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Meet the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat (It Could Fly at Mach 2.5)

F-14 Tomcat
An F-14 Tomcat aircraft makes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN-69). The F-14 is assigned to Fighter Squadron 142 (VF-142).

The F-14 Tomcat is the star of Top Gun and a legend in the Navy community. And yet, she had some tricks up her sleeve many have forgotten: Often seen as one of the most beloved jet fighters in U.S. military history, the F-14 Tomcat was an American supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, twin-tail, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft.

The famed fighter was armed with a General Electric Vulcan M61A-1 20mm gun with nearly seven hundred rounds of ammunition and possessed eight hardpoints for carrying ordnance—four on the fuselage and two each side under the wings. It also possessed the capability to carry short, medium, and long-range air-to-air missiles AIM-9, AIM-7 and AIM-54, and air-to-ground ordnance that included CBU cluster bombs.

Moreover, according to defense writer Dario Leone at the Aviation Geek Club, “the F-14 Tomcat served as an advanced interceptor and air superiority fighter, capable of attacking six enemy aircraft simultaneously at a range of over a hundred miles with the AIM-54 Phoenix missile.”

F-14: Range of Airspeeds

He continues: “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. According to the National Naval Aviation Museum, the iconic F-14 Tomcat was Grumman’s answer. 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.”

Leone mentioned that according to Charlie Brown, a member of the F-14 design team and Grumman test pilot, the initial specs for the aircraft called for a top speed of Mach 2.34—but it was eventually tested for Mach 2.5.

Tomcat RIO’s Account

One personal experience regarding this was offered by Dave Andersen, a former F-14 Tomcat RIO, on Quora.

“My squadron had one jet that was a real ‘hotrod.’ It always flew great, trimmed up perfectly, and out-accelerated and was faster than all the other jets in the squadron. Even the AWG-9 radar/weapons system worked better than the other jets. Everybody loved flying it,” he wrote.

“One of my most memorable flights was taking that one out on a post-maintenance check flight. When flying from our home base on land we would do these and other training flights in designated ‘restricted’ military training areas that were a hundred miles or more out over the Atlantic Ocean east of the Virginia/North Carolina coast. The PMCF checklist called for a supersonic dash up to 1.2 Mach as one of the checks, so this being the squadron hotrod, of course we decided to see what she’d do (despite the imposed NATOPS speed limit of 1.88 Mach),” he added.

“So we climbed to around 40K ft, pointed her east away from the coast, the pilot pushed the throttles into full burner, and we let her rip (note: the jet was in a ‘slick’ configuration, no drop tanks or missile rails). That jet accelerated like it was blasted out of a cannon. In maybe fifty seconds we went from about four hundred knots and reached the advertised top speed of Mach 2.34, and the jet was still accelerating. I’m sure she would’ve gone past 2.5 Mach if we’d let her, but backed off at that point because we were getting close to ‘bingo’ fuel state,” he continued.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on Linkedin.

Written By

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.

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