F-14 Tomcat, Grumman

F-14 Tomcat Photo by Robin Powney

Large and powerful two-seat, twin-engine, shipboard fighter with variable geometry wings. The weapons system and the Phoenix missile armament are unrivalled for long-distance interceptions, making the F-14 one of the most effective heavy fighters. The original F-14A model was powered by TF30 engines, but the TF30 was too unreliable and not powerful enough. After a lot of experimentation, the F110 engine was adopted, and installed in new-built F-14Ds or upgraded F-14Bs (Formerly known as F-14A+). The F-14D also introduced digital instead of analog avionics.

The F-14A entered service in 1972 with the USN, replacing the F-4 Phantom II. The F-14 is expensive and very maintenance intensive, and the only export customer was Iran. On 22 september 2006 the USN retired the the F-14, replacing it with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. At this time, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) remains the only air force flying F-14's.

Type: F-14A
Country: USA
Function: fighter
Year: 1972
Crew: 2
Engines: 2 * 9500 kg P&W TF30-P-412A turbofan
Wing Span: 19.54 m/11.65 m
Length: 19.10 m
Height: 4.88 m
Wing Area: 52.49 m2
Empty Weight: 18036 kg
Max.Weight: 33724 kg
Max. Speed: 2500 km/h
Ceiling: 18300 m
Max. Range: 3220 km
Armament: 1*g20mm msl
Unit cost: 35 million USD


The F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic, twin-engine, variable sweep wing, two-place fighter designed to attack and destroy enemy aircraft at night and in all weather conditions.

Features and characteristics:

The Tomcat consists of a high forward nacelle containing the radar and cockpits, and two widely spaced engines arranged around a flat fuselage that contains the variable geometry mechanism. The fuselage alone forms over half of the aircraft's lifting surface. The space between the engines allows for carriage of many external stores in a less aerodynamically intrusive manner than on the wings, in a manner reminiscent of the A-5 Vigilante. The variable geometry wings would have required complex pylons to remain aligned with the airstream, as on the F-111B. The F-14 has an additional pair of hardpoints on the fixed vane portion of the wing.

Though designed as an interceptor for high speed at the expense of manoeuvrability, the F-14 was one of the most manoeuvrable and agile aircraft of its generation. This was a consequence of the requirement for low landing speeds. 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 offset the migration of the center of lift rearwards as airspeed increased. Pilots could also manually deploy them for extra assist in turns. However, the benefits were not considered worth the maintenance workload caused by the vanes and they were subsequently removed on later variants. Most variable-geometry aircraft are optimised for fast, low-altitude attack, emphasizing good gust response rather than manoeuvrability.

Despite the Tomcat's considerable size, its agility compares well to many other fighters, although that created problems for the troublesome and unreliable TF30 turbofans, which were subject to compressor stalls in violent manoeuvres or high alpha. Once the reliable F110 engines arrived, which also provided the F-14 with the full thrust for which it was designed, the full capability of the aircraft became apparent. The plane accelerates and decelerates very rapidly, and while it can't match it in roll, is said to be able to consistently fight F-16Cs to a draw close in while retaining its speed, endurance and avionics advantages. In addition, early in its development, an F-14 easily defeated a slatted F-4J Phantom in mock air-to-air combat. Although the F-14 is capable of Mach 2.4+ dashes in a clean configuration, experience has shown that very little time is spent above Mach 2. Despite its agility in the air, the F-14 is notoriously difficult to land on a carrier deck and its service has been marred by numerous landing accidents.

The Tomcat was intended as an uncompromising 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. In a now famous test, an F-14 simultaneously shot down five of six target drones. However, what was not commonly disclosed is that the drones were flying dumb profiles; not jamming or evading the missiles, unlike an actual target would.

The F-14's primary weapon has been the AIM-54 Phoenix missile, capable of engaging a target at up to 200 km (120 statute miles). It was removed from service on 30 September 2004, replaced by the lower-range but much more accurate and manoeuvrable AIM-120 AMRAAM. The F-14 was the only aircraft to carry the AIM-54, which was designed as an integral part of the Tomcat weapons system. Although it could carry up to six of these large weapons, its heavy weight only enabled the F-14 to land on a carrier with two. Medium-range armament was provided by the AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing missile (also replaced by the AMRAAM). For short ranges, it carried AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared missiles and a single M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon.

Though designed with some air-to-ground capability, the F-14 did not take that role until late in its career. Tomcats have now been equipped to carry the LANTIRN targeting system for use by laser-guided bombs and other precision-guided weapons. Some F-14's 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 was developed to take the place of the General Dynamics F-111B, the aborted navalized version of the TFX project. Intended to provide fleet air defense, the F-111B proved unmaneuverable, overweight, and, in general, poorly suited to carrier operations, leading to its cancellation in 1968

Grumman was given the contract for the F-14 in January 1969. Upon being granted the contract for the F-14, Grumman greatly expanded its Calverton, Long Island, New York facility to test and evaluate the new swing-wing interceptor. Much of the testing was in the air of the Long Island sound as well as the first few in-flight accidents including the first of many compressor stalls and ejections.

The Navy requirement called for a long-range, high-endurance interceptor. Navy doctrine for defending against the new Soviet jet bombers armed with nuclear anti-ship missiles involved defense in depth, with the outer ring consisting of interceptors functioning as high-speed missile platforms. This requirement was originally to be filled by the cancelled F6D Missileer. The most significant problem with such a design was accommodating the contradictory demands of high speed, long range, and low landing speeds for carrier operations. Variable geometry wings offered a solution to this conundrum.

The Navy issued an RFP for the VFX in July 1968, resulting in the selection of the Grumman offer in 1969. Early in development, the Tomcat was already shown to have several advantages over the F-111B. It was smaller, lighter, and more fuel-efficient than the TFX. Ironically, much of the F-14's equipment was re-used from the TFX, including the AN/AWG-9 radar, AIM-54 Phoenix missile, and the Pratt & Whitney TF30 engines.

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 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. In addition, "Tomcat" was first suggested for the Grumman F7F Tigercat in 1943, but it was rejected by the Navy as being inappropriately suggestive.

To facilitate the rapid entry of the F-14 into service, the Navy planned to recycle the engine and avionics from the F-111B for the initial version, and progressively introduce new avionics and weapons systems into the airframe. The designation F-14A was assigned to the airframe equipped with updated TF-30 engines and the AN/AWG-9 weapons system from the F-111B. It first took flight December 21, 1970. The original plan was to only build a few F-14As, as the TF30 was known to be a troublesome engine. In addition, the engine was not designed for rapid thrust changes or a wide flight envelope and only supplied 74% of the intended thrust for the F-14. An F-14B would follow in November 1987 using the engine from the advanced technology engine competition. The F-14C was intended to denote a varient implementing a replacement for the AN/AWG-9. However, it was delayed, and this variant was never produced. When it finally arrived as the AN/APG-71, the designation assigned to the new aircraft was F-14D, which first flew November 24, 1987.

General Characteristics

Function: Carrier-based multi-role strike fighter
Contractor: Grumman Aerospace Corporation
Unit Cost: $38 million
F-14: two Pratt & Whitney TF-30P-414A turbofan engines with afterburners;
F-14B and F-14D: two General Electric F-110-GE-400 augmented turbofan engines with afterburners
F-14A: 20,900 pounds (9,405 kg) static thrust per engine;
F-14B and F-14D: 27,000 pounds (12,150 kg) per engine
Length: 61 feet 9 inches (18.6 meters)
Height: 16 feet (4.8 meters)
Wingspan: 64 feet (19 meters) unswept, 38 feet (11.4 meters) swept
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 72,900 pounds (32,805 kg)
Ceiling: Above 50,000 feet
Speed: Mach 2+
Crew: Two: pilot and radar intercept officer
Armament: Up to 13,000 pounds of AIM-54 Phoenix missile, AIM-7 Sparrow missile, AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, air-to-ground ordnance, and one MK-61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon
Date Deployed: First flight: December 1970
Retired (from USN): September 2006

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