The F-14 Tomcat: What You Didn’t Know About The Original Top Gun Fighter

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The F-14 Tomcat: What You Didn’t Know About The Original Top Gun Fighter

Top Gun: Maverick has finally hit theaters, and it is safe to say that the film is making waves. Reviews for the sequel to the 1980s classic are looking very good right now, as Tom Cruise reprises his role as Maverick. It also sees the F/A-18 Hornet get its moment in the sun, as it is the starring aircraft throughout the motion picture epic. However, the sequel does remind us of the original starring military aircraft that became a cult icon following the first film. That aircraft is of course the F-14 Tomcat.

The Tomcat shot to fame thanks to the original Top Gun film, and was an aircraft already popular with those in the aviation world. The twin-engine, variable-swing wing supersonic fighter aircraft was an icon, staring at various airshows in the United States and becoming the United States Navy’s primary air superiority fighter. And today, the aircraft is still in service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. The Tomcat has always been much more than just a movie star, and this is how the aircraft came into being and what makes it such as a special machine.

The Story Of How The F-14 Tomcat Came To Be

The F-14 stemmed from an original requirement in the 1950s from the United States Navy. The Navy wanted a long-range, high-endurance interceptor to help defend its carrier groups. Initially, the new aircraft would come from the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) program. This is the program that spawned the F-111, but this aircraft was designed as a tactical bomber. Despite some concerns, the F-111 spawned a new version, the F-111B, designed to meet the requirements of the US Navy. However, this project did not go beyond a prototype stage, so the Grumman aircraft company began to come up with their own naval fighter design.

This saw a new program develop, the Naval Fighter Experimental program, or VFX. And this is what spawned the F-14. Designed as a twin-engine, twin-seat fighter, the Tomcat first flew on December 21st, 1970, just 22 months after Grumman was awarded the contract to build the aircraft. The Tomcat would become both an air superiority fighter and a long-range naval interceptor, which also allowed the aircraft to serve as both an escort attack aircraft. The variable-geometry wings allowed for more lift on take off and landing, and would be swept back for more speed in flight.

The F-14 Tomcat In Service

Powered by two General Electric F110-GE-400 afterbunring turbofans, the Tomcat would enter service with the United States Navy on September 22nd, 1974. It ultimately would replace the F-4 Phantom II in its various roles, and the Tomcat would become most famous flying from the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. The F-14 would serve in the American withdrawal from Saigon. The F-14 had its first kills as a US aircraft in the Gulf of Sidra during the Gulf of Sidra incident. This saw the F-14 shoot down two Su-22 Fitters, the Tomcat’s flown by pilots from VF-41 Black Aces.

The Tomcat would also see use during the 1991 Operation Desert Storm as part of the Gulf War. The aircraft at this point was also capable of ground attacks, and this was the role it was primarily used in during the conflict. The Tomcat would still engage in air-to-air combat, although most of this was handled by the United States Air Force F-15s. In United States Navy hands, the Tomcat would fly on until 2006, with the last launch of an F-14 from an aircraft carrier taking place on July 28th 2006 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The F-14 Continues Its Service In Iran

Iran would become the only other user of the F-14 aside from the United States. The aircraft were purchased during the reign of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The aircraft were purchased to intercept Soviet MiG-25 reconnaissance flights over the country. The aircraft would see combat service with the Iranian Air Force during the Iran-Iraq war, and Iranian pilot Jalil Zandi was credited with shooting down 11 Iraqi aircraft during the war, which makes him the highest scoring F-14 pilot. Remarkably, the Tomcat is still in service with the Iranians to this very day.

The F14 Is The Famed Fighter Jet In The Original Top Gun

What sealed the fame of the F-14 was its starring role in the 1986 film Top Gun. We all know the plot to the film now, and the F-14 was perhaps a bigger star than main actor Tom Cruise. The aircraft even appeared in the 2022 sequel, although to a much lesser extent. Despite long being retired in the United States, the F-14 Tomcat still remains an iconic aircraft to many, and the fact Iran is keeping them going is a testament to how good a job Grumman did with the aircraft. The original Top Gun aircraft will always live long in the memory.

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