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The Last Tomcat

I noted last fall that the AIM-54 Phoenix missile had been retired. And now the day we dreaded is near:

Even when it was re-tooled with a superb capability to drop precision guided munitions and re-fitted with digital flight controls, the days of the Tomcat are numbered. The last two squadrons are preparing for the last cruise to the Med and the CENTCOM arena, returning in February to one last hurrah at NAS Oceana. From an aircraft recognition point of view, after Feb 2006, if you see a F-14 flying, it ain’t one of ours!

The author flew the last Tomcat ever delivered to the US Navy, and now notes that it’s on static display at Naval Air Station Oceana. Go read Instapinch for more and for pics.

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Comments

  • buckethead says:

    And now the Navy’s air superiority fighter will be a retooled ground attack plane. The Navy’s airplane procurement people really screwed the pooch over the last twenty years. The Navy has not a single stealth aircraft, and won’t until sometime in the next decade when the F35 enters service. And even that is not intended as a top of the line air superiority fighter, but rather a moderately stealthy FB. Their only hope is to buy into some of the UCAV programs, otherwise – aside from having billion dollar cruise missile launching frigates – they won’t have any credible power projection capability at all. If we ever had to go up against a nation with a credible air defense network (even Syria, which learned at least a little from repeated run-ins with Isreal) the Navy’s antiquated planes will not be able to do much except follow trails blazed by the Air Force, because only they have the capacity to penetrate air defenses with stealthy bombers and fighter bombers.

  • Nicholas says:

    Disclaimer: I am not an expert, but I do read a fair bit. I agree with buckethead that this is all a big mistake, but from a different perspective: Let’s assume, for now, that the US Navy is not going to be engaged in air combat any time soon, or face any credible air-defence threat. Assuming that, what is the US Navy’s air power need? Strike, ground attack, interdiction etc. The F-18Cs and F-18Es are credible ground-attack platforms with nice modern modern avionics, but: * The F-18C is a direct descendant of a lightweight fighter prototype. * The F-18E is a heavyweight version of a lightweight fighter, which seems a little odd to me. And it’s still relatively lightweight. What does this mean? * The F-14D can carry a heavier load of bombs further than a similarly configured F-18 of either type (but especially the C/D). Because it’s fairly large and has powerful engines, and because of the swing wings, it doesn’t lose as much of its maneuverability while doing so. What happens when the US Navy finds itself engaged in a war with a country far inland and/or behind a serious SAM screen? Are aerial tankers going to make deep penetrations? I think realistically what’s going to happen is that the Air Force are going to be the only ones who can really manage it and the Navy is going to go out of favour. It doesn’t sound good to not be able to go on strikes because you don’t have aircraft with the range to do it. Even with in-flight refuelling, an F-14 is going to go further than an F-18 for the same reasons that it can do so without in-flight refuelling. The Air Force has stealth aircraft, long range-bombers, fast aircraft, interceptor aircraft – aircraft which are good in pretty much any situation. The US Navy is now stuck with a jack-of-all-trades, ace-of-none. I don’t think that putting all your eggs in one basket is really a great thing… Information (according to aerospaceweb.org): F-18C typical range on attack mission: 1150nm F-18E typical range on attack mission: 1200nm F-14? typical range on attack mission: 1600nm I suspect the F-14 information is for the A/B models and the D will do better because of more efficient engines. I also suspect the 1600nm figure is going to be with a fairly heavy load or at least 4000lb (remember, the F-14 was designed to carry 4-6 of the big Phoenix missiles plus sidewinder and/or sparrow for most of the time, so it’s no stranger to long flights with heavy loads) whereas a typicaly F-18 attack payload is considered to be two 1000lb bombs plus a couple of sidewinders and some external tanks. So, to put the same amount of ordinance on a far away target as two F-14s, it will be necessary to send about 8 F-18s – four with bombs, because they carry half as much, and four with buddy refuelling systems so they can get there. That’s going to put more aircraft and airmen at risk, plus it will partially (fully?) cancel out the maintenance advantages. What would I do? Retire the F-14A/Bs and use them for parts. Install newer radars, avionics and such in the F-14Ds, and do whatever is possible to reduce the maintenance needs. Make sure they can fire AMRAAMs, JDAMs, all the latest ordinance. F-18s are fine but I think each carrier should ideally have one squadron of F-14Ds too. That should allow for some greater flexibility. Even with major modifications, F-18C/Es with AMRAAMs, sidewinders and fuel tanks escorting F-14Ds with bombs (and probably fuel tanks) should work fairly well, since the lighter load with the F-18s will increase their range and maneuverability, and they have the latest air-to-air radars. Nicholas

  • Nicholas says:

    Oops, I should have said, I assume the attack configuration for the F-18 is two 1000lb bombs, I hate range figures which don’t specify loadout or takeoff weight, but none of them ever seem to… I also meant to say ‘Even without major modifications’, not ‘Even with major modifications’.

  • Bram says:

    Not that the USAF would ever go for it, but– Wouldn’t a very fast long range interceptor armed with the world’s fastest and longest range air to missiles be a perfect fit for the Air National Guard Units tasked with defending the continental U.S.? The F-14 and the Phoenix missile system were designed to intercept enemy fighter-bombers outside the launch range of their cruise missiles, and to shoot down any cruise missiles launched. Isn’t that pretty much the primary mission of Air Guard Units defending CONUS? Also, as a land based fighter, the arresting equipment could be stripped off to save weight and the softer runway landings would be easier on the frames.

  • Nicholas says:

    Also, sorry to be a pain, but a large part of the F-18E/F’s maximum fuel load is carried exernally, whereas the F-14 seems to have a paltry external load capability. I bet it wouldn’t be too hard to build and verify larger external tanks on F-14s for the ultimate in carrier-based long-range strikes, short of resurrecting the F-111B :) I looked up some figures, the F-14′s engines are a good 40% or so more powerful in dry thrust (33,220lb vs. 25,000lb), and interestingly: F-14D w/ full internal fuel (16200lb) and 4000lb bombs = 62000lb, thrust/weight = 0.53 F-18E w/ full internal fuel (14400lb) and 2000lb bombs = 47000lb, thrust/weight = 0.53 And I didn’t even mention my worries about the F-18E’s drag efficiency with that new wing. Oops, did I say wing? I mean airframe… I think the only common part is the cockpit area.

  • Nicholas says:

    Bram, good point, I think the F-14 would make an excellent land-based interceptor. Probably the biggest problem would be maintenance. Supposedly the F-14 is a hangar queen. I’d want to upgrade the Phoenix electronics though. Supposedly they’re not as effective as they were made out to be. Still, IMO, any air-to-air missile with >25% hit ratio in any realistic combat is pretty darn good. After all, 4 missiles are typically a lot cheaper than 1 plane, even if they’re Phoenixes…

  • Murdoc says:

    I’m loving the ANG F-14 Continent Defender! Really. And I’m thinking ANG pilots would be killing to get one.

  • buckethead says:

    Those are all interesting ideas – but does it strike all of you as a bit odd that at least in regard to the Navy, most of our discussions are about saving old technology to backstop potentially dangerous decisions in Naval procurement? Battleships, now F-14s. What are the odds that the Navy will not go with the DDX? What are the odds that we will keep any meaningful part of the attack sub fleet in service? What are the odds that the most promising technology now under development – the LCS/sea fighter – will reach service in large numbers? Murdoc accuses me of always chiming in on the Navy, but maybe because the Navy, more than the other services, seems to have a completely bassackwards technology development program. They missed the boat entirely on aircraft. When did the F18 enter service? When will the F35 enter service? A thirty year gap without a new plane. And most of the UAV research is happening in the world of the Army and Air Force. Given developments in missile and sensor technology that I’ve argued about here, I think big ship plans are a bit ridiculous, and potentially disastrous in the future. The Navy is right about a lot of its strategic conclusions in ‘Forward from the Sea’ and other plans. But their shopping list shows no evidence that they themselves understand the implications.

  • Joel says:

    I thought the Super Hornet was supposed to have a much greater range than the Tomcat??? If the DoD wasn’t happy with the Pheonix, they could have strapped a couple SM Block IVs to the bottom of her and used it to shoot dowm ICBMs with a datalink from the AWACS. lol I really am a big fan of the 14 but it is 70s technology. It is pretty dumb to retire it without a sufficient replacement. Why can’t the navy get F-22s for carrier operations? I think that would do it.

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