Century Wings CW782983 US Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat Fleet Defense Fighter - AJ107, VF-41 "Black Aces", USS Nimitz (CVN-68), Gulf of Sidra, 1981 [Low-Vis Scheme] (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.
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 1:72 scale replica of a US Navy F-14A Tomcat fleet defense fighter painted in a low-vis camouflage scheme that was attached to VF-41 "Black Aces", then embarked upon the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) during the Gulf of Sidra Incident in 1981. Only 1,002 pieces produced.
Note: In recent decades, "low-visibility" (Low-Vis) insignia have increasingly been used on camouflaged aircraft. These have subdued, low-contrast colors (often shades of grey or black) or stencilled outlines, in order not to compromise the effectiveness of the camouflage.
Wingspan: 7 inches
Length: 10.5 inches
Release Date: September 2010
Historical Account: "Shuffle and Deal" - 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 (USA). The "Black Aces" are an operational fleet squadron that flies the F/A-18F Super Hornet. The Black Aces are attached to Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW-11), and is currently deployed aboard the USS Nimitz (CVN-68). Their radio callsign is "Fast Eagle" and their tailcode is NH.
In 1980, Nimitz and CVW-8 took part in a round the Horn 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 variable wing geometry aircraft shot down another variable wing geometry 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.