Grim Reaper vertical stabilizer found

US Navy jet tail fin washes up on Irish shores

grimfin.jpgThis was too weird to wait for Linkzookery on Friday:

An investigation was underway last night after what is believed to be a large part of the structure of the US Navy fighter jet was found washed up yesterday by a retired Aer Lingus pilot.

The piece, about the size of a family car, is thought to be one of the tail fins from a twin-tail F-14 Tomcat — the jet featured in the movie Top Gun.

Why do news items always call the the F-14 the “jet featured in the movie Top Gun”?


Retired Aer Lingus captain Charlie Coughlan made the amazing discovery at Long Strand at Owenahincha, near Rosscarbery.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “The paint is still perfect. It appears to have broken off the aircraft. I could see a spar inside — it’s cracked, not cut.”

The debris, which measures eight feet by four feet, is military grey and features a flying skeleton, the insignia of VF-101 squadron — also known as the Grim Reapers — who up until recently were the US Navy’s F-14 training squad.

“It is quite a substantial piece; you would think it would have sunk but the inside is layered with honeycomb material and that could have made it buoyant,” said Mr Coughlan.

“There are no barnacles on it, so I would say it has only been in the water a few months.”

Doesn’t seem to Murdoc that discovering which plane this stabilizer belonged to will be too difficult.

The source of the data in the table is Home of M.A.T.S. There are also few Tomcat losses that the site doesn’t have Bureau Numbers for, but this piece of wreckage on the Irish shore almost certainly belongs to one of these fifteen Cats.

Obviously, then, it’s been in the water more than a “few months”.

I also notice that two times there are two aircraft lost on the same day. Collisions? A quick google turns up nothing. If anyone has any info toss it in Murdoc’s direction.


  1. Of course it should be pointed out that this tail fin may not belong to a ‘loss’. Some systems would have been compromised such as control and fuel, but it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the aircraft this fin came from could have made it back. While a bit more difficult to control, the F-14 could still fly with one vertical stabilizer.

  2. Well I have not found what happened, but I did discover that ‘Lt. Col. Guion Bluford became the first African-American in space’, on the third flight of the challenger. Also, two Marines were killed in lebanon on that day. There F-14 operating in support of missions there, so I wonder if there was mishap on a carrier deck.

  3. I mean that for the two ones lossed on the same day in 1983. For the tail-fin, my guess (I agree w/ bw) is it just broke off as they were pushing the air-frames to their fatigue limits anyway.

  4. Or it broke on on a carrier and accidentally fell overboard? Seems like there’s no reason it has to have come off during flight.

  5. During flight there are a lot of stresses on it, a order of magnitude more then when it would get sitting on a the flight deck (unless there was some sort of accident). Interesting possibility though.

  6. Could have been due to flutter – if it was a structural fatigue/failure problem. At certain flight regimes vortices generated by the wings can impinge onto the tail surfaces and damage them. This damage can either result from the force or from vibrations that it produces or induces. (or possibly an even more complex aeroelastic problem) Just my 2 cents, since this is what an exam of mine will be on in about 2 weeks.

  7. Oh, and btw forgot to say- What a lucky b*****d! Even if he doesn’t want it (yes I would love to have it) he could sell it on e-bay for a fortune, especially with the ending of the use of the F-14.

  8. Damn you murdoc! I’m sitting here drafting a post on this and you ALREADY made it old news! Serves me right for working all weekend on reserve stuff. Will still post on it with some comments on where it may have come from. Bottom line is that the squadron that this came from, VF-101 Grim Reapers, was the F-14 training squadron based at NAS Oceana. The only time those planes ever operated off carriers with that paint job was in a training evolution, as pilots became qualified in carrier deck landings in teh Tomcat, and this was only ever done in those VF-101 aircraft just off the coast of Virginia or other coastal areas off the east coast/Gulf coast (Jacksonville or Key West). More at the Instapinch later today, but it is definitely a weird thing – not weird as in ‘secret aircraft missions’ weird, but weird in how a traning aircraft tail fin ended up on a beach in Ireland.

  9. It could just be trash. Thrown overboard when the replaced during maintanance or repair.

  10. Or just scrap aluminium. Deactivated trainer gets chopped up at the boneyard, scrap gets loaded on a frieghter, light honey-combed scrap blows off ship.

  11. A sense of that history can be found on the US Navy website. Wannabe Tom Cruises can download a computer video game designed to test the mettle of those intent on a career with the force. ‘ I cannot find this game they are talking about. Anyone have better luck?

  12. The below is an article on the tail section in the local paper located in Norfolk, VA on 05/09/2006 (Local to NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach, VA) NORFOLK — A tail section from an F-14 Tomcat discovered on a beach in Ireland on Friday came from an Oceana-based plane that crashed 3 1/2 years ago off Key West, Fla., the Navy has confirmed today. How it got at least 4,900 miles away, no one knows for certain. The Navy knows at least one thing: It didn’t fly. Just as if it had been a corked bottle with a message inside, the find has created keen interest both in Ireland and the U.S. Speculation is that the nearly 10-foot long triangular piece of vertical stabilizer, one of two on the plane, was floated by currents from the Gulf of Mexico near the tip of Florida to the beach in West Cork on Ireland’s southern shores. A retired commercial airline captain, identified by the Irish Examiner as Charlie Coughlan, discovered the find, according to the newspaper. Initially it was feared the tail fin had fallen in flight, until the Navy confirmed that markings on the section, including squadron insignia and a serial number, pointed to the jet that crashed off Florida waters on Oct. 3, 2002. Last summer’s string of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, where the wreckage was known to have been, may have caught the piece and moved it around to the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida. ‘Nobody has any idea how that vertical stabilizer got all the way up there,’ said Cmdr. Chris Sims, a spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force in Norfolk. ‘It must have been floating in the water for three and a half years, or maybe something happened and the aircraft wreckage shifted and it broke off,’ he said. What is known is that an F-14 crashed near Key West in the Gulf of Mexico when a compressor stalled in one of its engines. Both crew members safely ejected and were picked up by an H-3 helicopter. They received minor injuries. It was one of several F-14s on a training mission and had been assigned to Fighter Squadron 101, a training squadron, at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach The piece of wreckage, described about the size of a family car, was in remarkably good shape, retained its paint and displayed the squadron’s insignia of a ‘Grim Reaper.’ The Navy is retiring its fleet of F-14s with just one squadron remaining in limited operations. That, too, will be disbanded this fall when the aviators transitions to F/A-18s. Coughlan said metal tail looked new and contained no barnacles or corrosion.

  13. Howdy neighbours, Jimbob here in The Peoples Republic of Cork (Ireland).I got to see the F-14 tail last Thursday night near where it was washed up before it left to be in military hands.The aircraft is 162594 /AD-136 from VF-101 Squadron c/n.516 F-14A!Nice to see that it sparked off some weird thoughts in your heads as well as over here.The Grim Reaper chose its landing site well as just ten years earlier in July 1996 Tomcats from VF-14 & VF-41 called feet dry as they crossed the coast at Galley Head Lighthouse just two miles away as the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy paid a visit to Ireland. I told the locals to give me a shout when the left tailplane arrives as it would make a great garden feature,hopefully it will be saved by an aviation museum in Ireland.All the best, Jimbob

  14. If I may? Your data table is out of date. That particular aircraft crashed in September of 2002. I know a little something about the incident because I was there at N.A.S. Key West when it happened. I’m the emergency maintenance mechenic at the airfield. Every 2 or 3 years the Luftwaffe hosts a training exercise for the Air Force at their base in northern Germany. It’s officially a NATO thing but mostly it’s Air Force, Navy and some Marine Corp pilots going against Mig 29s. In 2002 the F.A.N.G. (Florida Air National Guard) convinced everyone to hold it at N.A.S. Key West. At that time Key West had no full squadrons attached to it, but VF-101 had a permanent detachment stationed there (until de-commisioning). The exercise is called Agile Archer and it’s huge. Everyone wants to get in on it, but we only have so many hangars (the Phrench got left out HA!). They had F-18s, F-14s, F-16s, and F-15 squadrons from various countries and branches, all wanting a piece of each other but especially wanting to go up against the Migs. We also had five B-1s from the Kansas Air National guard, and even NASA had to get in on some of it. Check this out. NASA brought, among other things, a B-58 Hustler. They also brought a miniature prototye of the Global Hawk. The T.A.C.T.S. (Tactical Air Combat Training System) range in Key West is one of the best anywhere in the world, because of the size of the range and almost perfect flying weather. Add to that the fact that most of these pilots are trying to one up each other and it’s no suprise there was an accident. What happened was, the Tomcat and other aircraft were training in the range and the Tomcat pilot decided to do some hot dogging. They all do it, he just got caught because he crashed. The ceiling limit is 20,000 ft. in most of the range area, so this pilot made a pass by his competitors. He went by low and slow then gave it full throttle AB and went vertical. He blew past 20K ft. (got fined for it later) and shortly thereafter the engines stalled. He couldn’t get a re-lite on the way down and when it went into an un-controlled spin they punched out. And that’s what happened. We usually retrieve any aircraft that crash (3 in the last 2 years). That they didn’t get anything from that crash site only means that that it was too deep to salvage. They tried, believe me.

  15. Curt here, an oceanographer who tracks drifting objects around the world ocean. Does anyone out there have a photo of the F-14 tail that washes ashore in Ireland that I could put in my quarterly newsletter, the Beachcombers’ Alert? Please see Looks like the tail drifted around the North Atlantic Ocean for a total drift distance of 12,500 nautical miles. Any ideas why barnacles did not grow on the tail? Does the Navy apply special coatings?