Hobby Master HA5214 US Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat Fleet Defense Fighter - VF-14 "Tophatters", 80th Anniversary, 1999 (1:72 Scale)
"Illegitimi non carborundum" (a mock-Latin aphorism meaning "Don't let the bastards grind you down)"
- Motto of VF-111 "Sundowners"
The F-14 Tomcat program was initiated when it became obvious that the weight and maneuverability issues plaguing the U.S. Navy variant of the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) (F-111B) would not be resolved to the Navy's satisfaction. The Navy requirement was for a fleet air defense fighter (FADF) with the primary role of intercepting Soviet bombers before they could launch missiles against the carrier group. The Navy also wanted the aircraft to possess inherent air superiority characteristics. The Navy strenuously opposed the TFX, which incorporated the Air Force's requirements for a low-level attack aircraft, fearing the compromises would cripple the aircraft, but were forced to participate in the program at direction of then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who wanted "joint" solutions to the service aircraft needs to reduce developmental costs. The prior example of the F-4 Phantom which was a Navy program later adopted by the USAF (under similar direction) was the order of the day. Vice Admiral Thomas Connolly, DCNO for Air Warfare took the developmental F-111A for a flight and discovered it was unable to go supersonic and had poor landing characteristics. He later testified to Congress about his concerns against the official Department of the Navy position and in May 1968, Congress killed funding for the F-111B allowing the Navy to pursue an answer tailored to their requirements.
NAVAIR shortly issued an RFP for the Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX), a tandem two-seat fighter with maximum speed of Mach 2.2 and a secondary close air support role. Of the five companies that submitted bids (four of which incorporated variable-geometry wings as on the F-111), McDonnell Douglas and Grumman were selected as finalists in December 1968, and Grumman won the contract in January 1969. Grumman had been a partner on the F-111B, and had started work on an alternative when they saw the project heading south, and so had an edge on its competitors. Their early design mock-ups and cost projections were floated among Navy brass as an alternative to the F-111B.
The winning Grumman design reused the TF30 engines from the F-111B, though the Navy planned on replacing them with the F401-PW-400 engines then under development by Pratt and Whitney for the Navy (in parallel with the related F100 for the USAF). Though lighter than the F-111B, it was still the largest and heaviest U.S. fighter to ever fly from an aircraft carrier, its size a consequence of the requirement to carry the large AWG-9 radar and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, also from the F-111B and an internal fuel load of 16,000 lbs (7300 kg). The F-14 would also share a similar inlet duct, wing, and landing gear geometry with Grumman's A-6 Intruder.
Upon being granted the contract for the F-14, Grumman greatly expanded its Calverton, Long Island, New York facility to test and evaluate the new swing-wing interceptor. Much of the testing was in the air of the Long Island Sound as well as the first few in-flight mishaps, including the first of many compressor stalls and ejections. In order to save time and forestall interference from Secretary McNamara, the Navy skipped the prototype phase and jumped directly to full-scale development; the Air Force took a similar approach with its F-15.
The F-14 first flew on December 21st, 1970, just 22 months after Grumman was awarded the contract, and reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 1973. While the Marine Corps was interested in the F-14 and went so far as to send pilots to VF-124 to train as instructors, they were never fully sold on the aircraft and pulled out when the stores management system for ground attack munitions was left undeveloped, leaving the aircraft incapable of dropping air-to-ground munitions (these were later developed in the 1990s).
Pictured here is a stunning 1:72 scale diecast replica of a US Navy F-14A Tomcat fighter flown by VF-111 "Sundowners", then embarked upon the USS Carl Vinson during 1989.
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Historical Account: "Tophatters" - In May 1963, the squadron transitioned to the F-4B Phantom II and on 23 January 1964 they became the first Phantom squadron to operate on board the Roosevelt. In June 1966, after moving to NAS Oceana, the squadron deployed to the South China Sea to conduct air strikes and support missions against military targets in North Vietnam. During this combat deployment, the squadron flew 1,688 hours on 967 combat sorties and delivered 651,624 pounds of ordnance, in addition to flying its traditional combat air patrol and fighter escort missions. When the Roosevelt entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a modernization, CVW-1 and VF-14 were reassigned to the USS John F. Kennedy in 1969 and stayed with it for nine deployments until 1982.