In the early 1960’s Grumman had worked with General Dynamics in the development of a carrier-based fighter version of the TFX, the F‑111B.
When Congress finally decided to stop development of compromised F-111B, the VFX project was announced. On the 15th January 1969, Grumman was declared as competition winner for a new carrier-based fighter for the U.S. Navy. The company agreed to produce by May full scale mock-up and 12 development aircraft. The person responsible for the F-14 project was Admiral Tom Conolly, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air. The aircraft was dubbed “Tom’s Cat” long before it was officially named “Tomcat”.
Naming their aircraft after “cats” is a long held Grumman tradition. On the second flight, due to hydraulic system failure, crew was forced to eject and plane was destroyed. Despite the loss, Tomcat’s program has been a technical success and produced one of the best world’s combat fighters. Aircraft has automatically scheduled variable-sweep swing, to match the carrier-based plane conflicting needs of short take-off and landing, dog-fighting and attack on surface targets at low level. The F-14 was one of the most maneuverable and agile airplanes of its generation.
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. The F-14 entered the fleet in 1973, replacing the F-4 Phantom II. VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters were the first Navy fighter squadrons to received the new aircraft. VF-2 flew the first operational sorties from the U.S.S. Enterprise in March 1974. F-14A version deliveries were completed in April 1987 at a total of 557 plus 80 planes supplied to Imperial Iranian Air Force.
The weak point of the Tomcat was in its engines, which were initially a pair of Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-412 axial flow turbofans. An improved engine, the TF30-P-414A, became available in early 1981 and it was installed on F-14As.The F-14 Tomcat AN/AWG-9 system allows the RIO to track no less than 24 targets and fire 6 Phoenix missiles against the 6 most hostile target. The radar also allows track and scans up to 160 km. Impressive as the Phoenix might seem; it is only part of the Tomcats claw. The Tomcat can be fitted with 6 AIM-54 Phoenix long range AAM, 6 AIM-7 Sparrow and 4 AIM-9 Sidewinders. The F-14D is capable of carrying CBU-59 and Rockeye bombs. On August 19, 1981 two F-14As from VF-41 Black Aces shot down two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters using AIM-9 Sidewinders after the lead Fitter pilot fired a missile at one of the F-14s, which missed. One of the Su-22 pilots was seen to have ejected.
The Tomcat’s were used during Operation Desert Storm providing CAP (Combat Air Patrol) for bombers and other aircraft, and also performing TARPS (Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System) missions. In late 1995, the F-14 Tomcat took on a new, and completely different role in military combat over targets in Bosnia... they became bombers. Dubbed “Bombcats”, these new bombers dropped LGB “smart bombs” while other aircraft painted the targets with lasers. They also performed reconnaissance missions. Bombcats got a chance to use their new weaponry during Operation Enduring Freedom, the American intervention in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001/02, following attacks by Islamic terrorists on the United States.
F-14s of the U.S. Navy have shot down five enemy aircraft with no losses. One has been lost to a surface-to-air missile. The last Tomcats are expected to be out of service in 2006.They are being replaced by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The phase-out of the Tomcat will be the end of an era, as it will be the last Grumman fighter in U.S. Navy service.