The F-14 Tomcat fighter jet is perhaps the most recognizable airframe to anyone not affiliated with the U.S. military.
Due to the blockbuster hit Top Gun and its sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, the Tomcat has become synonymous with American aerial strength and naval aviation.
The carrier-capable, supersonic, twin-engine, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft first entered service with the U.S. Navy in the 1970s.
This aging platform continues to fly for the Iranian Air Force today.
While many military experts will dismiss the Tomcat as an airframe well past its time, the F-14 was a powerhouse for the Navy, and its top speed of Mach-2.3 still puts it on par with the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor.
F-14 Tomcat vs. Fulcrum
The need for the Tomcat emerged in part due to the F-4 Phantom’s shortcomings in dogfighting during the Vietnam War. As the Cold War was heating up, the Navy understood it needed to develop an airframe that could serve as a carrier strike group’s front line of defense.
The service required a fighter that could fly fast and engage enemy airframes with long-range weapons that would keep carriers out of danger. When the Department of Defense tasked the Navy to participate in the Tactical Fighter Experimental program, the solution was the Tomcat.
Equipped with six long-range AIM-54A Phoenix missiles that could be guided against six separate targets by the platform’s AWG-9 weapons control system, the F-14 could certainly pack a punch. Sparrow missiles were also included in the Tomcat for medium-range combat, while Sidewinders and a 20mm facilitated dogfighting.
One former Tomcat pilot recounted to The Aviation Geek Club an exciting training engagement against a Soviet-MiG-29 in the late 1990s.
The infamous Soviet platform was designed in the 1970s to counter American fighters like the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon. Able to carry around 8,800 pounds of ordnance and fly at speeds of Mach-2.3, the Fulcrum was a formidable fighter of the era.
What Matters Most
According to retired U.S. Navy Captain Sam “Slammer” Richardson, “the first flight he would never forget” occurred while he was attached to VF-14 Tophatters. Slammer detailed his experience:
“I intentionally flew directly under him. I knew he was aggressive as hell, and sure enough he bit. I saw his two afterburners. He is probably doing 500 knots, straight downhill, with both afterburners. And I thought, ‘Gotcha!’ I came up over the top, repositioned my nose, and I’m looking at an arcing MiG-29.”
At this point, Slammer knew he had to focus on the pilot, and not so much on the airframe. “It’s very impressive to see gun camera (video) with a MiG in the reticle.” He forced the MiG-29 pilot to call off the training drill. Afterward, Slammer said the MiG-29 pilot could only discuss how he was defeated by the F-14.
As Slammer put it, he was able to get “into his head,” reiterating the notion that ”the quality of the crate matters little. What matters is the quality of the man inside it.”
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.