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The US Navy Says Goodbye to the Tomcat 576

jonerik writes "Though it's not being widely reported, this week marks the end of the line for the F-14 Tomcat in US Navy service. First flown in 1970, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat was easily one of the world's most powerful, advanced, and deadly aircraft for many years, capable of flying at Mach 2.3 and firing its half-dozen Mach 5 AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles at targets as much as 100 miles away. Having been gradually replaced during the last several years by the newer F/A-18E/F, the last of the aircraft in US service will be officially retired on Friday, September 22nd in a ceremony at Virginia's Oceana Naval Air Station. However, at least a few F-14s will continue to fly for a few more years: Iran — which took delivery of 79 aircraft before the overthrow of the Shah — still flies the plane, though only a small number (perhaps ten or twenty) are believed to still be in service due to a lack of spare parts and attrition."
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The US Navy Says Goodbye to the Tomcat

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  • Thank God (Score:5, Funny)

    by hcob$ ( 766699 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @10:51PM (#16158621)
    that we won't have to think of Tom Cruise anymore when we see one of those planes flying!!!

    Not to mention we won't have to think of "Danger Zone", "you've lost that loving feelin'" (when he sings it), and we won't have to think of Navy training jets as MIGs anymore!
    • Re:Thank God (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:12PM (#16158702)
      > Not to mention we won't have to think of "Danger Zone", "you've lost that loving feelin'" (when he sings it), and we won't have to think of Navy training jets as MIGs anymore!

      But we'll never forget Sega's 2-degree-of-freedom arcade game After Burner II [wikipedia.org].

      It came out one year later, had the same sprite-scaled love that Space Harrier great, and it had a soundtrack better than the movie that indirectly inspired it. When the enemy fighter appeared behind you, you could indeed "hit the brakes, he'll fly right by me" and blow the guy away. Suicide in any actual air-to-air encounter, but it made for great coin-op lovin'...

      The pattern is full... but negative, Ghostrider, neither is the coin box in my basement arcade. Don't ask how I got it down got there, and I won't tell you you have to land until Stage 23.

      • Re:Thank God (Score:5, Interesting)

        by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @04:55AM (#16159510) Homepage
        Suicide? Depends on what are you flying. A few interesting tidbits:
        • First of all this is a legit maenuver known as Cobra [wikipedia.org]. F14 was the only old US aircraft that could do a small one (around 30 degrees), F15-18 cannot do it (until they get a vector upgrade one day).
        • Second it is suicide only with older US aircraft (dunno about newer ones) as they follow a different doctrine of engagement from the current Russian one. Current Russian doctrine of engagement and specs for Su27 specifies that it must be able to engage an enemy aircraft within 360 degree horisontal and vertical (full sphere, no dead zones), lock it and track it without losing it from there on. If this statement is true, a Sukhoi can lock an aircraft behind it, hit the breaks, end up behind it and fire so this maneuver actually makes some sense. With an F14 (dunno about more recent) there is no lock acquired on an aircraft which is behind the fighter jet and the time for lock acquisition is not short enough for a lock to be acquired after the Tom Cruise Wannabie "hit the breaks".
        • Re:Thank God (Score:4, Interesting)

          by LeftNose ( 48066 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @06:56AM (#16159714) Homepage
          Second it is suicide only with older US aircraft....

          Most older aircraft, yes, but it was possible and did happen with an F4:

          Once again, he met the MiG-17 head-on, this time with an offset so he couldn't fire his guns. As he pulled up vertically he could again see his determined adversary a few yards away. Still gambling, Cunningham tried one more thing. He yanked the throttles back to idle and popped the speed brakes, in a desperate attempt to drop behind the MiG. But, in doing so, he had thrown away the Phantom's advantage, its superior climbing ability. And if he stalled out ...

          The MiG shot out in front of Cunningham for the first time....

          from this source [acepilots.com]
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Doctor Memory ( 6336 )
            IIRC, they did something similar when they used F-4s to pace the liftoff of the early Mercury (Gemini?) missions. The F-4 would approach the rocket as it lifted off, then turn vertical and actually accelerate alongside it as the pilot performed a visual inspection for any stray connectors or hoses that hadn't detached properly. They actually had escape towers in those days, so if the pilot saw something potentially dangerous, they could yank the capsule off the rocket.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Phanatic1a ( 413374 )
          This post is complete and utter bollocks.

          First, the Cobra. The Cobra is a great-looking airshow maneuver that has zero utility in actual air combat. It's a high-alpha maneuver that does nothing but dump a whole lot of energy and gets nothing in return. "I'll hit the brakes, he'll fly right by" is a bullshit Hollywood thing that in real combat would get you dead as the guy who "flies right by"'s wingman now has you boresighted and you have no energy to do anything with. Moreover, the notion that American
    • by zxnos ( 813588 )
      you will still have to think of tom cruise when you see one flying... ...you just wont see one flying very often and hence, you will think of tom less. he will be sad.
    • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @04:09AM (#16159426)
      On the other hand, with all the remakes and sequels that Hollywood is making, we might just see a new movie about a cocky Iranian F14 pilot who temporarily lost faith in Allah and later recovered it through the help of his fully veiled and covered but nevertheless assumed sexy flight instructor.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by balloonhead ( 589759 )
      I just heard some sad news on talk radio - US naval plane the F14 tomcat was found dead in its Maine home this morning. There were not any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss it - even if you did not enjoy flying it, there is no denying its contributions to popular culture. Truly an American icon.
    • by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @10:12AM (#16160467) Journal
      To celebrate the flying of the last US F-14 it will be flown by Tom Cruise from Norfolk VA out to a carrier in the Atlantic. However the plane will only carry enough fuel to get it out a hundred miles out over the sea and will not have a functioning ejection seat. The carrier will also move during his flight to an undisclosed location. Fare thee well Tom!
  • Tomcat (Score:4, Funny)

    by RuBLed ( 995686 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @10:56PM (#16158640)
    I believe Jerry mouse had it his way this time, poor Tomcat.

    On a related note:

    Last time I checked, our country only had 4 italian training jets for our air defense. Maybe they're going to donate those things :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Last time I checked, our country only had 4 italian training jets for our air defense. Maybe they're going to donate those things :)

      Not strictly true - we also have the entire Australian Air Force... ;)

  • by GeorgeFitch3 ( 988277 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @10:57PM (#16158646)
    At first I thought the Navy was dumping Apache Tomcat! :) http://tomcat.apache.org/ [apache.org]
  • by MadMorf ( 118601 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:06PM (#16158673) Homepage Journal
    The link below goes to a story that claims the F-14 was a formidable opponent for MIGs in Vietnam:

    http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID =/20060919/NEWS/609190338&SearchID=73257582885024/ [theledger.com]

    The Grumman F-14D Tomcat is a twin-engine, two-seat supersonic airplane that in the years since the early 1970s was the Navy's primary fighter. Its battles with Russian-built MiGs over Vietnam made both planes famous.

    Clearly he confused the F-14 with the F-4...
  • Yay (Score:4, Funny)

    by Frankie70 ( 803801 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:06PM (#16158674)
    They have moved from Apache & Tomcat to IIS & ASP.NET.

  • by Lord Aurora ( 969557 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:08PM (#16158688)
    ...only a small number (perhaps ten or twenty) are believed to still be in service due to a lack of spare parts and attrition.

    Yeah, not having enough attrition is a big problem in the Tomcat business.

    On a more serious subject, were these the ones with the foldy wings? Man, I have a Micro Machine that I'm somewhat sure is a Tomcat and the wings amaze me every time I play with it.

    Er, you know. Every time when I used to play with it. Because...I'm too old for Micro Machines now...of...course...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Duhavid ( 677874 )
      "Foldy wings". :-)

      Most carrier aircraft have wings that fold. Usually
      they fold *up* and not back. Storage is at a premium.
      • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @01:31AM (#16159102)
        The wings on the F-14 don't fold like other planes. The wings sweep back for supersonic flight and "oversweep" (to about 75 degrees) for storage. I believe the wingtips can also double fold up (like an "S") on the later F-14D models to save even more space. (There is no "C" model, a designation usually for single-seat fighters).

        I live in Virginia Beach and F-14s have flown here for many, many years. They are cool planes, more so than the F-18s, and will be missed.

  • in case you need parts later!
  • by grassy_knoll ( 412409 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:20PM (#16158738) Homepage
    The F-14 uses a variable sweep wing, the idea being that for maneuverability the wings are extended and for speed the wings are swept back.

    Nice idea eh? The problem is there are six hydraulic actuators on each wing to make this happen. When one breaks, there's no way to tell which one is bad without pulling all six from the wing and putting each one on a test bench. Testing a single actuator takes about an hour... and Murphy states the bad actuator is the last one you test.

    The F-18 may look like a lawn dart from hell, but at least it's relatively easier to work on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sr180 ( 700526 )
      The swing wing was based on the lessons learnt from the F-111. Which incidently is still in service (with many local upgrades) with the Royal Australian Air Force. There is still nothing as capable for our needs in a single plane as the F111.
      • by Heir Of The Mess ( 939658 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:36AM (#16158963)

        While your about it you might as well mention the negative experiences of the F18 down under, such as the double control inversion points (controls reverse themselves - a real oh shit moment) due to the fact that the damn thing twists longitudinally and laterally at speed. Not to mention the mods added to stop the damn tail ripping off during low altitude maneauvres that the aussies are so fond of. I hope the JSF isn't a dud. The F1-11 has been pretty good. Any piece of high tech has it's problems, you just need the right maintenance schedule.

        To keep on topic, I think the F14 was a beautiful piece of Aviation history and it was designed in a time where thing got accomplished. The current state of the development of such things has reached a point where I'm amazed that anything actually ever gets achieved.

      • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @01:51AM (#16159146) Homepage
        There is still nothing as capable for our needs in a single plane as the F111
        No mention of the F-11 is complete without my favorite F-111 story:
        As a money saving "common aircraft" plan shared between the Air Force and Navy (like the F-4 before it) the F-111 was originally intended to also fill the role of fleet defense fighter for the Navy (a role later filled by the F-14 instead). There was exactly one carrier landing in an F-111, by a test pilot early on. Due to poor low speed handling, heavy weight, and large size it was nigh impossible to land safely. The pilot was asked afterwards "if you had the choice between the F-111 and any other airplane for making a carrier landing, which would you choose?" His answer was, famously, "Any other airplane".
    • My solution would be to have six actuator testers.
    • by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:49AM (#16159001) Homepage
      Murphy states the bad actuator is the last one you test

      Well, yeah - because once you've found the bad one you don't test any more, right?
    • by z3d4r ( 598419 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:55AM (#16159011)
      so test the last one first
  • The F/A-18 means it's both a Fighter and also an Attack aircraft, which means is does neither as well as a plane designed specifically for that purpose. Meaning, the F/A-18 cannot carry as much ordinance as an A-6 nor dogfight as well as an F-14 or F-15.

    That said, the F-14 is also one damned big plane compared to the F/A-18, despite how cool it may have looked. IANANA (I am not a naval aviator) so I can't say which flies better. I just know that when I was aboard CV-62 USS Independence, I was surprise

    • Re:Worse is better (Score:5, Informative)

      by kin_korn_karn ( 466864 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:03AM (#16158877) Homepage
      The F-14 was a very interesting plane. It was a dedicated interceptor, built for pure speed - not really made for dogfighting, no matter what Top Gun claimed. It also carried the most powerful air intercept radar in either the Navy or the Air Force inventory. The backseat guy was the Radar Intercept Officer - it took a dedicated crewman just to work the damn thing. It was kind of like a flying SAM platform, almost.

      It had two main roles. First was the BARCAP role. The USA kept carrier groups on patrol in case the Soviets launched bomber strikes, and the F-14 was the first line of defense against them. The idea was that it could catch up with a Soviet bomber group before they reached launch range, lock onto the big bombers, fire its AIM-54s, and get out once the missiles went terminal. It wasn't supposed to mix it up with the escorting fighters, that was the job of escorting F-14s or the F-15s from the USAF. Once the USSR collapsed, BARCAP wasn't such a big deal, so that's when they decided to give it ground attack capability.

      It was also tasked with Fleet Air Defense, meaning to protect the carrier air group from airborne threats - bombers dedicated to anti-ship strikes, cruise missiles, fighters scrambled to attack Navy bombers. In this role, it was obseleted by the AEGIS cruiser as much as the F/A-18.

      I apologize in advance if I got any of the facts wrong - this is just as I remember it as a plane geek.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mdhoover ( 856288 )
      Size difference is not surprising when comparing a long range interceptor (F14) with a fighter (F18).

      The tomcats primary purpose was as a long range interceptor/air superiority fighter (similar role to the F15 and the soviets MiG 25). Its job was to protect the fleet by destroying incoming supersonic bombers before they reached their launch range. It had to have legs, be fast, be able to track and launch at multiple targets at extreme range. It is a big powerful brute, but not that nimble.

      The F18 fell o
    • by Riktov ( 632 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:27AM (#16158954) Journal

      I wasn't aware that the Hornet or the Intruder were capable of carrying(?) laws or regulations. The word you're looking for is ordnance.

  • I always wanted one of those! And, well, since they are getting rid of them, better for me to get one than somebody else, right? =D
  • Sentimental feelings aside (no more riding into the Danger Zone), it's a good thing the Tomcat is gone. Hopefully maintenace budgets will fall as a result. Make way for the F/A-18s and F-35s!
  • With your newfangled... "jet engines" and your... "radar"!

    Ok well I'm not that old, but I remember drooling over F4s in Okinawa back when I was knee high to a grasshopper. Probably would have ended up flying if my eyes hadn't taken a turn for the worse when I was 10. I reckon you can fix 'em now with those newfangled "lasers" but it's a bit too late to get started now...

  • by hellfire ( 86129 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `vdalived'> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:53PM (#16158840) Homepage
    It's hard to find any grown man today who hasn't seen the classic man-flick "Top Gun." By the same token it would be hard for any man not to be able to identify the F-14. A small slice of americana has officially slid into the past. It looked like the SUV of jet fighters, since it was so big, but it was sexy. It was meant to rule the sky, an air superiority fighter.

    Hell yes, I admit I would love to fly at Mach 3 with my hair on fire, and have the call sign "Maverick." While over all I felt the military would be a poor choice of career for me due to my disrespect for authority, I always had a small fantasy to be able to fly an F-14.

    I will briefly lament it's passing by wearing Axe body spray, putting on a navy uniform, and going out to bars to sing "She's Lost that Lovin' Feeling" to women who won't sleep with me.
    • Surely only a Devil's Advocate could invoke Axe body spray, a Navy dress uniform, and The Song That Must Not Me Sung all in one sentence without being struck dead by lightning.

      I will briefly lament it's passing by wearing Axe body spray, putting on a navy uniform, and going out to bars to sing "She's Lost that Lovin' Feeling" to women who won't sleep with me.

    • by wasted ( 94866 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @06:19AM (#16159640)
      It's hard to find any grown man today who hasn't seen the classic man-flick "Top Gun."

      Surely you jest. I saw it, and being in the Navy at the time, hated it, since it was nothing like the real Navy, and apparently a chick-flick. There are emotional issues, a love conflict, (boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-again story line,) the men-playing-volleyball scene, and the ending with the protagonist confronting personal demons and finding self-actualization. Take away the F-14s, and it is your stereotypical chick-flick. I would say all it needs is Meg Ryan, but she's already there.

      To be fair, I am kind of biased. Most (definitely not all) of the Navy (and other military) pilots I have known followed orders to the tee to safely complete their mission, and would never act like Maverick, so the whole screenplay is bull. Even the pilots who were bigger-penises-than-supernovae-would-require-to-re produce-if-they-were-mammals" would still follow orders. Additionally, I heard from one of the enlisted plane captains at Miramar at the time that Tom Cruise treated them like they were way low-class during filming. Way, way, uncool to treat the people responsible for the aircraft you are about to fly in like that. Apparently he's changed since then, but even so, I still consequently hate that movie, even more than most other chick-flicks.
  • Air and Space Smithsonian had a "22-page salute" to the Tomcat in its August-September issue, some of which [airspacemag.com] is available online.
  • So for most of its life, the Tomcat was basically a flying weapons platform for the AIM-54 Phoenix long-ass-range missile. The idea was at first to shoot down enemy planes, and after a while the idea became to shoot down enemy cruise missiles. The Phoenix was unique in that its range was ~100 miles, while I think the second best was AMRAAM, at ~30 miles, and didn't come out for a decade or two afterwards.

    So there's not really a replacement for the Phoenix in the modern inventory, unless somebody knows bet
    • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @02:36AM (#16159244) Homepage
      Though why you'd want Phoenix when you've got Aegis cruisers defending the fleet remains an open question. So unless you want to shoot down enemy targets somewhere not over your fleet, Phoenix doesn't seem that neat anymore....
      My father was an engineer at Hughes Aircraft Company, and spent the lion's share of his career working on the Phoenix program. The original design was for a 100% cold-war-turns-hot weapon. The AIM-54A was initially designed for shooting down big planes, like the Tu-95 Bear bomber, before they could get in range of the fleet to launch anti-ship cruise missiles. Later, as cruise missile standoff range increased, the Phoenix was improved to shoot down the missiles themselves. In modern small scale warfare where visual ID is nearly always required before pilots are allowed to fire, there's just no place for the Phoenix. Its only potential use was fleet defense when the Navy could be sure that anything flying in from "thataway" was definitely Soviet and hostile, i.e. World War Three. Amazing missile, and the stories I heard about how those engineers managed to wring every last bit of processing resources out of its tiny little 8-bit computer were astounding. I used to have hours of videotape of missile tests at China Lake where they'd shoot down F-86 drones. With the exception of one shot where the rocket motor didn't ignite*, every shot was a kill-- and they tried every evasive maneuver they could with those F-86's. Just no escape.

      * second-sourced motor safety made incorrectly by the morons at Raytheon at fault there. I have almost as many stories about dumbfuck engineers from Raytheon "reinterpreting" design drawings to save money on manufacture and thereby delivering unusable missile parts. Now Raytheon has bought up all the US missile designers/manufacturers, Hughes included. One wonders how a company that's run so badly ends up owning the whole show, but I'll save rants about congressional lobbyists for another time...
  • by deopmix ( 965178 )
    All i have to say is: RIP F-14 Tomcat. You were a great plane.
  • End of an era. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Elf-friend ( 554128 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @01:07AM (#16159043)

    Rather like the F-4 "Phantom," in the late '60s and the '70s, the F-14 was probably the most idealized fighter for an entire generation of kids in the '80s. Something about the design - the graceful lines, or the swing wings, perhaps - just made it more romantic than either the F-15 or F-16 to my mind. I got to see one at an airshow once, afterburners on and all, which was a treat given that I don't live on the coast.

    Children of the '90s have their F-22s, and F-117s, to admire, I suppose. For the rest, the postively ancient B-52 still lives.

    I was sad to see the F-4 fade away over the course of the '80s, though I wasn't around for its heyday. The same with the F-111 - the last true fighter-bomber (as opposed to strike fighter) in U.S. service. I have to wonder if the "Tomcat" won't be the last pure air-combat-fighter/interceptor ever put into production for the U.S. armed forces.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @10:56AM (#16160727) Homepage Journal

    There's one thing that I haven't understood about the F-14 and AIM-56 for a long time. Every time people talk about them, a big deal is made out of the fact that it can track and fire missiles at so many targets at once, as though this is a unique or unusual feature.

    Maybe it is, but I don't get why. AFAIK, the F-14 still just has one radar dish in the nosecone, right? So shouldn't the ability to track targets merely be a computers and software issue? That makes it kind of neat for 1970, but every year that goes by, should make it that much more trivial. Shouldn't every modern plane have this capability by now?

    Or does this have something to do with the sensors in the Phoenix? (But if so, then why can't planes with AMRAAMs do the same thing?)

    • by Guysmiley777 ( 880063 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:52AM (#16161161)
      Couple of things. You have to understand what "to track" means. What specifically they are talking about with the AIM-54/AWG-9 weapons system is that it can engage 6 targets at once.

      The AIM-54 Phoenix is guided initially by the F-14's AWG-9 radar is what is known as "semi-active radar homing". The missile sees the reflections off the target from the F-14's radar. Once the missile gets close enough, it spins up its own active radar which will take over terminal guidance.

      "Old school" radars are directed mechanically (the dish actually moves left and right and up and down). To track a target, the dish points directly at the target instead of scanning back and forth. With the AIM-7 Sparrow for example, (a SARH missile) the firing aircraft could track one and only one target. With the AWG-9, a Tomcat can divide its attention among 6 targets at once, providing guidance for 6 missiles in the air at once. This was a Big Deal at the time. Now with electronically scanned array radars, it is a LOT easier to do (no pointing a physical dish).

      The AIM-120 AMRAAM is guided initially by an inertial system (the firing plane tells it the target info, location, speed, etc) then when it gets close enough it starts looking for the target with its own radar. This leaves the firing platform free to do whatever it wants, there is no initial need to provide target illumination like with the Phoenix. Thus, with AMRAAMs you can engage as many targets as you have missiles. The AIM-120 is a damn fine missile, you have to keep in mind the AIM-54 was in service before the AMRAAM was even a glimmer in an engineer's eye.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.