‘Iowa the Air Traffic Controllers could not believe that they had an F-14 Tomcat under their control and so very low…500ft/152m,’ John Chesire, former US Navy F-14 Tomcat pilot.

Advancements during the Cold War in Soviet long-range patrol and bomber aircraft dictated a requirement for a fleet defense fighter that could engage high-altitude bombers from well beyond visual range. The iconic F-14 Tomcat was Grumman’s answer. Equipped with long range AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles, F-14s could engage multiple hostiles over 90 miles away. Needing an interceptor’s high speed while carrying this heavy ordnance, Grumman produced the highly effective variable sweep wing of the F-14, enabling it to operate at a wide range of airspeeds.

Following Grumman’s tradition of naming its aircraft after cats, the new “Tomcat” made its first flight in December 1970. After a number of changes following flight testing, the first F-14As were delivered to the Navy in June 1972, with Fighter Squadron (VF) 124 designated to provide crew training. On the West Coast, VF-1 and VF-2 were the first operational squadrons to receive the new aircraft, while on the East Coast VF-14 and VF-32 became the first Atlantic fleet Tomcat squadrons.

The Tomcat became the symbol of an era through its engagements with Libyan aircraft in the 1980s and flashing across the silver screen in the blockbuster motion picture Top Gun, which featured the F-14 crewed by Maverick and Goose buzzing the tower in one of the most memorable scenes of the movie.

Something similar happened during John Chesire’s career, a former F-14 Tomcat pilot.

VF-33 F-14A Print
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As he remembers on Quora, the event took place in the skies over Iowa.

‘I once flew across the plains of Iowa, low and slow on my way to an airshow in Cedar Rapids. Growing up as a kid on a farm in Iowa, I figured that some farm kid and their parents might enjoy seeing an F-14 for the first time, flying low over their farm. When near Waterloo, Iowa the Air Traffic Controllers could not believe that they had an F-14 under their control and so very low…500ft/152m. They asked me to turn around and circle them so that they could come outside their control room and see for themselves a Navy F-14 Tomcat.

‘While I did stay relatively slow, I was at 500ft AGL. I swept the wings back to 68 degrees from their full forward position and briefly lit the afterburners. I may have cycled both the wings and ABs a couple of times for them. The ATC guys apparently really liked it and thanked me profusely as I continued on to my destination.’

Photo credit: Paramount

F-14 model
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