History Podcasts

F-14 Tomcat: The Supersonic Fighter

F-14 Tomcat: The Supersonic Fighter

The following article on the F-14 Tomcat is an excerpt from Barrett Tillman's book On Wave and Wing: The 100 Year Quest to Perfect the Aircraft Carrier.

The most significant aircraft of the immediate post-Vietnam period was Grumman's two-seat F-14 Tomcat, featuring variables weep wings. Optimized for fleet defense, like the Phantom its crew was a pilot and radar intercept officer (RIO). The “Tom” entered service in 1974, with the first two squadrons embarked in Enterprise, covering the American abandonment of South Vietnam in April 1975.

Unfortunately, the ultimate fleet-defense fighter suffered from inadequate engines, as the Pratt & Whitney TF-30 lacked sufficient power for the heavy airframe and required careful handling. The limited acquisition F-14B and D models achieved the Tomcat's potential with GE's F-110 engine providing 60 percent more thrust.

Despite new equipment, funding lagged, including maintenance support. During the Carter administration a fearless F-14 squadron commander said, “When I was a boy growing up in North Carolina I wanted to command a fighter squadron and run a junk yard, and now I'm doing both.” Despite his candor, Monroe “Hawk” Smith retired as a captain.

The F-14 appeared in many aerial engagements in the 1980s. In 1989 Libya asserted an offshore territorial claim, far into international waters, drawing a U.S. response. The John F. Kennedy battle group arrived on station, resulting in an aerial engagement on January 4, 1989. Two F-14s maneuvered against two Libyan MiG-23s, destroying both. The two Libyan engagements ended the Navy Tomcat's record at 4-0, although Iran's F-14s saw extensive combat during the 1980-88 war with Iraq.