Century Wings CW588684 US Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat Fleet Defense Fighter - AJ100, VF-41 "Black Aces", USS Nimitz (CV-68), 1978 (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 flown by VF-41 "Black Aces", AJ100, then embarked upon the USS Nimitz in 1978. Limited production run of only 1,000 pieces.
Wingspan: 7 inches
Length: 10.5 inches
Release Date: December 2007
Historical Account: "The Final Countdown" - VFA-41 Strike Fighter Squadron 41 (VFA-41) also known as the "Black Aces" is a United States Navy strike fighter squadron based at Naval Air Station Lemoore California.
The "Black Aces" are an operational fleet squadron and fly the F/A-18F Super Hornet. The Black Aces are attached to Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW-11), a composite unit made up of a wide array of aircraft performing a variety of combat and support missions. The squadron is currently deployed onboard the USS Nimitz (CVN-68).
In 1980, Nimitz and CVW-8 took part in a round the world cruise. While on this cruise, the carrier served as the seaborne base in response to the Iran hostage crisis and the subsequent attempted rescue of the U.S. Embassy hostages from Iran. VF-41 (and the rest of the battle group) spent 144 continuous days at sea, the longest period the squadron had spent at sea without break since World War II.
During workups for the 1981-1982 Mediterranean cruise, an EA-6B Prowler crashed on the deck of the Nimitz which caused damage and started fires. VF-41 lost three sailors and three F-14s were destroyed.
While on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea on August 19th, 1981, during a routine combat air patrol mission over the Gulf of Sidra, two Libyan Su-22 "Fitter" aircraft were shot down by Black Aces aircraft. The incident marked the first Navy air combat confrontation since the Vietnam War and the first ever for the F-14A Tomcat. It was the first time a swing-wing aircraft shot down another swing-wing aircraft. 1981 was also the first year in which the Black Aces won the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle Efficiency "E", signifying them as the most efficient squadron in the Atlantic Fleet. VF-41 was also awarded the Battle "E" in 1985 and 1989.
In November 1982, the squadron embarked on an extended deployment off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon, in support of a multinational peacekeeping force.
During 1985, VF-41 spent 68 days off the coast of Lebanon in response to the hijacking of TWA Flight 847. If not that situation had been solved by other means, it's quite probable that VF-41 (and its sister squadron VF-84) would have been employed in the same way as VF-74 and VF-103 during the Achille Lauro incident, to intercept the hijackers and force them down to be arrested.
The 1986 cruise was the last with USS Nimitz; it began in December and ended in June 1987 when Nimitz got to her new home in San Diego. In October that year, CVW-8 was deployed with USS Theodore Roosevelt and the first cruise was in the North Atlantic for Exercise Teamwork 88 which involved operations with the Royal Norwegian Air Force and the first Mediterranean deployment was in December.