17 Things You Didn't Know About The F-14 Tomcat
The F-14 Tomcat may have earned its following after being the plane that participated in the most famous 4G inverted dive with a fictitious MiG in Hollywood history. But did you know that after the Tomcat was retired, most of the planes were shredded so Iran couldn't steal parts? Or that the very first F-14 crashed on its second flight?
Those are just two of 17 facts you likely didn't know about the F-14 Tomcat.
1. The F-14’s famous variable sweep wings were derived from one of the legendary X Planes
The F-14’s wings could be set to different angles depending on the, ahem, need for speed (sorry). The Bell X-5 was the first plane that could reposition its wings while flying, while the concept for variable sweep wings actually started with the Messerschmidt P.1101.
2. The very first F-14 crashed on its second flight
The first flight (shown here, just before takeoff) was on December 21, 1970, but between low light and inclement weather it was cut short. On December 30, the plane suffered a hydraulic failure shortly after takeoff, forcing both crew members to eject before an emergency landing was possible. They both survived, though the pilot died in a separate F-14 crash a year and a half later.
3. With afterburners, the engines produced over 55,000 pounds of thrust
That’s a ton, even for a plane that weighs 43,000 pounds.
4. Flat out, the F-14 could top 1,500 mph
Now try doing that, then slowing down to what has to feel like a dead stop, before landing on a giant moving building otherwise known as a carrier.
5. Engineers made a one-off hot rod that could go from Mach 0.8 to Mach 1.8 in 90 seconds
That’s basically 600 mph to nearly 1,400 mph. We'll give you a moment to think about that. The F-14's manufacturer, Grumman, dropped a much more powerful engine in the F-14 to see what would happen. By all accounts it was great, but the Navy opted against this one and it wound up in storage.
6. The wings had a special setting for parking
While outstretched was best for low-speed maneuverability, and tucked in was ideal for supersonic runs, bringing the wings in past a point that would be useful for flying enabled crews to get planes tucked very closely together. If only you could do that with cars in a parking lot...
7. The Goose/Maverick dynamic was really an inside joke
Grumman published cartoons in the early 1970s depicting the pilot (named TomCat) as a girl-obsessed playboy while the Radar Information Officer, or RIO, is the one doing everything but the flying.
8. The F-14 may have helped Paul Newman win his first SCCA Championship
As legend has it, Newman was testing his Triumph TR6 race car (shown above) and asked a friend for help as he was having brake issues. Said friend was working with GM to test an experimental fluid developed by DOW and Grumman to solve a recurring issue with the F-14.
Because British cars like Paul’s still used mineral oil in the brake system at that time, it was compatible with aircraft hydraulic fluid. Several calls, a lot of swearing, and a little name-dropping later, one gallon of the stuff was personally delivered, and Newman went on to win the national championship.
Side note: The following year, Paul put “Newman’s Own” on the car for the first time, but that’s a whole other story.
9. The F-14 pilot with the most kills is Iranian
Iran’s Jalil Zandi is credited with shooting down 11 Iraqi planes during the Iran-Iraq war. For various reasons, US F-14 pilots didn't engage in air-to-air combat with tremendous frequency.
10. F-14 pilots hunted Soviet bombers for sport
As a sort of Cold War game, the Soviets would fly too close for a carrier’s comfort and F-14s would fly up to greet it. They would then cruise alongside as an escort while checking out any new armaments the Soviets might have had. It's kinda like catching a fish and letting it go.
11. The Tomcat's radar could track up to 24 different targets simultaneously
One of the reasons the plane is so big is to fit such a huge radar system. When the F/A-18 first became the F-14's replacement, everything had to be scaled back.
12. It was lethal at a range of over 115 miles
The AIM-54 Phoenix missile was used exclusively in conjunction with the F-14’s radar and had a range of 100 nautical miles, or 115 regular miles.
13. A test pilot once fired all six missiles almost simultaneously
There was a need to see what a Tomcat and Phoenix combination could really do, so targets were set up, and within a span of 38 seconds, six missiles were sent on their merry way. Four of them hit a perfect bullseye. That's one seriously expensive minute of testing.
14. F-14 was a US Navy staple for 32 years to the day
Officially, it flew from September 22, 1974 to September 22, 2006, though a few flights continued for another couple of weeks as planes were flown to their final resting place. This photo is the last time an F-14 ever took off from an aircraft carrier.
15. The only F-14s left in service today are Iranian
Not much is known about the current state of the fleet—at least publicly—but at one time Iran operated nearly 80, which were ordered a few years prior to the revolution.
16. And the reason Iran bought them? An all-time great act of showmanship.
Back when Iran was an ally, the Shah was given a personal demonstration of both the F-14 and the F-15 to decide which to purchase. He picked the 14 because, while the 15 was performing its demo, the Tomcat's crew spent the entire time burning off excess fuel to make it appear lighter, faster, and more nimble during its run. They then proceeded to move the wings back and forth for added effect. Hopefully, they got a nice bonus out of that.
17. After their retirement, almost all of the American F-14s were shredded
Once Iran became an enemy, the issue of spare parts became a bit awkward. There was legit concern that Iran would somehow source parts it desperately needed for its aging fleet via the US boneyard in Arizona. The solution was to completely destroy them. Now, the only American birds left are museum centerpieces.
Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor, and can be found on Twitter. He had a scale Ertl F-14 model when he was a kid. Somehow, he never broke the variable sweep wings.
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