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Quo Vadis, Tomcat?

Today's Tomcats:

As of September 1999, only 13 of once 32 fleet F-14 squadrons plus two test units remain in service with the U.S. Navy. These Tomcats are a mix of aging F-14As, newer F-14Bs and latest F-14Ds.

Except being updated and maintained perfectly, the F-14As face some problems that restrict flying operation today: As every aircraft, the F-14 was designed for a certain number of airframe hours. With some F-14As being in service for up to 27 years, a lot of airframe hours were accumulated and some F-14s will be out of business soon. Airframe structural integrity is not guaranteed any longer and cracks in the structure might occur sooner or later.
To prevent this, F-14s are limited in flight operations, especially dogfighting (with high g-loads) is no longer possible with every F-14 since they may not exceed a certain g-load! Especially the wingbox's show their age: Cracks occur more and more often.
All of todays F-14s are permanently upgraded with new avionics and systems: The digital TARPS pod, the addition of the LANTIRN, laser-guided precision munition, extended self-defense equipment and soon joint direct attack munition (JDAM) to name but a few. Also, F-14As receive a major upgrade with the addition of a digital flight control system.

Until today, the F-14 is still a most capable strike-fighter aircraft that is not beaten by many of the newer aircraft. It's fighter-interceptor capability with its speed and AIM-54 missiles is unmatched by any Navy fighter. It's air-to-ground bomb capacity together with its range are not reached by any Navy fighter. The F-14 is still the only aircraft in the Navy inventory, in fact in all U.S. forces performing as a aerial combat reconnaissance platform.


According to latest statements by the U.S. Navy, the F-14s will stay in service with the Navy until 2006. Already in 2001 some of the F-14As began to retire and only the best and newest B & D airframes of this potent fighter remain in service.

Photo: Gerry Clark

In the recent years there have been talks about a possible replacement for the F-14, now that the Tomcat is at its best! There has never been a better Turkey than todays F-14D.

I guess quite some of you who read this now know about the replacement for the F-14 ... the new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or Super Bug. I am not expert enough to say if it is the better airplane for tomorrows Navy or not. I can only repeat what I have heard about it: And that makes me think that the F/A-18 is not the better fighter; One pilot only, "short" long-range, less weapons bring-back capability, never capable to be an air superiority fighter as the F-14 with its radar and the AIM-54. Nevertheless, some vote pro F/A-18, some pro F-14.

Navy statement (as of March 2001): "F/A-18E/F Super Hornet .... Leading Naval Aviation into the 21st Century. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a winner... it's affordable... and it's flying today, exceeding every operational goal. F/A-18E/F will outperform any top-line fighter aircraft of today and tomorrow."

Navy test pilot comments* (as of January 2002):
"The (F/A-18E/F) aircraft is slower than most fighters fielded since the early 1960s."
A Hornet pilot who flew numerous side-by-side comparison flights with F/A-18E/F SuperHornets said: "We outran them, we out-flew them and we ran them out of gas. I was embarrassed for them"

Navy F-14 pilots speak vividly about the SuperHornet (in an Associated Press article in late 2001):
"Its the same old Hornet shit, repackaged, which was designed to keep the politicians happy." He said that "it can never match the Tomcat's long range, (Mach) 2.4 speed and predator mystique. (...) The capability the Tomcat has for speed is amazing, there is not another plane in the Navy's inventory that can come anywhere close to it. You look at the plane on the ground and it looks intimidating, it looks like something that is made for war. I hope the liberal fudge packing, (...) who thought the Hornet could replace this avaition masterpiece rot in hell."

Check out the Boeing homepage to learn more about the Navy's newest fighter. I am not neutral in this case and I would ever vote pro F-14.

I'm definitely fanatic for the F-14 and so I don't feel comfortable at all with the end of the Tomcat era.
But at least the F-14 is already in service for more than 27 years, has accumulated more than 1.6 million flighthours during its first 20 years of service, and on its final day with the Navy the F-14 will have done its duty for nearly four decades!!!


* as published in Flight Journal, issue Feb. 2002.

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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
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The last F-14 catshot | The Final F-14 Flight Event

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