Chopping up Tomcats

Jets Shredded, Kept Away From ‘Bad Guys’


The Pentagon is paying a contractor at least $900,000 to destroy old F-14s, a jet affectionately nicknamed “the turkey,” rather than sell the spares at the risk of their falling into the wrong hands, including Iran’s.

Within a workday, a $38 million fighter jet that once soared as a showpiece of U.S. airpower can be destroyed at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., the military’s “boneyard” for retired aircraft.

“There were things getting to the bad guys, so to speak,” said Tim Shocklee, founder and executive vice president of TRI-Rinse Inc. in St. Louis. “And one of the ways to make sure that no one will ever use an F-14 again is to cut them into little 2-by-2-foot bits.”

We want to keep unique F-14 components out of Iran’s hands. As the only other operator of the Tomcat, we have a chance to do that. As I noted back in March:

We’d much rather be facing Iranian F-14s instead of Iranian F-15s. (Now, now, Tomcatters…hear me out!)

What if the Shah had decided to buy the F-15 instead of the F-14? Sure, you could argue that the Tomcat has some advantages over the Eagle, and you’d have a point. But the bigger issue is that of maintenance and operation. The only reason any sort of “embargo” of spare parts to Iran has a prayer of working is because no one else in the world ever owned any F14s. Just about everyone has some F-15s at this point. Even if every nation which operates Eagles made a 100% effort to keep spare parts and knowledgeable personnel from falling into Iranian hands, the sheer scale of the installed base would make acquiring spares and even upgrades fairly easy. 1980 vintage Tomcats or more recent vintage (via upgrades and better maintenance) Eagles?

Despite the fact that we’d just as soon not have to tangle with Iranian Tomcats, the outcome of such encounters is far more certain than it would be against better-maintained Eagles with a larger number of effective support personnel.

We would have zero chance of keeping F-15 spares out of Iran.

Meanwhile, Pinch has some thoughts on Speed! as it applies to naval aviation.


  1. One of the big advantages the F-4 had was not only its fastest speed but its speed down low where the air is thick. Being fast down there meant no one had time to lock a missile on you. The time between when they’d see you and you were gone is too short. That was one reason no airplane could take the wild weasel role from the F-4Gs. The SR-71 used the ‘speed is life’ philosophy better than any airplane before or since. They flew so fast so efficiently and with enough stealth that again getting a missile to be a threat was basically impossible. Once they were detected a large missile could not fly far enough fast enough to catch them. An airplane could get closer to them, but had to carry smaller missiles. The smaller missiles, even given the Mach 2 boost of being fired from an airplane, could not go far enough fast enough to intercept the SR-71. Unfortunately part of why the SR-71 was so efficient was the axisymmetric intakes. These intakes did not work well at high angles of attack, which limited the SR’s use as a fighter. In these days where we have fighters with some serious stealth, the ideal would be something that could sustain Mach 2.5+ for a long time, which the F-22 can’t. The F-22 has a fixed intake and even though it might muscle its way to Mach 2.3, it will do so with such inefficiency that it’s not worth using. A fast stealth fighter would use hit and run tactics, rather than engaging in a fur ball. Once they’re off everyone’s radar, they make a sweeping turn and hit again from another angle and do that until everyone is dead. The F-22 is so slow that if they don’t kill eveyone in the first pass, they end up in a fur ball, and fortunately their thrust vectoring gives them the ability to do that pretty well. There is one more aspect to speed that people don’t consider much these days. That is the ability of an airplane to maintain speed in a turn. The forward swept wing X-29 demonstrated the ability to actually dogfight while maintaining transonic speeds. It did not bleed off airspeed as fast as the F-14 or F-15 does in a turn. The down side to the forward swept wing, however, is that the top speed of the airplane is limited to not much above Mach 1 in cruise. Some say the Grumman ATF design was a forward swept wing which actually could do Mach 2+ in cruise. It never got a chance because of the politics of the time. Its design, as far as I know, is still very much a secret, as is the top speed of the YF-23.

  2. Where is the creativity! We should be ruining the parts then selling them to Iran defective, or leaking them onto the market, so the part will ruin their whole fleet. Kind of a more sophisticated version of sand in the gas tank. Make a profit, ruin your enemies, that’s what I always say! T

  3. Oh god why oh why…? Why cut up a beautiful display of engineering? At least ask some billionaires to see if they want one…:P

  4. no wait a minute, why are we worrying about Tomcats being used by our enemies if the Raptor can turn them into scrap metal within seconds (apparently)?

  5. Why are we worried about the F-14’s – Because they really only have one role – to shoot down big jets. (Think B-52.B-1’s, and the transports.) They can do so at a range that far exceeds ours, they are operating at home, with cover from ground based defenses. Simply put, they would be a big pain in the ass, and the Raptors would be tied up in downing the the short range interceptors or stuck on the ground trying because the navigation system could not deal with Iranian local time, or the stealth coatings would be degraded by the high dust content… Anyway, a Mach 2+ forward swept wing? Now that is something I would like to see. My first thought would be how would they keep the wings on? My second thought, is how would they keep the pilot conscious?

  6. The forward swept wing turns tighter for the same g load as a conventional wing airplane. Less of the g load goes to slowing the airplane down and more goes to turning the airplane. Everyone in the industry was convinced Grumman was on the inside track to win ATF because of all the successes they were having with the X-29, then their who program collapsed when the General decided on his ‘no canard’ policy. About that time the Navy cancelled the F-14 and Grumman was done as a fighter company. It sure would have been cool to see what they had in mind for ATF. It would have been great to see the Super Tomcat built too. That airplane would have finally had the engines it was designed for. My friend who flew F-15s said the F-14 never had enough power. He said as soon as he saw those wings sweep forward he knew the F-14 was toast. Like Pinch says, it’s all about energy management.

  7. It’s rediculous that the F-14 is so good we have to cut it up to keep it out of the hands of our enemies. You can bet they won’t have to cut up F-18s. Hell, they’ll probably sell those old hulks to the Chinese hoping they’ll use them against us.