Grumman and their Cat

tap tap…is this thing on? Many thanks to Murdoc for offering up this opportunity to help fill in some possible quiet spots over the next few weeks or so. I’m looking forward to posting along with Nicholas, in a combined sort of way (as opposed to a joint sort of way), seeing how we’re allies and all. I have a little blog called Instapinch where you can usually find something associated with naval aviation, and for at least a few more months, the F-14 Tomcat. My 30 second bio? Tomcat RIO for about 8 years, still doing the reserve thing down near Naval Air Station Oceana, and currently hanging the civilian hat at a large multi-sided office building in the northern Virginia area. And with that out of the way, launch ’em!

Grummie 163.jpgI spent the last few days back up in Long Island at a wonderful event hosted by the Northrop Grumman folks to mark THEIR farewell to the Tomcat, which is being retired after 33 years of service. I spent 90-92 up there in Calverton, their main aircraft assembly plant, on Navy orders as Operations Officer and part of the flight acceptance team for the F-14D program – Grumman would build the jet, their own test pilots would perform the first flight on the aircraft, then they’d give it to us and we’d fly a specific acceptance profile to check out all the systems. Those hops, as mundane as they sounded, could actually have a bit of fun in them. The British Airways/Air France Concorde was, of course, still flying back then, and they would begin to accelerate to their mach 2 crusing speed just southwest of our military operating area (MOA). As part of the radar check out, if our acceptance hop coincided with the Concorde scheduled departures, it was always fun to lock up the big beast and watch the speed readouts climb through the roof.

I’ll have a bit of a longer post over at the Instapinch on the events of these last few days soon, but in the meantime here is the Long Island Newsday link to there rather….paltry…coverage. I mean really, guys! Put some meat in the story! This isn’t a Hornet, fer cripes sake!

BTW, two Tomcats came up from Oceana for those two days – the first F-14s to grace those skies since the early-to-mid 90’s – thanks to Puck and his boys for bringing them (see pic).

—Posted by Pinch


  1. Just how much of a problem were the compressor stalls? Am I correct in thinking the new engines that came along later fixed that? I heard, aside from top speed, the later models (B/D) performed much better and were safer. Also I hear a lot of talk (or at least typing) that the Phoenix missiles, being designed to take out fast bombers at long ranges, weren’t very likely to hit a manevering fighter if fired against one. Any comment on that? I would have thought the phenomenal speed would have made them hard to out-maneuver. You just can’t turn very much in the time it takes for it to cover the last few kilometers/miles before it hits. Sorry for the grilling 🙂 Most of what I read about this sort of stuff is conjecture, it would be great to get some information from someone who has, ya know, flown in one and all…

  2. The Phoenix was designed to take out Soviet bombers and/or their armament at long range. Bombers and missiles which fly in straight lines and dont manuver… Its all about kinematics… Its a big missile travelling fast.

  3. 33 years is a good run for any airplane. Too bad the Navy never had anything to replace it. I definitely don’t feel safer with that POS Hornet still in the skies. Too bad the Navy couldn’t figure out a way to use the YF-23. Its the only airplane that’s as slick as the 14 and has stealth where it would do some good in the war on terror – in the IR spectrum. Of course, if it took 25 years to develop, like the F-22 or cost $300B to develop like the ‘low cost’ F-35. As for the low cost part, it’s supposed to cost $150M per at first, but then come down to the $50M-$60M range later. Not bad for an airplane that was supposed to cost $35M each. I wonder how many lies we are supposed to believe?

  4. Nicholas, The original engines in the F-14A, the Pratt and Whitney TF-30-P414 were indeed difficult to live with sometimes. To save money, back when Grumman won the contract to build the thing, the Gov’t people in Washington told them they *had* to use as many common elements as the previous aircraft that didn’t make the navy grade – the F-111B. Those TF-30-model engines may have been fine to power the Aardvark to whatever speed they needed, but when put in a fighter like the F-14, they did tend to stall periodically. Yanking the throttle back and forth while in various attitudes sometimes resulted in not enough air going down the intakes, and *BLAM*. Pilots, when they hit the merge and started air combat maneuvering, put the engines in full afterburner, tightened the throttle friction so they wouldn’t slip out of burner, but both hands on the stick and *did not touch the throttles*. The newer models of the Tomcat, specifically the F-14D, had General Electric F-110 engines, which was a quantum leap in performance. Instead of the aforementioned stalls when you jockeyed the throttle around in wacko attitudes, you could be inverted and at zero airspeed with the GE engines and cycle the throttles from idle to burner and back and forth all day without any worries. As far as the Phoenix was concerned, yes, it was a long-range missile optimized to take out those Godless Communists as they came across the horizon, but it also had a bit of an air-combat mode where you could fire the thing and it would either already have a lock and go after whatever it was locked on or left in an active mode, instantaneously looking for something to lock up on. It would be rare though to find ourselves at the merge still carrying phoenix, though. It was a good missile, but each missile weighed thousand pounds, so getting rid of that weight as soon as possible worked to our advantage to lighten the aircraft for a better maneuvering capability.

  5. Yes, skrip I know that and in fact I said it. What I was asking is not the same – whether a missile can successfully engage fighters is NOT the same as asking whether it was designed to engage bombers. My question is really, even though fighters are maneuverable, is that really going to help against a Phoenix? You may be able to see it being fired, but you have little idea of when it will hit you, and by the time you get warning it may be too late to do anything about it. It also has a massive warhead, so even a near miss could easily destroy a fighter. So I’m curious if Instapinch, someone who actually ought to know a lot about this topic rather than just guess like us, can tell us anything specific.

  6. I think you guys are just making all this up. I’m having a *really* hard time picturing Tome Cruise and Anthony Edwards doing some of this stuff, and if the best of the best can’t do it…

  7. The F-14 and F-111 were both designed for an engine with more thrust than they one they were provided initially. Because of their variable geometry intakes they were able to fly with what they got, but not very well. The idea was that when the new engine was finished, both aircraft would be upgraded. If I remember correctly, the engine had problems and got cancelled before it was completed (my memory is very leaky). It would have been cool to see the F-14 outfitted with the F-119 – and maybe some AVEN nozzels too. They could have put the F-22’s Escaning radar in the nose while they were fitting the new engine too. It’s a shame they wasted such good components on that turkey.

  8. Ah, right, good point. Yes, my understanding of air-to-air combat is you loose off the long-range missiles as soon as you have them in the envelope to try to thin out the enemy formations before engaging at close range (assuming you can Id them successfully at long enough range to decide to shoot at them). I read that the F-14, because its wings swing our so far and it has so many maneuvering flaps, and because of its twin engines, can sustain a 9G turn much longer than most other Western fighters. Did you ever play around with any F-15, F-16s or F-18s and get to compare performance? If so, how do you think the dog-fighting ability compared? Sorry if I was hard on skrip, I’ve heard plenty of opinions, I’m enjoying the opportunity to get some hard info 🙂 Thanks!

  9. Nicholas, The rule of thumb (more like a bedrock tenet, in my view) is that you never fly *through* one weapons envelope in anticipation of getting a shot with a different weapon. Tactical considerations may preclude taking any one particular shot (for instance we only carried a relatively small number of phoenix on the carrier and they were a million bucks a pop, so you don’t want to be pickling those things off willy nilly), but generally you wanted to kill the bad guy as soon as possible and as far away from you as you can. As far as playing around with other aircraft, *all the time*. Its called ‘dissimilar air combat’ where you go up against aircraft unlike your own. Navy aircraft usually have a weight disadvantage when fighting strictly air force aircraft because of the robust and structurally-beasty construction we need for aircraft carrier landings. How did it compare? Alot of it depended on the experience of the pilot, in both cockpits, as well as the powerplant in the F-14 – i.e. old engines, we were dogs oftentimes; new engines, we were da MAN(!) oftentimes. You’ll get 12 different opinions from 10 fighter pilots regarding this – suffice it to say we did the best we could under the circumstances, and always got great training out of whatever we did! (how’s THAT for a little bit of crawfish action?) Bottom line? When the new engines came along, we could really perform on par with many of the other 4th generation fighters.

  10. Wow, this is great, thanks for the responses! So, I guess the F-14 isn’t just ‘that plane from Top Gun’ that we like to romanticise 🙂 I still can’t understand why the US Navy didn’t re-engine the whole fleet ASAP 🙁 I would have…

  11. If they would have put the F-119 in the F-14 you would have seen real Supercruise. That would have been a big change, but well worth it. The F-14 would have been a Mach 2 SR-71 if it was packing those babies.

  12. Nicholas, I gave you an answer. The physics behind the Phoenix prevent it from taking out a manuvering target. Your talking about fast and heavy with limited control surfaces. Ding dong the Witch is dead. That F-14 was behind in the times and a hanger queen. The F/A-18F more than a suitable replacement. Better radar, more capabilities, and better manuverability.

  13. Well now. It *is* interesting that when they strapped the LANTIRN pod on the F-14D it in many ways became the precision strike platform of choice when it was in theater. Great legs, great speed, even when carrying a couple of 2000 JDAMs. Coulda been wired for AMRAAM (1553 data bus and all that jazz), but that decision died at NAVAIR, apparently. Digital flight control mod, APG-71 was a kick-butt radar (true, not AESA, but I have no doubt that sort of advanced radar technology could have been fit into the Tomcat)….still a more than capable platform. The thing that killed the Cat was maintaining it – that man-hour to flight-hour ratio that just became too high and cost prohibitive – an axiomatic result when the production line is shut down. Airframe flight-hour limits were a problem too, in the older jets, and with only 37 new-production F-14Ds around (and about 15 or so remanufactured Ds), you simply can’t maintain much of an effective fleet with so few newer/low flight time airframes. So yes, and no…the Tomcat just ran out of time in its life, but it wasn’t because it wasn’t capable or wasn’t able to transition to new tactics, techniques and procedures. With the current time-critical/time-sensitive targeting requirements, a Tomcat with great loitering capability, a sweet strike combat package, LANTIRN, air-to-air capabilities and a dual cockpit to share the load (an acknowledgement to the single-seat mafia guffawing in the back row) makes sense to me.

  14. It couldnt carry the variety of weapons a Super Hornet could… JASSM, SLAM, Harpoon, HARM, etc. Also, the Super Hornet could carry more munitions. The only drawback to the Super Hornet is its range. But we have tanking and Boeing working on that. IE, conformal fuel tanks, and better engines.

  15. The only drawback to the super hornet is its price, its range, and its vulnerability to air superiority fighters and ground based air defenses. The only minor drawbacks is its inability to land on a carrier while carrying its weapon loads. The tendency of its brakes to overheat then fail, and the worthlessness of its ‘stealth’ upgrades. Other then it being totally outclassed by other aircraft (say the F-15E which is 20 million cheaper, the SU-27, SU-31, eurofighter . . . and is basically a dead end designwise, its a great 2nd tier plane. Of course I would hate to place the defense of the fleet on such a plane – but what the hell. The current fleet now can be taken out by 50 cal machine gun, so why not have be defended by an F-18. We have to be consistant.

  16. How is its price a drawback? It was developed within its budget and on time. Its costs are pretty much where they were projected to be. Its air-to-air is better than the F-14 since its wired to carry AIM-120C-7s and has an AESA radar. In addition to this, it has JHMCS and the AIM-9X. Coupled with its high manuverability, a very powerful dogfighter. The E/A-18G Growler replaces the EA-6B with an aircraft that can actually keep up with Strike Packages and use new digital electronics to deal with enemy air defenses. The Super Hornet’s Radar-Cross-Section is the smallest outside of the F-22A and F-35. Especially when outfitted with the AESA radar. As for the F-15E being cheaper… imagine how that costs balloons when you try and put it on a carrier….

  17. Yeah, look at how the cost of that F-5 ballooned when they put it on a carrier! What a waste! Conformal tanks won’t help this dog. The Navy needs a new attack airplane. I’d love to see them get a stretch version of the YF-23 for that. Just a pipe dream, though. It will never happen.

  18. The F/A-18 SuperHornet is fine. And its far from being a dog. Its a 5th generation multi-role aircraft with capabilities up the wazoo. And guess what? I dont here any pilots of active naval personnel crying about how much of a dog it is. Jesus, do you people ever consider that the people in charge know a little bit more than you about their needs in terms of procurement? Jesus, bloggers and internet geeks unite! Everyone is a military/aerospace expert on here! Also, stretching and putting the YF-23 on a carrier is the dumbest thing I heard yet. Can you imagine the costs and time to develope?

  19. Yo…guys…both aircraft were/are great in their own ways, and we are into the Hornet era now, so marching forth while saluting smartly we will. It really is funny, this divisiveness that these two aircraft have brought out in the naval aviation community. For me, as long as it stays good natured and giving as much as one gets, you are cleared in hot and fire away! Let’s try and keep that in mind. While not taking anything away from a D-Tomcat, the Hornet E/F is a great airplane (and will get better with the advanced radar, decoupled cockpit capabilities, ATFLIR, etc) and will do the airwing proud – they just need to make sure that the first communications term learned in the Hornet RAG is ‘Interrogative Texaco’. Fight’s on!

  20. The Super Hornet is not a 5th generation fighter. Its a stretched version of the F-18. Which the F-18 was the loser in the light fighter competion with the F-16. Stealthwise – The superhornent is only ‘stealthy’ when clean. (no weapons). Capabilitywise – in studies it does not measure up well. Britain’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency Aircraft Odds vs. Su-35 vs Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor 10.1:1 Su-35 vs Eurofighter Typhoon 4.5:1 Su-35 vs Dassault-Breguet Rafale C 1.0:1 Su-35 vs Sukhoi Su-35 ‘Flanker’ 1.0:1 Su-35 vs McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle 0.8:1 Su-35 vs Boeing F/A-18+ 0.4:1 Su-35 vs McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C 0.3:1 Su-35 vs General Dynamics F-16C 0.3:1 Basically the Super Hornet is the only plane in town so the Navy goes with it. No point in spiting in the wind,but blind faith in ‘upper management’ is not always the best course of action.

  21. And viewing the F-23 as a Navy plane is not dumb. Originally the capability for carrier operations was built into the plane – that capability was withdrawn when the Navy diverted funds into the A-12 program (which died). By the time the A-12 died, the Air Force was not going to let the Navy back in. The Navy had not choice but go with the ‘Super Hornet’ becasue the Congress refused to fund a new Navy fighter development plan since the Navy proved that it could not handle the procurement challenge.

  22. Pinch and I come at the issue of the F-18 from two different directions. He’s flight crew, so his job is to adapt and overcome. As an engineer, my job is to gauge what exists against what could exist, and from that perspective the F-18 is junk, and I think it is unfortunate that we have not served guys like Pinch better, because they deserve better. At least we agree that the F-18 has an excellent avionics system. I met Gene Adams and heard him give a speech at the factory in St. Louis years ago. He did an excellent job designing the original system and pioneered many of the features that have become standard in the industry today. Thanks for the good information, James. I wonder if they ever got far enough with the Navy design to have a loft for that version? I make it sound trivial to stretch it, but the aerodynamics on the YF-23 are so highly integrated you could change one thing and mess up 10 others. They’d need to get the original designers involved in the project, and those guys don’t work for any of the ocmpanies involved in the original project. The sad thing about aerospace today is there are no good airplane designers working for the few companies that still build airplanes. You could tell that in the JSF competition. The F-35 was an improvement over the F-22, but none of them were anything compared to the YF-23 or other aero designs from the past. The industry has gone to hell.

  23. ‘Su-35 vs Boeing F/A-18+ 0.4:1’ I take it you didnt read where it said that the F/A-18+ isnt the same as the F/A-18E? Also, the YF-23 was not intended for Carrier Ops at all… dont know where you pulled that out of.

  24. What difference does that make, Skrip00? I’ll mail you all the parts the YF-22 and F-22 have in common. Don’t expect a package anytime soon. Ok, make that ever as they don’t exist. I was talking about stretching it a little to make some room for enough bombs and fuel to make it a proper attack platform (unlike the F-18). What would be really slick is if they could swap the center section between the fighter and attack versions like the F-35 does between their various incarnations, then the Navy could have both a new fighter and a new attack plane. That would be cool, but I’m not sure if the aero stuff would work. Those guys were way above my head with the stuff they did on the 23.

  25. The reason the F/A-18E/F was built was because they needed to replace a whole lot of aging and obsolete aircraft, and do it ASAP. The USN doesnt have the budget to go around building whole new aircraft, so the F/A-18 was chosen as a base platform to build upon. It was a multi-role strike fighter, but limited in performance. So they gave it more fuel, more thrust, more room, and the possibility of future upgrades. They even reduced the RCS immensly. FYI its stealthy with a clean AtA loadout. But every little bit helps, even if its trucking bombs. The USN couldnt wait until 2015 for the F-35 or whatever replacement. So they went with the Hornet II or Super Hornet project. The result was what the F/A-18 Hornet shouldve been back after the LWF competition. (But back then, budget cuts prevented it) Also, it comes down to logistics and operational tempo. A carrier can now has 80+ F/A-18E/Fs on it and and be very flexible in whatever operations are needed. Air-to-air, the F/A-18E carries the AIM-120C-7. Even now they are being upgraded with the AESA radar. Combined with low RCS, they are a tough tango in a BVR matchup. With the AIM-9X, JHMCS, and their manuverability, they are to be feared in WVR combat. Air-to-ground, the Navy’s strike power has been increased vastly. The F/A-18E is wired for all of our current and next gen weapons. Its strike range is immense if you take into account buddy tanking and long range missiles like the JASSM or SLAM. It can also carry a boatload of SDBs as well. Comparisons. Many say its the ‘jack of all trades, yet expert at none’. Debunked with my AtA argument and AtG argument. The A-6 could carry lots of bombs, but could not keep up with strike packages. This meant faster aircraft needed to fly slower to tank or escort. The F-14 was limited in its bombload by design. Its payload is less than the F/A-18E and nowhere near diverse. It also cannot perform nearly as many missions as the Super Hornet. Then comes logisitics. The Superhornet is far easier to maintain than any other aircraft on a carrier to date. It can perform more missions, and since your relying on them for more roles, that less different types of aircraft to support. Alternate programs were unfeasible. Making an YF-23 or F-22 carrier plane was retarded. Look at the F-22A costs now and double it. Making that plane a carrier strike aircraft is hard, if not impossible. Also, why do that when the F-35C is available? That can carry and F-22A’s ground combat load, stealthily, and do the job.

  26. Skrip00 – A couple of points ‘I take it you didnt read where it said that the F/A-18+ isnt the same as the F/A-18E?’ No – actually I did read it, but I think you failed to understand what it said. ‘F-18+ (0.4:1, NB this is not the current F-18E/F which is apparently a downgraded version of the F-18+ used in the studies)’ They did not use the current F-18E/F but used an ‘advanced’ version of the F-18. So, it would be reasonable to assume that the current F-18 E/F if used would perform worse. Navalized ATF (Advance Technology Fighter) See Defens – The original concept was much what you proposed. With respect to the F-23 ‘ The YF-23 engine nacelles were larger than they would have been on the production F-23, since they had been designed to accommodate the thrust reversers originally planned for the ATF but later deleted.’ The inclusion of the thrust reversers would of enabled the YF-23 to meet most of the requirements necessary to land on a carrier.

  27. Thrust reversers? Not in an aircraft carrier landing environment. Don’t forget – the aircraft needs to go to full power when it lands in case there is a hook-skip bolter or the hook simply misses a wire – having thrust reversers in that eventuality would not be conducive to maintaining a proper flying speed, to put it mildly. Fine for an AF jet and their 12,000 foot runways, but we need that full power at landing for a bolter go-around possibility.

  28. Thanks, James, for more good information. The F-22 has a tail hook to this day. I’m sure the 23 had one too. Naturally the Navy version would have required beefier keel structure to handle carrier landing loads. Let’s face it, the Navy screwed up. They built a whole new airplane that has few if any advantages over what they had. They could have spent less money upgrading the F-14 with new avionics, engines, and a few minor structural modifications. I guess Grumman didn’t have the lobby that MD had. This kind of stupidity isn’t limited to the Navy. The USAF eliminated Grummand from the ATF competition by edicting that any airplane with a canard would not win, then given only two choices, they managed to pick the worst one. Is it any wonder why we are where we are now?

  29. No one here has been able to refute the main issues I brought up… Its like you people dont READ what I say. Why is the F/A-18F any worse than the TOMCAT in BVR combat? WVR Combat? Where would the Navy have gotten funding for this magical new airplane? This YF-23 BS monstrosity. What about the issues with comapatability and strike performance? The A-6 and S-3 were too slow. The F-14 too limited in payload. Let’s not forget the F/A-18E/F is easier and cheaper to maintain (another point you all seem to miss), and that its cheaper than the other alternatives. Its strike range on a single fuel load is also immense, especially when coupled with long range PGMs and fellow SHs with buddy stores. As for the DERA study, firstoff, its outdated. Secondly, the F/A-18+ was an improved F/A-18C/D, not an improved F/A-18E/F.