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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

F-14 Tomcat: The Navy Fighter Jet That Broke All the Rules

F-14. Image: Creative Commons.
Image: Creative Commons.

Top Gun is enjoying a cultural renaissance. Top Gun:Maverick, the sequel to Tony Scott and Tom Cruise’s 1986 classic, seems poised to finish 2022 as the highest-grossing film of the year. The sequel’s success has reinvigorated interest in the original film, which has been enjoying high viewership on Netflix. 

F-14 Tomcat

F-14 Tomcat. Image Taken at U.S. Air and Space Museum outside of Washington, D.C. Image Credit:

The new Top Gun is good. It’s not an artistic masterpiece, or a testament to all that humankind is capable of, like the first film is. But it’s still the most fun you’re going to have at the theaters this decade; it’s an up-tempo reprieve from the woke, formulaic drudgery Hollywood has been pumping out for several years straight.

Although, I have plenty of criticisms for the sequel, both nuanced and nitpicky. My primary concern is with the soundtrack. And one of my lesser concerns: the sequel was light on cameos. Come on, now. No Slider? No Viper?

F-14: The Real Star of Top Gun? 

But the filmmakers did include one cameo, one that made even a hardened skeptic like me smile; the film features the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the swept-wing beauty that Tom Cruise made famous 36 years ago.

The F-14 was designed with enemy MiGs in mind, using knowledge gleaned from combat in the Vietnam theater. The Tomcat, which debuted in 1970, was the first jet in the “Teen Series,” which included the F-15, F-16, and F-18 as well.

Deployed upon the USS Enterprise, the Tomcat was slated to replace the venerable F-4 Phantom II, which had served as the Navy’s workhorse through the Vietnam War.

The F-14 was a workhorse, too. Versatile and tough, the F-14 could conduct a wide breadth of mission profiles including reconnaissance, fleet defense, air superiority, ground-attack, and interceptor. 

F-14 Never Had a Chance to Fight…For America 

While the F-14 served for over three decades, it never got much of a chance to prove itself. Introduced too late to contribute much to the Vietnam effort, by Desert Storm the F-14 had been eclipsed. In the US Navy, the F/A-18 Hornet unseated the F-14, becoming the fleet’s premier aircraft. And competition from the US Air Force’s F-15 often relegated the F-14 to a backseat role. As a result, the F-14 never really got to do much.

F-14 Tomcat

F-14 Tomcat. Image taken at National Air and Space Museum on October 1, 2022. Image by 19FortyFive.

Actually, the F-14’s primary combat experience comes not from American use at all – but from the Iranians, who used the Tomcat in combat against Iraq.

Before the Iranian Revolution, before US hostages were taken in Tehran, the US and Iran were allies. The US actually exported the F-14 to Iran – which may seem hard to imagine now, given the enduringly awful relations between the two countries. But it’s true. And the export landed just in time for Iran’s eight-year conflict with Iraq, the Iran-Iraq War, in which Iran relied heavily upon the American Tomcat. 

The Iran-Iraq War proved that the F-14 was indeed capable of serving its intended purpose: killing MiGs. “According to researcher Tom Cooper, Iranian F-14s scored 50 air-to-air victories during the first six months of the conflict. Besting Iraqi MiG-21s, MiG-23s, and Su-20s; only one F-14 was lost during these first six months,” I wrote back in June. “The F-14’s success is particularly notable in that Iranian aircrews lacked proper support from AWACS, AEW, or Ground Control.”

Super F-14 Tomcat

Persian Gulf (Oct. 10, 2005) Ð A specially painted F-14D Tomcat, assigned to the ÒBlacklionsÓ of Fighter Squadron Two One Three (VF-213), conducts a mission over the Persian Gulf. VF-213 is assigned to Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8), currently embarked aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Scott Timmester (RELEASED)


An F-14D Tomcat pulls up after performing a fly-by past the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) as the ship operates in the Atlantic Ocean on June 19, 2006. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Miguel A. Contreras, U.S. Navy. (Released)

The US Navy has long since retired the F-14 (2006), but the jet remains in service with Iran – where the world’s last remaining operational F-14s are flying. When the US retired the F-14, they were so concerned with industrial espionage, that they destroyed most of the F-14s, for fear that Iran would acquire spare parts from the retired birds. Only 11 of the famed F-14 survived the purge. 

But the plane lives on, in Top Gun, and now, Top Gun:Maverick.    

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.