Updated date:

The F-14 Tomcat, Star of Screen and Real Combat


During the Vietnam Conflict the U.S. air arms were looking for a fighter aircraft that would give them a decisive advantage over the communist fighters. The Soviet Union was also developing a new generation of fighters. The U.S. Navy turned to Grumman, the company that made the Wildcat, Hellcat, and Bearcat. Grumman developed the F-14 Tomcat. The Tomcat’s development and U.S. Navy retirement were controversial. The F-14 made its mark on military and film history.

Initial Development

After the U.S. Navy backed out of the Tactical Fighter, Experimental (TFX) program it still needed an aircraft to replace the F-4 Phantom II. On February 4, 1969 the Navy awarded Grumman the contract for the F-14.[i] The F-14, piloted by Grumman’s chief test pilot Robert Smythe with project test pilot William “Bob” Millar in the rear seat, made its first flight on December 21, 1970, over a month ahead of schedule. This prototype made its second flight on December 30. On this flight, with Millar as pilot and Smythe in the rear seat, the aircraft suffered multiple system failures. Both pilots ejected safely seconds before the plane crashed.[ii] The call to eject, ejections, and crash appeared on the evening news. On June 30, 1972 another F-14 prototype crashed from similar causes. William Millar, the only person in the aircraft, died in this crash[iii]. The F-14’s first air-air kill happened on June 20, 1973 when an F-14 shot itself down with an AIM-7 Sparrow missile.[iv] Both crew members ejected safely[v]. The Navy deployed the first F-14s in 1974, after the Vietnam Ceasefire.

The F-14’s airframe was 24% titanium and had a boron-epoxy composite for its tailplane’s skin.[vi] Unlike the F-111 and Soviet variable-geometry wing aircraft of the day the F-14 could change the angle of its wings automatically. The Tomcat could track 24 targets simultaneously and simultaneously guide its AIM-54A Phoenix air-air missiles to six separate targets. The AIM-54A had a range of over 100 miles (160km).[vii]

The Department of Defense (DoD) gave Grumman a fixed price contract which assumed a 3% annual inflation rate in 1969.[viii] The U.S. inflation rate hadn’t been as low as 3% since November 1967. In 1969 the inflation rate ranged from a low of 4.4% in January to a high of 6.2% in November[ix]. In March 1971, with inflation at 4.7%, Grumman asked the Navy to renegotiate the contract. The Navy and DoD turned down Grumman’s request. By 1973 Grumman had run up a deficit of almost $90 million over the previous two years. DoD agreed to negotiate and reached a compromise agreement with Grumman in March 1973.[x] The renegotiated deal meant Grumman would incur a $220 million loss. The agreement included a $200 million government loan to keep Grumman in business until the re-negotiated prices took effect. Congress cancelled the loan in August 1974. This would have put Grumman in dire straits had it not been for the Tomcat’s other customer. Iran had placed an order for 80 F-14s. Bank Melli Iran provided a $75 million loan. This enabled Grumman to get $175 million from U.S. banks. Grumman was again a profitable company and in 1975 the F-14 project became profitable for Grumman.[xi] Iran and the U.S. Navy were the only F-14 buyers.

Among the controversies with the F-14 was its price. The unit procurement cost for F-14s in 1977 was $23.75 million.[xii] This was over five times the cost of the F-4 Phantom II.[xiii] In simulated combats between the F-14 and the F-5, a single seat fighter that was simpler, more maneuverable, and only a fraction of the cost, the F-14 had no better than a 1.4:1 kill to loss ratio. Even though the F-14s, with its Television Sighting Unit (TSU), could fire its AIM-7 Sparrow missile first the F-14 had to keep the F-5 within 65ᵒ off boresight to keep the Sparrow on target. This meant before the Sparrow struck the F-5 would see and fire its missile at the F-14.[xiv] Why use Top Gun to train pilots how to fly against more maneuverable aircraft when you can give the pilots more maneuverable aircraft? Why does this matter since air-air combat had reached the point of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD.)[xv]

[i] Grumman F-14 Tomcat by Doug Richardson © 1985. P.23.

[ii] Grumman F-14 Tomcat by Doug Richardson © 1985. P.37-38.

[iii] Opposite Lock, https://oppositelock.kinja.com/f-14-prototype-crash-456543723, last accessed 9/16/2018.

[iv] Top Edge.com, http://www.topedge.com/panels/aircraft/sites/mats/f14-history-crash-date01.htm, last accessed, 9/16/2018.

[v] FAQ,org, http://www.faqs.org/docs/air/avtomcat.html, last accessed 9/16/2018.

[vi] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.

[vii] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.

[viii] Grumman F-14 Tomcat by Doug Richardson © 1985. P.87.

[ix] U.S. Inflation Calculator, https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/inflation/historical-inflation-rates/, last accessed 9/17/2018.

[x] Grumman F-14 Tomcat by Doug Richardson © 1985. P.87.

[xi] Grumman F-14 Tomcat by Doug Richardson © 1985. P.94.

[xii] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.

[xiii] The DoD purchased F-4E Phantom IIs for the USAF in 1974 for $4.108 million @. Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.

[xiv] The DoD purchased F-4E Phantom IIs for the USAF in 1974 for $4.108 million @. Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.

[xv] MAD was the U.S. nuclear policy that in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union both sides would surely destroy each other, hence neither side would start a nuclear war.

F-14A Tomcat and Contemporaries

Modern Fighters and Attack Aircraft by Bill Gunston (c) 1980



2xPratt&Whitney TF30-412A turbofans 9,480kg thrust

2xPratt&Whitney F100-100 turbofans 6,744kg trust, 10,800 w/max augementtion

2xTurmansky R-31 turbojets 12,250kg trust w/max augmentation

Max Weight

72,000lb (32,660 kg)

66,000lb (30,000kg)

79,000lb (36,200kg)

Max Speed

Mach 2.34

Mach 2.5

Mach 3.2

Max Speed Sea Level

Mach 1.2

Mach 1.22

Service Ceiling

56,000ft (17,000m)+

70,000ft (21,000m)+

73,000ft (22,250m)


Fighter Config+external fuel 2,000miles (3,200km)

Ferry 3,700 miles (6,000 km)

Internal fuel (700 miles (1,130 km)

Armament - Fighter

1x20mm mmultibarrel cannon + 8 air-air missiles

1x20mm multibarrel cannon + 8 air-air missiles

4 air-air missiles

In the U.S. Navy and in Movies, Up to Desert Storm

The first combat operations for Tomcat were when they flew escort missions during the evacuation of Southeast Asia in the Spring of 1975[i]. The North Vietnamese Air Force didn’t oppose the operation so the Tomcats didn’t engage in combat in these operations. F-14s also flew combat air patrols during the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Beirut, Lebanon on June 20, 1976.

On September 14, 1976 an F-14 rolled off the USS KENNEDY and fell into the Atlantic Ocean. The crew ejected safely. Some Soviet Navy ships witnessed the incident. There was concern if the Soviets retrieved the Tomcat it would be a big intelligence boon for the Soviets. The difficult recovery of the F-14 and its Phoenix missiles took two months and cost $2.4 million.[ii]

The 1980 movie “The Final Countdown” had a big name cast but the real star of the show was the USS NIMITZ. The supporting cast included F-14s. The big F-14 scene was a dogfight between two F-14s and two Japanese A6M2 Zeroes. Modified AT-6 Texans played the part of the Zeroes. The USS NIMITZ had to go straight from filming the movie to prepare for the attempt to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran.[iii]

On September 21, 1980 a U.S. Air Force (USAF) RC-135 was 200 miles (350km) off the Libyan coast when 8 Libyan Air Force fighters flew to intercept it. Three F-14s from the USS KENNEDY came to the aide of the RC-135 and the Libyans disengaged.[iv]

On August 19, 1981 two F-14 were carrying out a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) in the Gulf of Sidra. Libyan Air Force Su-22s approached the F-14 and an Su-22 fired a missile at the F-14s. The missile failed to track. The F-14s promptly shot down the Su-22s[v]. These were the first American air-air kills since the Vietnam Conflict.

On September 9, 1982 F-14s from the USS ENTERPRISE began flying tactical reconnaissance missions over Lebanon. During operation Urgent Fury[vi] F-14s flew CAP missions to protect the fleet against air attack. Is also flew tactical reconnaissance missions in support of ground operations. On November 10, 1983 Syria fired surface-to-air missiles at F-14s on tactical reconnaissance missions over Lebanon. There were subsequent missile attacks against F-14s, and other U.S. Navy aircraft, on tactical reconnaissance missions. On December 3 Syria fired a heavy volume of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) against F-14s. The next day U.S. Navy A-6 and A-7 aircraft struck Syrian AAA batteries. Man-portable SA-7 missiles shot down an A-6 and an A-7.[vii] The A-7 pilot, Commander Edward T. Andrews ejected safely and landed in the Mediterranean. A-6 pilot Lieutenant Mark A. Lange was killed and Bombardier Navigator Lieutenant Robert O. Goodman was captured by the Syrians. Eight U.S. Marines were also killed on that day.[viii] U.S. Civil Rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr. secured Lieutenant Goodman’s release.

In April, 1983 two F-14s were on a reconnaissance mission as part of an international exercise over Somalia. A Somali missile battery mistook the F-14s for Ethiopian aircraft and fired a SA-2 missile at them. The F-14s evaded the missile.[ix]

On October 7, 1985 four terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship MS ACHILLE LAURO. During the hijacking they murdered 69-year-old, wheelchair bound, Leon Klinghoffer. The Egyptian government negotiated an agreement with the hijackers. Egypt allowed the hijackers to leave the country in an EgyptAir Boeing 737. The U.S. Navy made an airborne search in the darkness for the 737. An F-14, crewed by William Roe “Skid” Massey and Dennis “Doc” Plautz, intercepted the jetliner. Other Tomcats joined in the interception. The Tomcats turned their lights on and an E-2C Hawkeye informed the Boeing 737 it would either fly to Sigonella Air Base, Italy or be shot down. When the 737, with 6 terrorists including Abu Abbas and Ozzuddin Badrakkan landed at Sigonella SEAL Team 6 was waiting for them. Italian Air Force personnel and Carabinieri surrounded the U.S. forces and after a standoff the Americans handed the terrorists over to the Italians.[x]

On March 24, 1986 two F-14s intercepted a MiG-25 that was approaching a U.S. Navy battle group. Libya fired SA-5, surface to air missiles (SAMs), at the F-14s. The missiles missed and that night the U.S. Navy A-7Es attacked the SAM sites.[xi] On April 14 the U.S. military launched Operation El Dorado Canyon. It was a joint U.S. Navy, USAF strike against Libya. F-14 Tomcats provided fighter cover for the aircraft and the navy fleet.[xii]

In 1986 Paramount Pictures released the movie Top Gun. The movie stared Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis but the real star was the F-14 fighter. In the movie F-14s, with their Top Gun graduate crews, scored a 4:1 kill-loss ratio in air-air combat. Was this just a typical Hollywood fantasy?

On September 22, 1987 an F-14, piloted by Lieutenant (j.g.) Timothy W. Dorsey with Radar Intercept Officer Lieutenant Commander Edmund Holland, shot down a USAF RF-4 with a Sidewinder missile. It was during an exercise and the F-14 received the order to clear and fire. Lt. Dorsey asked Lt. Cmdr. Holland if they wanted him to shoot down the RF-4. Lt. Cmdr. Holland was thinking in terms of an exercise while Lt. Dorsey was thinking in terms of actually shooting down the aircraft. The RF-4 crew, Captain Mike Ross (Pilot) and 1st Lieutenant Randy Sprouse, ejected and were rescued.[xiii] The RF-4 crew sustained injuries in the ejection.

On January 4, 1989 in an engagement between two Libyan Air Force MiG-23s and two F-14s the F-14s shot down the MiG-23s. The victorious crews were Commanders Joseph B. Connelly (AC) and Leo F. Enwright (RIO), flying in BuNo. 159610, and Lieutenant Hermon C. Cook III (AC) and Lieutenant Commander Steven P. Collins (RIO), flying in BuNo. 159437.[xiv]

[i] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.

[ii] Grumman F-14 Tomcat by Doug Richardson © 1985. P.142-147. The search and recovery involved; the tug SHAKORI, the British-owned OIL HARRIER, the U.S. Navy’s research sub NR-1, and the West German ships TAURUS and TWYFORD.

[iii] The rescue attempt failed because of mechanical and other problems with the helicopters used in the attempt. The mission culminated with a Marine helicopter crashing into a C-130 on the ground. The crash and fire killed 8 U.S. service members.

[iv] El Dorado Canyon: Regan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi by Joseph T. Stanik © 2003, P.30.

[v] The victorious crew members were; Aircraft Commander (AC), Commander Henry Kleemann, Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Lieutenant Dave Venlet, AC Lieutenant Larry Muczynski, and RIO Lieutenant Steve Walker.

[vi] The 1983 invasion of Grenada.

[vii] Grumman F-14 Tomcat by Doug Richardson © 1985. P.156.

[viii] N.Y. Times, U.S. Bombers Hit Lebanon, Syrians Down 2; Reagan Issues Warning; 8 Marines Killed, by Thomas L. Friedman, December 5, 1983. https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/05/world/us-bombers-hit-lebanon-syrians-down-2-reagan-issues-warning-8-marines-killed.html, last accessed September 23, 2018.

[ix] Joe Baugher, Service of F-14 Tomcat with US Navy, http://www.joebaugher.com/navy_fighters/f14_8.html, last accessed 9/23/2018.

[x] The Italians permitted Abu Abbas to go to Yugoslavia. He remained a free man until U.S. forces captured him in 2003. He spent the remaining 11 months of his life in U.S. custody. Italy granted hijackers Bassam al-Asker & Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi parole in 1991. Al-Assadi disappeared in 1991. Jewish Virtual Library, Terrorism: Hijacking of the Achille Lauro. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hijacking-of-the-achille-lauro, last accessed 9/24/2018.

[xi] Air Force Magazine, El Dorado Canyon by Walter J. Boyne, March 1999, http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/1999/March%201999/0399canyon.aspx, last accessed 9/25/2018.

[xii] Air Force Magazine, El Dorado Canyon by Walter J. Boyne, March 1999, http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/1999/March%201999/0399canyon.aspx, last accessed 9/25/2018.

[xiii] Chicago Tribune, Downing of U.S. Jet Exposes War Games’ Dangers, by Mark Thompson, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1988-04-18/news/8803090693_1_uss-saratoga-rf-4c-phantom-pilot, Last accessed, 9/23/2018.

[xiv] The Aviationist, How Two F-14 Tomcats Shot Down Two Gaddafi’s MiG-23s, 25 Years Ago Today, by Dario Leone, January 4, 2014, https://theaviationist.com/2014/01/04/f-14-vs-mig-23-1989/, last accessed 9/23/2018.

Iranian Tomcats

The first F-14 to score an Air-Air victory happened on September 7, 1980. Five Iraqi Mil-25 helicopters with a MiG-25 escort flew into Iranian airspace to attack Iranian border outposts. The combat between the F-14s and MiG-25s were inconclusive. An F-14, piloted by Mohammad Reza Ataei, downed a Mil-25 with cannon fire.[i]

The Iranians were considering selling their entire F-14 fleet. On September 13, Major Mohamed-Reza Attaie flew a mission to prove the F-14’s effectiveness. He shot down an Iraqi MiG-23MS with an AIM-54 Phoenix missile. With this success the Iranians decided not to sell the F-14s. After the Iranian Revolution the Iranians executed or imprisoned many of their military officers and NCOs, including pilots. This mission also convinced the Iranians to let their pilots and ground crews, many scheduled for execution[ii], out of prison so they could defend against Iraq.[iii]

On September 22, 1980 Iraq invaded Iran. Two F-14s engaged two MiG-21RF and two MiG-23s. Azimi shot down a MiG-21 with a Phoenix missile. A second Phoenix missed its target.[iv]

With Iran holding the U.S. Embassy hostages they couldn’t get spare parts from the U.S. Navy and Grumman technicians weren’t available to maintain the F-14s.[v] They had a limited supply of the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. Many questioned how long Iran would be able to maintain the F-14s.

Throughout the war Iran had not more than 10 F-14s available at any given time.[vi] Iran used them as a poor man’s Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS).[vii]

On October 29 two Tomcats escorted six F-4 Phantom IIs on a mission against Iraqi airbases. Four MiG-23s and two MiG-21s challenged this strike force. The Iranians shot down these Iraqi fighters without loss.[viii]

On December 1 F-14s shot down 3 MiG-21s. On January 7, 1981 in a 2 F-14 vs 4 MiG-23 engagement an F-14 piloted by Assadollah Adeli and Mohammad Masbough as the RIO fired a single AIM-54 missile and downed three of the MiG-23s and damaged the survivor. It was the only example of a single air-to-air missile shooting down three aircraft.[ix]

In November 1982 the Iranians wiped out two Iraqi divisions. Iraqi Generals Rasheed and Muhsen decided to take a Mi-8 to the front to find out the reason for this defeat. Iranian Captain Khosrodad with his F-14 gave the generals a first-hand demonstration of the F-14’s capabilities. He fired two Phoenix missiles from over 50 miles away. He followed up with two Sparrow missiles. These missiles destroyed three of the escorting fighters. The Mi-8 with the generals fled.[x]

The MiG-25 was a difficult adversary. The Iraqi MiG-25s would fly at 70,000 feet, 10,000 feet above the F-14’s service ceiling, at Mach 3. This frustrated the Iranians’ efforts to shoot them down. On December 1 the F-14 team of Majors Shahram Rostami (Pilot) and Mohammad Rafiee (RIO) fired an AIM-54 from 34 miles away at a MiG-25 flying at 70,000 feet with a speed of Mach 2.3. The missile struck its target and the MiG-25 crashed into the sea.[xi]

On February 26, 1984 a Tomcat attacked 8 MiG-23s. The F-14 shot down three of the MiG-23s.[xii] During this conflict F-14 pilots often attacked numerically superior Iraqi forces.

On August 11, 1984 an Iranian SAM site shot down one of its own F-14s. The missile killed Colonel Mohamed-Hashem All-e-Agha (P) and Major Abolfalz Zerfati (RIO).[xiii]

During the 1982 Falklands War the French built Exocet anti-ship missiles caused considerable damage to the Royal Navy’s task force. On January 14, 1986 an Iraqi Mirage F-1EQ-5 fired an Exocet missile. An F-14 shot down the Exocet and the Mirage. On July 26, an F-14 shot down a Super Etendard with a Phoenix missile. On August 7 an F-14 shot down an Exocet missile and the Super Etendard that fired it.[xiv] On May 17, 1987 an Iraqi aircraft struck the USS Stark with two Exocet missiles. The Iraqis claimed, and the U.S. believed, the Iraqi pilot didn’t know it was an American frigate. The attack killed 37 U.S. sailors and wounded 21 others.

On July 3, 1988 the USS Vincennes fired two SM-2 anti-aircraft missiles at what they believed was an Iranian F-14 preparing to attack them. The aircraft was 15 miles away and flying at 13,500 feet. The aircraft was an Iranian Air Airbus A300.[xv] It killed all 290 people on board, which included 66 children.

The Iran-Iraq War ended in a ceasefire on August 20, 1988. During the war four Iranian plots became aces[xvi]. The three top aces were F-14 pilots. The Iranian ace of aces is Jalil Zandi, credited with 11 kills.[xvii] Iranian F-14s are credited with shooting down 130 Iraqi aircraft for the loss of 4. Ground fire claimed another 4 F-14s.[xviii]

[i] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[ii] Imperial Iranian Air Force.net, War Heroes, http://www.iiaf.net/stories/warheroes/warheroes.html, last accessed, 9/29/2018.

[iii] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[iv] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[v] ANFT.net, http://www.anft.net/f-14/f14-history-combat.htm#war1, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[vi] ANFT.net, http://www.anft.net/f-14/f14-history-combat.htm#war1, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[vii] The U.S. Navy uses E-2 Hawkeyes and the USAF uses E-3 Sentries for this purpose.

[viii] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[ix] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018. The lead MiG-23 exploded and the debris damaged the remaining Iraqi fighters.

[x] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[xi] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[xii] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[xiii] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[xiv] Luckypuppy.net, http://luckypuppy.net/the-f-14-tomcat-in-combat/, last accessed 9/29/2018.

[xv] USS Vincennes Incident, by San Craig, San Morales, and Mike Oliver, https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-422-human-supervisory-control-of-automated-systems-spring-2004/projects/vincennes.pdf, last accessed 9/30/2018.

[xvi] An unofficial term given to aircrew members credited with shooting down 5 aircraft.

[xvii] WW2Wrecs.com, http://www.ww2wrecks.com/portfolio/jalil-zandi-the-top-scoring-fighter-pilot-of-f-14-tomcat/, last accessed 9/30/2018.

[xviii] MiGflug.com, http://www.migflug.com/jetflights/the-combat-statistics-for-all-the-aircraft-currently-in-use.html, last accessed 9/30/2018.

Desert Storm and Beyond

During Operation Desert Storm, besides CAP missions, F-14s flew tactical reconnaissance and strike missions. On January 21, 1991 a SAM shot down an F-14. The crew ejected. Aircraft commander Lieutenant Devon Jones was rescued. RIO Lieutenant Laurence Slade was captured. On February 6, an F-14A with Lieutenant Stuart Broce (AC) and Commander Ronald Dean McElraft (RIO) shot down a Mi-8 helicopter with a Sidewinder missile.[i]

Following women’s success in Operation Desert Storm there was a big push to open more combat roles to women. In 1993 U.S. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin ordered the military to end the prohibition on women flying combat aircraft. While the debate was on many military leaders, most famously then Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak, opposed the idea. When Les Aspin gave the order, the military leaders saluted smartly and the race was on. The Navy won the race to put the first woman in a combat aircraft.

F-14 Aviator, Lieutenant Kara Hultgreen, became the first female carrier qualified fighter pilot on July 31, 1994.[ii] On October 25, 1994, Lieutenant Hultgreen, with Lieutenant Matthew Klemish as the RIO, was attempting to land on the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN. There was an engine flame out and Lieutenant Klemish ejected them both from the aircraft. The F-14 ejected Lieutenant Klemish and 0.4 seconds later it ejected Lieutenant Hultgreen. Lieutenant Klemish suffered minor injuries, Lieutenant Hultgreen was ejected into the water and died instantly on impact.

The Navy publicly declared the accident was due to the engine failure and unavoidable. The Navy had 13 F-14 pilots try to recover from the mishap in a simulator. Only a squadron commander was able to ‘survive’. The Navy made these simulator results public. This set off a storm of criticism. Many didn’t believe the Navy. There were claims the simulator tests were rigged. The landing videotape was public and many claimed the videotape proved it was pilot error. Someone leaked the Mishap Investigation Report (MIR). MIRs are classified ‘privileged’ so witnesses can answer without fear of incriminating themselves. The purpose of these reports is to improve aviation safety. The report mentioned a number of errors by Lieutenant Hultgreen. It also mentioned a mechanical malfunction, and lack of training. The report cleared Lieutenant Klemish of any wrongdoing.[iii]

In 1994 the Navy planned modifications to the F-14 to give the aircraft an air-ground capability. F-14s participated in Operation Deliberate Force, a 1995 bombing campaign in Bosnia. In this campaign F-14s used laser-guided bombs against targets that other aircraft “painted” with lasers.[iv]

From December 16-19, 1998 the U.S. and UK carried out a bombing campaign against Iraq code-named Operation Desert Fox. It was the first time U.S. military women flew combat aircraft on combat missions. Among those women was an F-14 Tomcat pilot. During Operation Desert Fox an F-14 scored a direct hit on an Iraqi Communications facility.

In February 1999 a strike package of F-14s and F/A-18s destroyed 2 Iraqi CSSC-3 anti-ship missile batteries.

F-14s also flew Operation Allied Force missions. F-14s dropped 350 laser guided bombs. They also flew Forward Air Control (FAC) missions for other strike aircraft.[v]

F-14s were part of a strike package that attacked Iraq on August 10, 2001.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks the F-14s, as with almost every other aircraft in the U.S. military’s inventory, flew Operation Enduring Freedom missions. F-14s also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On November 2, 2001 a U.S. Army helicopter crashed during a medevac operation. An F-14 destroyed the helicopter so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands.

Among the targets destroyed during Operation Iraqi Freedom were aircraft hangers, a missile storage and a missile support facility. On April 1, 2003 an F-14 from the USS KITTY HAWK crashed in Southern Iraq, both crew members were rescued. On this date an F-14B dropped a 1,000lb bomb on friendly forces near the Debecka Pass. The bomb killed 18 Kurdish Peshmerga troops and wounded four U.S. Special Forces team members. The investigation cleared the F-14 crew and the USAF close-air support controller. On July 7, 2004 a Tomcat destroyed an enemy position with a GBU-12. On August 18 F-14s supported ground forces without expending ordinance. This happened often with allied aircraft where a show of force would be enough to cause the enemy to break off an engagement. On February 8, 2006 Lieutenant Bill Frank dropped a bomb on enemy positions. This was the last time an F-14 dropped a bomb during a combat sortie. On the last F-14 combat deployment they flew 6,876 flight hours, flew 1,163 combat sorties, and dropped 9,500 pounds of bombs.

[i] Airpower in the Gulf, by James P. Coyne, © 1992 Air Force Association, P.51.

[ii] USS Constellation (CV 64), https://www.navy.mil/navydata/nav_legacy.asp?id=69, last accessed 9/30/2018.

[iii] Navy Times 4/3/95 issue, Internal Report Confirms Hultgreen’s Error, by Becky Garrison, https://www.fpparchive.org/media/documents/us_military/International%20Report%20Confirms%20Hultgreen's%20Error_Becky%20Garrison_Apr%203,%201995_Navy%20Times.pdf, last accessed 9/30/2018.

[iv] Federation of American Scientists, Military Analysis Network, F-14 Tomcat, https://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-14.htm, last accessed 10/2/2018

[v]AFNT.net, F-14 Combat Record, http://www.anft.net/f-14/f14-history-combat.htm#yugo, last accessed 9/30/2018.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Robert Sacchi


Robert Sacchi (author) on October 16, 2018:

That has to be a very interesting museum to visit.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 16, 2018:

It was an old RAF base in WW2 so there's quite a lot of WW2 stuff. It's run by the Imperial War Museum. There are also hangers with a lot of civilian planes plus some outside. I remember going in a concorde there. There was a hanger dedicated to US planes. I think there was a stealth bomber there. Periodically they have air shows at Duxford. Not far away, near Cambridge we visited an American cemetery at Madingley dedicated to US airmen who died during WW2. Joe Kennedy, the president's older brother is remembered there.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 15, 2018:

What do they have on display at the Duxford Air Museum?

Liz Westwood from UK on October 14, 2018:

That must have been quite an experience. We have vidited Duxford Air Museum but I have not been to an air display there.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 14, 2018:

Thank you. I'm glad you like the article. The Joint Base Andrews Open Houses gave great opportunities to see and photograph military aircraft as they performed.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 14, 2018:

Fascinating and detailed article with a load of high quality photos.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 10, 2018:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, none of the maneuvers were CGI. There were real pilots who made those maneuvers in these aircraft.

When the F-14s forced the Egypt Air jetliner to land in Italy that showed the U.S. was not going to be passive victims to terrorists.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 10, 2018:

I remember when the Achilles Lauro incident happened. How cowardly of the terrorists to kill that man in a wheelchair. I like how you remark how the real star of Top Gun wasn’t Tom Cruise or Kelly McGillis but the plane.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 09, 2018:

Thank you for reading and commenting:

Readmikenow - Great going getting the F-14 tour. Yes, Top Gun featured the F-14 Tomcat. The Top Gun instructor's flew A-4 Skyhawks, and T-38s played the bad guys.

Peggy Woods - Yes, that is one thing to consider when people lament the cost of new military aircraft. They will probably be in service from 1/4 to 1/2 a century. There is also the old saying; "The only thing more expensive than the best air force is the second best air force."

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 09, 2018:

You always put so much thought and research into your articles. This one was amazing! Given the cost of these aircraft, it is good that they now can be in service for many years.

Readmikenow on October 09, 2018:

Excellent article! Years ago, I knew an F-14 pilot. He let me come on to his ship and see it. He tried to get approval from his Captain to take me up in it, but that request was denied. So, I was able to sit in one and look at the controls and learn all about it. I can only imagine what it would have been like to fly in one. Didn't the movie Top Gun feature F-14s? Just wondering. Really enjoyed reading this.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 08, 2018:

Yes, aircraft safety has greatly improved in both military and civil aviation over the years. Aircraft also have much longer service lives. An aircraft being a front line fighter for 30 years was unthinkable in World War II. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 08, 2018:

The information you provided made the F-14 much more interesting. We were watching a movie last night using some aircraft and the discussion afterward settled on pilot safety and how this has improved since WW2.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 08, 2018:

Thank you both for reading and commenting. I try to give extensive backgrounds on historic aircraft. The aircraft themselves are a product of their times. Also many of the controversies during development and operations are similar to ones about current and in-development military equipment. Sometimes looking back is a good way to see the road forward. In TOP GUN the flying was done by U.S. Navy pilots. The F-14, F-15, F-16, & F/A-18 were a leap over their predecessor, the F-4 Phantom II. The air-air missiles also improved greatly. This made these aircraft deadly adversaries.

Mykola on October 08, 2018:

Hi, Robert! I see you are proud of this fighter.Your article proposes the dialogue. It's very good. Your style invite us to think, to compare. As I remember, the Iraqui infantry and tank divisions were organised as the Soviet structure, and airforces as French one. Then, the role of French Mirages in the Iranian-Iraqui conflict is under the question. You mentionned a lot about weapons and other characteristics of F-14. In contrast, tactics of the air battle remains to be cleared. Probably, the movie reflects the training flights of F-14, and could it to be used in preparations of future specialists. You proved by this article that F-14 is a real new stage in development of remarquable generation of jets. Your text has arisen many questions, as it knows, questions not answers advance our mind. Sincerely yours.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 07, 2018:

Wow! You outdid yourself with regard to this article about the F-14 Tomcat. I remembered some of the instances you listed but learned so much more about history by reading your post. The movie Top Gun was a good one. Sadly, I remember the wheelchair tourist who was thrown overboard that ship. From what you wrote the Iranian's orders for this aircraft were the saving grace for the company who produced this aircraft. Our Navy orders alone might not have been able to keep the company afloat. You always give so much background information.