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F-14A: The Beginning

In 1968 the F-14 program was born with the Navy's proposal for the VFX (Navy Fighter Experimental) and resulted in Grumman's general design 303 (see below). The VFX required a fighter with a two-man crew with tandem seating, two engines, an advanced weapon system with a powerful radar plus the ability to carry a variety of long-, medium- and short-range high-performance air-to-air missiles and an internal gun. Furthermore, the VFX should be able to land on a carrier with a full armament load (if one considers the costs of todays weapons quite a reasonable requirement!).

Years before anybody thought of developing the F-14, in the early 1960's the US Navy and US Air Force had planned to build a fighter that should meet the requirements of both the Navy and the Air Force: The F-111. The Navy version was the F-111B, nicknamed "Sea Pig" by Navy crews and test personnel, an 85,000 lbs experimental fighter aircraft that was build to carry the 1,000 lbs heavy AIM-54 Phoenix missile and the AWG-9 radar.
Missile and radar were a unique composition to shoot down aerial enemy targets 100 miles away. F-111B flight tests were not successful and killed several pilots. The aircraft was too heavy, too clumsy, too much a maintanance nightmare. Only 7 F-111B were produced before the program had been canceled in 1968. The AWG-9 radar and Phoenix missile would be installed in the F-111B replacement aircraft, the F-14A Tomcat. The Navy and Hughes decided to continue testing the AWG-9/Phoenix with the F-111B prototypes to ensure that the system was ready when the Tomcat was ready to fly years later.

As an incentive for the contractor to fullfill the requirements, the Navy put some penalties on the project if Grumman would fail on some of the contract guarantees:
  • Empty Weight: $440,000 for each 100 lbs overweight
  • Acceleration: $440,000 for each second slow
  • Escort Radius: $1 million for each 10 nautical miles short
  • Approach Speed: $1.056 million for each knot fast
  • Maintainability: $450,000 for each extra maintenance man-hour per flight hour
  • Delivery to Navy Board of Inspection and Survey: $5,000 for each day late

With this background and a good deal of knowledge on building Navy fighter aircraft, Grumman succeeded in delivering the F-14 on time, on cost and as an even better fighter than they contracted for! This is what the F-14 could have looked like ... Early Grumman general configuration models of what could have become the Tomcat:

During the design process, some 9,000 hours of wind-tunnel testing were performed on some 2,000 different configurations and nearly 400 combinations of air inlets and exhaust nozzles! In 1968 the design studies of the Grumman engineers concentrated on 8 layouts before the E version became the winning design (See table below). Thoughts during the design process incorporated the behaviour during high speed (supersonic) flight, supersonic combat ceiling performance, trouble-free engine performance, engine growth potential and subsonic longitudinal stability. The fixed-wing version was rejected because of its weight, carrier suitability and because of its low-altitude performance. Some of the basic design background for the F-14 (and also for the F-111) was gathered using a German x-plane which was built during 1944! Click here to read more about it and view some photos of this test aircraft.

303-60 The January 1968 proposed aircraft: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing
303A Nacelle Modification of 303-60: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing
303B Design 303-60 updated for configuration comparison: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing (see above photo)
303C Submerged Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing
303D Submerged Engines, Low Variable-Sweep Wing
303E Basically, the winning F-14 design: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing
303F Submerged Engines, High Fixed Wing
303G A fighter only version (AWG-10, 4 Sparrows) without Phoenix capability: Podded Engines, High Variable-Sweep Wing

When the initial design 303E was accepted, further improvements were made in the next design steps:
  • Incorporation of Grummans convergent-divergent iris engine nozzles. Increased supersonic maximum afterburner thrust at no penalty in cruise fuel flow.
  • Nacelles moved closer together and fuselage depth increased forward. Reduced wetted area and improved area distribution. Better sinle-engine control.
  • Revised lines (reflexed trailing edge) of internacelle "pancake" area. Reduced negative supersonic zero-lift pitching moment and reduced supersonic trim drag.
  • Wing area increased to 565 square feet from 505 square feet. Increased combat agility. Allowed use of simple hinged single-slotted flap, rather than complex double-slotted extensible flap. As a fallout, maneuvering flap is easily achieved.
  • Reduced wing aspect ratio, from 8.15 to 7.28. Aspect ration 7.28 yielded minimum takeoff gross weight for Navy-specific (TS-161) fighter mission while still meetin TS-161 6-Phoenix Combat Air Patrol mission carrier-suitability requirements.
  • Re-evaluation of wing bending moments. Considerably reduced design static wing bending moments.
  • Addition of Mach Sweep Programmer Further reduced design static wing bending moments. Optimum sweep programming assured pilot of maximum combat agility he would lack with fixed-sweep combat detent or fixed-wing aircraft. Reduced engineering and flight test development costs.
  • Incorporation of Direct Lift Control for carrier approach. Better control of approach glide path with greatly reduced angle-of-attack excursions. Reduced variability of deck contact conditions, such as attitude and sink rate.
  • Incorporation of glove vane. Superior supersonic maneuverability. Reduced supersonic trim drag.
  • Improved treatment of wing/nacelle relationships involving wing dihedral inboard and anhedral outboard. Better wing/nacelle sealing in all sweep positions. Improved mechanization of over-wing fairing covers.

The first flight of the #1 prototype F-14A took place on December 21, 1970. All in all, fourteen aircraft were used for the development programm, 12 of them instrumented. Of those 12, two were used for the development of the Hughes Phoenix Missile System at Hughes Aircraft Corporation at Point Mugu, CA. Six aircraft were used for airframe/engine testing at the Grumman facilities at Calverton, NY and four for avionic system development at Pt. Mugu. Five F-14s (of the six "airframe" aircraft) spent some time at Patuxent River, Maryland for carrier suitability trials and for structural, powerplant and performance demonstration. The fully proven F-14 was introduced to the fleet only 51 month after contract award!

Day 1, First Flight!
The photograph (click on it to view larger format picture!) shows #1 prototype shortly before its maiden flight on December 21st 1970. Pilot was Grumman chief test pilot Robert Smythe with project test pilot William Miller in the back seat. The first flight was made very late in the day, sometime around 4 P.M. In December on the East Coast of the US, it gets dark early, and by 5 PM it's night-time. When #1 flew, the weather wasn't the greatest either; marginal at best. Grumman needed to get first flight accomplished by the end of 1970 or else end up paying the Navy a fine for breach of contract (see above). With Christmas approaching, Grumman knew that many people will start using their vacation time to extend their Christmas Holiday. So it was a "now or never" feeling at Calverton! On 30 December 1970, on the aircraft's second flight, the #1 Tomcat was lost due to failure of a hydraulic pump which caused a total loss of flight controls. The crew managed to eject safely and the aircraft crashed short of the runway at Grumman's Calverton facilities in New York.

Thereafter flight testing began:
  • 157981: 2nd prototype used for low-speed handling tests
  • 157982: 3rd prototype used for non-destructive structural tests
  • 157983: 4th prototype was the 1st F-14 with AN/AWG-9, used for AIM-54 evaluation
  • 157984: 5th prototype used to demonstrate systems compatibility
  • 157985: 6th prototype: Missile separation & weapons separation tests. #6 crashed on 20.06.1973: The aircraft was lost near Point Mugu when an AIM-7 pitched up on launch and ruptured a fuel tank, causing a fire which necessitated crew ejection.
  • 157986: 7th prototype used as engine testbed, later used as F-14B-30GR prototype and then modified as F-14A(+) prototype
  • 157987: 8th prototype for Navy evaluation tests. Aircraft crashed on 13.05.1974 after suffering an engine fire on ground at Patuxent River
  • 157988: 9th prototype for AN/AWG-9 evaluation
  • 157989: 10th prototype used for carrier qualification evaluation. Aircraft crashed on 30.06.1972 near Chesapeak Bay while practising for an airshow at Patuxent River
  • 157990: 11th prototype used for non-weapons systems avionics tests
  • 157991: 12th prototype (redesignated Prototype #1X) used for high-speed handling tests, modified for single-crew operation
Series production began and VF-124, the Fleet Replacement Squadron, received their first F-14A on the 8th of October 1972. VF-1 and VF-2 began equipping with the Tomcat in July 1973 with a first cruise on the new mount in September 1974.

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F-14 Tomcat History:
The Story of the Fixed-Wing Bird | F-14A: The Beginning | INTERAVIA article on the brandnew F-14A
Photos of early testing and production | Export Tomcats | F-14B: The next step | F-14D: The best ever
Grumman proposals for the future | Today & Tomorrow | F-14 Combat Records
The last F-14 catshot | The Final F-14 Flight Event

F-14 Tomcat:
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