Hobby Master HA5225 US Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat Fleet Defense Fighter - 161616, VF-21 "Freelancers", USS Independence (CV-62), CVW-5, 1994 (1:72 Scale)
"Obsolete weapons do not deter."
- British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
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 that was attached to VF-21 "Freelancers", then embarked upon the USS Independence (CV-62) during 1994.
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Release Date: June 2019
Historical Account: "Cruising Range" - The VF-21 Freelancers was a U.S. Navy fighter squadron flying the F-14 Tomcat until disestablished in 1996.
In November 1983, VF-21 and VF-154 participated in a ceremony which was the end of an era: these two were the last US based squadrons to fly F-4s (although there were two forward deployed squadrons continued to operate the F-4). VF-21 now transitioned to the F-14 Tomcat, the process was managed by VF-124 and it was not until later half of 1984 that VF-21 was declared fully operational, the first cruise was on with CVW-14 aboard USS Constellation (CV-64) in early 1985.
A significant cruise for VF-21, this cruise was more memorable as the debut of the F/A-18 Hornet. In 1987, VF-21 launched AIM-7 Sparrow missiles against an Iranian F-4 that had engaged an P-3 Orion in the Persian Gulf.
A number of cruises followed until 1990 when the squadron, with the rest of its air wing, moved to USS Independence (CV-62). The carrier was the first to reach the Persian Gulf in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. However the squadron did not take part in Operation Desert Shield, as by that time the carrier had returned to the US, but VF-21 played an important part in protecting the build up of allied forces in the Gulf and along with other rapid reaction units it is possible they are what deterred Saddam Hussein from attacking Saudi Arabia.
In August of 1991 the squadron moved to Japan, when USS Independence took over the role of USS Midway in being the only carrier home ported outside the USA, at Yokosuka. During this change the squadron stayed with the same carrier but moved air wings, from CVW-14 to CVW-5. This was because the Midway air wing had been without Tomcats, as the older ship could not accommodate the F-14's size and weight. During the whole VF-21's F-14 career, VF-21 has been partnered by VF-154. The last cruise of USS Independence was not without incident or tension. Along with the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), Independence and her air wing were involved in operations to demonstrate US resolve in support of Taiwan. The 1995 Chinese military exercises once raised tension in the region and signaled China's opposition to Taiwans' Presidential Election. VF-21 returned from deployment onboard USS Independence (CV-62) in late 1995. Unfortunately this was their last at sea period and the squadron was soon after disestablished, the official ceremony was on the January 31st, 1996.