the American invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003.

Grumman F-14B Tomcats

* That was the swan song of the Tomcat. By 2006 maintenance was running at 40 or 50 hours per each flight hour and the plan to keep the Tomcat flying to 2008 was clearly unrealistic. The last combat mission, a Bombcat strike against Iraq, was on 8 February 2006. The last service flight was on 4 October 2006, with the formal retirement on 22 September 2006. The Tomcat was the last Grumman fighter in US Navy service. One ex-Tomcat pilot commented that he liked his new Super Hornet, it was "as reliable as a Japanese car, everything works all the time" -- but added: "Sorry, it just ain't sexy. The Tomcat is sexy."

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[2.5] COMMENTS, SOURCES, & REVISION HISTORY

* There were a number of factoids about the Tomcat's history that didn't fit in well elsewhere in this document. On 14 September 1976, a Phoenix-armed F-14A rolled off the deck of the US Navy carrier JOHN F. KENNEDY in the North Sea, with the crew ejecting safely. Of course, a Red Navy cruiser had been shadowing the American carrier group and presumably the Soviet sailors didn't fail to notice the bungle, and so the Navy performed an expensive eight-week deep-water recovery effort to retrieve the fighter. It is unclear if it ever returned to service after recovery, though it seems a bit unlikely.

There was an incident in 1978 when an F-14 was getting ready for carrier launch, and the cat release mechanism failed, sending the aircraft and its two crew down to the end of the deck in a leisurely roll that was certain to put them into the drink. The pilot hit afterburners, the Tomcat flew off the bow and then disappeared below the line of sight, with the pilot and RIO prudently ejecting. Then, much to everybody's shock, the unpiloted F-14 blasted up from the top of the waves into the sky, climbing like a rocket up to a few thousand feet ... to flop over on its back and zoom back to the carrier. Nobody could do much but watch in terror as it came down, to hit the water alongside the carrier.

The Navy also used F-14As as "adversary" aircraft, most or all flown by the Naval Strike & Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon, Nevada. They were used as substitutes for threat aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker and MiG-31 Foxhound. Some of the adversary Tomcats were painted in very pretty blue-splinter Su-27-style camouflage, but apparently later adopted an Iranian-style desert camouflage pattern to match the Nevada environment.

* Relative to its numbers and length of service, the Tomcat's combat history was modest, but it has had an interesting movie career, which has a certain justice considering its role in Reagan-era political theater. The best-known movie involving the Tomcat was the 1986 Tom Cruise vehicle TOP GUN, but though popular it was arguably less entertaining to an aircraft enthusiast than the 1980 THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, which put the Tomcat almost in a starring role with Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen in support. The plot was negligible, a comic-book scenario in which a modern US Navy aircraft carrier was transported back in time to just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and amounted to little more than an excuse to watch Tomcats in action. It was all good silly fun, Kirk Douglas was obviously enjoying himself in that spirit, and helped pass it on to the audience.

* As concerns copyrights and permissions for this document, all illustrations and images credited to me are public domain. I reserve all rights to my writings. However, if anyone does want to make use of my writings, just contact me, and we can chat about it. I'm lenient in giving permissions, usually on the basis of being properly credited.

* Sources include:

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 may 03 
   v1.0.1 / 01 jun 03 / Minor corrections.
   v1.0.2 / 01 may 05 / Review & polish.
   v1.1.0 / 01 nov 06 / Tomcat retirement, tweaks, went to 2 chapters.
   v1.1.1 / 01 oct 08 / Iranian service.
   v1.1.2 / 01 sep 10 / Review & polish.
   v1.1.3 / 01 aug 12 / Review & polish.
   v1.1.4 / 01 jul 14 / Review & polish.
   v1.1.5 / 01 jun 16 / Review & polish.
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