The F-14 Tomcat
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 that automatically shifted in flight from 28 to 60 degrees sweep for optimum performance at any speed and gave the Tomcat a combat maneuvering capability that could not have been achieved with a “standard” fixed planform wing.
Despite all these capabilities that made of the Tomcat a lethal dogfighter, the F-14 is usually remembered for having been the ultimate US Navy fleet defender.
Could the F-14 Tomcat dogfight?
But could the F-14 Tomcat really dogfight?
Dave Andersen, former US Navy F-14 Tomcat RIO, says on Quora;
‘Geez, of course the F-14 can (could) dogfight. Are you kidding me? Look folks, the US Navy specified, and Grumman delivered, a fully capable “fleet air defense” (translation: fleet air superiority) fighter. Why do you think it had an internal 20mm Vulcan cannon and horizontal stabilizers each the size of an A-4 wing?
‘After the F-111B debacle, the Navy incorporated lessons learned – written in blood – from its Vietnam experience into follow-on VFX program requirements, which ultimately became the Tomcat. Yes, it was designed to incorporate the AWG-9/AIM-54 combination to defend the carrier and its battle group from Soviet bombers launching supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, but also to defend carrier airwing strike and electronic attack jets (A-6s, A-7s, EA-6s) going in “over the beach” from enemy fighters. It even had a nascent air-to-ground mission capability designed in from the start to satisfy USMC requirements. Ergo, the AWG-15 panel in the RIO cockpit, which, except for the big red launch button, was largely left unused after the Marines backed out of the F-14 program, and later revived during the “Bomb Cat” era starting in the early ‘90s.
Prevailing against anyone
‘Anyway, air-to-air wise the F-14 with a competent pilot and RIO could more than hold its own against any contemporary fighter. Put it this way. Back when I was flying them in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, out of our overall squadron pre-deployment training time I’d say we spent at least 50% of our allocated training budget doing a wide variety of air combat training evolutions of various stripes…. FFARP/SFARP, Red Flag, Green Flag, missile shoots, airwing strike training, various “pop-up” ACM or DACT opportunities, and the like. Maybe we spent 10%, at most, doing dedicated “fleet air defense” stuff, and that was mostly concentrated during pre-deployment workups or during a deployment. The rest was split between various air-to-air gunnery, low-level flight/air-to-ground gunnery, various required NATOPS/instrument flight quals and, of course, carrier qual-related stuff.
‘So, yeah, in the ACM arena thanks to all the dedicated training time we spent on it, we got pretty damn good at it. And the F-14 itself, even the ‘A’ model with its TF-30 motors, was absolutely no hinderance; in fact, we felt confident enough in the jet and our training to employ it effectively in combat to go up against anyone, anytime and prevail. Not a problem.’
F-14 versus Everything
The following video titled “F-14 versus Everything” proves that Andersen is right.
According to the video description, the footage features the F-14 taking on “in order of appearance, the F-16, MiG-21, MiG-29, F/A-18, Mirage-2000, F-15, MiG-23, vulture and moose. All gun camera footage is from F-14 aircraft HUD and TCS.”
Photo credit: US Navy