The Iranian Air Force is the last operator of the legendary F-14 Tomcat.
The photos in this article were recently released by FARS News Agency.
They show some Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force F-14 Tomcat jets be overhauled at an unspecified location (Tehran Mehrabad International Airport according to some sources).
Iran still operates some Tomcats that are being modernized to F-14AM (“Modernized”) standard to extend their operative life until 2030. Domestic upgrades include avionics (radar and RWR) and weapons: R-73E, AIM-54A, AIM-7E and AIM-9J are among the air-to-air missiles adapted to the aircraft’s fire control system.
After the Tomcat retirement, the Rhino (as the F/A-18E/F is nicknamed by its aircrews) has not only quickly become the backbone of every Carrier Air Wing (CVW), but it has also replaced some of the oldest Legacy Hornets on the American flattops. Having fulfilled such a difficult task, the Super Hornet has demonstrated to be one of the best multirole jets available today. But could an advanced version of the F-14 have been even better?
That said, one might wonder whether integrating the same technology in the F-14 would have been possible.
By 1987, Grumman realized that the potential for growth had not yet been reached by the F-14 airframe, and they proposed to the U.S. Navy four advanced versions of the F-14, as told by Tim Callaway in Issue 13 “Grumman F-14 Tomcat” of Aviation Classics magazine.
The F-14D Quickstrike was the first proposal: featuring an enhanced version of the APG-71 radar, this advanced Tomcat version would have carried stand off weapons such as the Harpoon, HARM and SLAM (Standoff Land Attack Missile) missiles.
Requiring only new software and minor modifications to existing F-14Ds, the Quickstrike would have been a cost-effective attack platform but it didn’t meet the Advanced Tactical Fighter specification and the U.S. Navy chose the shorter ranged F/A-18E/F.
The second proposal was the ST21, the Super Tomcat for the 21st Century. The latter would have been a structural upgrade to the existing F-14Ds, that would have introduced a new wing glove design and single piece windscreen, while sensors positioned in front of the under fuselage weapons rails would have supplemented the chin pods. Moreover the ST21 would have also received a new engine the F110-GE-129 of 13,154kg of thrust, which would have provided a supercruise speed of Mach 1.3 featuring also thrust vectoring nozzles for greater maneuverability. These new engines would have supplied to the ST21 a tremendous acceleration alongside with a greatly increased range of the aircraft.
Another modification to the standard F-14D would have been the AST21, the Attack Super Tomcat for the 21st Century.
This advanced Tomcat would have been fitted with additional extra bomb pylons under the engine nacelles, a nuclear weapons capability, a modified radar with a Forward Air Controller (FAC) mode and an Integrated Defensive Avionics Package (IDAP) to improve survivability in the air to ground environment. The last proposal, as Callaway explains, was the ASF-14 Advanced Strike Fighter.
The ASF-14 would have been a totally new aircraft with the F-14 shape and it would have taken advantages of the new materials and new technologies developed for the Advanced Tactical Fighter and Advanced Tactical Attack Aircraft programs.
None of these proposals has been built and we’ll never know if an advanced Tomcat would have been better than the actual Super Hornet, but for sure these two fighters are two different aircraft as explained by Ruzicka, who told to Rogoway that the better way to understand the differences between the F-14 and the F/A-18E/F is using the analogy of a muscle car to a mini-van, “with the Tomcat being the former and the Super Hornet being the latter. The muscle car doesn’t have much to it in the way of fancy technology, just some raw speed and the coolness of a Steve McQueen movie, but it gets the job done. The mini-van on the other hand is a very nice car, complete with DVR’s for the kids, Air Conditioning, power windows, and lots of places to put your sippy cup. It’s a great car—-but it’s still a mini-van.”
Almost every aviation geek has seen the famous film Top Gun. But few of them know that if Maverick and Goose flew an F-14B they would not have had to eject during the flat spin they experienced in the movie.
Developed in the late 1960s as a multi-mission fighter, the F-14’s missions were to protect U.S. Navy Carrier Battle Groups (CBG – now CSG where “S” stands for Strike) from potential raids conducted by the Soviet bombers armed with long-range cruise missiles and to provide fighter cover for Navy attack aircraft.
The Tomcat was fitted with the potent AWG-9 radar which, supporting six AIM-54 missiles, gave the F-14 unprecedented and unparalleled mission capabilities.
Still, even though it was one of the most capable fighters in the aviation history, one problem that plagued the F-14A was the reliability of its TF30 engine. In fact, the fan blades of the Pratt & Whitney engine could break free, causing aircraft stalls and spins as a result of airflow induced engine stalls.
These problems were solved when the F-14B (former F-14A Plus), powered by a new engine, the General Electric F110-GE-400, began to enter in service in 1987.
“The TF30 engine’s highest stall margin, which means the difference between its operating line and where the engine will stall, occurs when it is stabilized at military power. If you would like to go to idle power when you are maneuvering, you stand a very good chance of stalling the engine. The F110 has tremendous stall margin everywhere and, at idle power, it’s higher than anywhere else. When you are maneuvering with the F110 engines, you can do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it.”
Moreover, with the new engine, the afterburner thrust went from 20,000 pounds per side up to 28,000 pounds per side, while dry power increased from 11,000 pounds per side to 16,000 pounds per side.
Thanks to the improved performances, Schroeder told Drendel that Maverick and Goose would not have had to bail out from their jet if they had flown a F110-powered Tomcat.
Indeed, Grumman’s Chief Test Pilot explained that the flat spin shown in the movie was “a very concern early in the F-14 program. When the aircraft is in a fully-developed flat spin, it’s going at a very high yaw rate and it is spinning down in a very small radius. In the ejection sequence, the canopy leaves first, then the back seat, then the front seat. […] The concern in a spin is that the canopy will be ejected straight up, followed shortly by the seats and the possibility exists for a collision. We have had several ejections in spins and I believe there was one case where the RIO brushed the canopy. So the scene (of the movie) was entirely possible.”
Some concern existed about the possibility of generating a stall or a spin even with the 110 engine in case its greatly increased thrust was applied asymmetrically, but Schroeder affirmed that “We deal with that easily in 110 powered aircraft. If the aircraft departs for any reason, we just pull the throttles back to idle, which just takes all the thrust effects out of the equation and you recover the aircraft. Since the 110 loves to run at idle, there is no problem. Unfortunately the TF30 does not love to run at idle and you can’t apply this solution.”
Then, as the experienced F-14 driver said to Drendel, alongside with the new engine, the digital flight control system improved the handling qualities of the aircraft making of the Tomcat airframe the perfect platform for air to ground missions:
“The F-14 was designed to carry bombs. The Navy, however, chose not to develop that capability. There is now more and more emphasis on carrier deck loading and development of multi-mission aircraft, with the F/A-18 as the primary example of that. The F-14 is very capable of performing the air-to-ground mission, mainly because of our range and the fact that we carry the weapons conformally on the fuselage between the engine nacelles, which results in much less of a drag penalty than carrying bombs on the wings. The technology to enhance the radar for this mission has already been developed in the form of the F-15E.”
The F-14 was retired on Sep. 22, 2006, but the last years spent as U.S. Navy’s premiere fighter bomber confirmed Schroeder claims and were a proof of the reliability reached by the Tomcat thanks to the improvements it had received, the most important of which was the F110 engine.
Known and unknown stories of a legendary F-8 Crusader and F-14 Tomcat pilot
If you Google “F-14 gun kill” or “F-14 Hoser”, you can find a 8” x 10” frame of a 16 mm gun film shot which shows an F-15 Eagle locked through an F-14 Tomcat Head Up Display, at 250 feet, with piper on the Eagle’s pilot, gun selected, master arm on.
Even if the photo itself is already very interesting, the story behind it, is by far more fascinating. In fact, the naval aviator at the controls of the Tomcat can be considered a sort-of legend.
As explained by Alvin Townley in his book Fly Navy, most probably other pilots have scored more kills, held higher ranks or more prestigious commands, but few living aviators embody the untamed nature of aviation like the one-of-a-kind legend known to decades of F-8 Crusader and F-14 Tomcat pilots: Joe “Hoser” Satrapa.
A skilled rifleman, Joe joined the Navy with the aim to fly a jet fighter. His passion for guns guided him after the flight school graduation, in 1966, when he was called to opt for the F-4 Phantom or the F-8 Crusader. The Phantom had no guns and Satrapa thought: “No guns? What kind of aircraft is this with no guns?” and he immediately chose the “Last Of The Gunfighters” as the Crusader was dubbed by aircrews.
But the “Satrapa legend” began the day he was given the callsign “Hoser” (even if he is also known as “Da-Hose” or “D-hose”), during a mission at the gunnery range in which he was flying the tail position in a flight of four Crusaders. He cut off the preceding aircraft as they approached the target and started shooting from two thousand feet up, one and a half miles out, hosing off all his bullets in one pass.
His flight leader J.P. O’ Neill told him to return to the airfield at El Centro and the same night O’ Neill had the final say on the incident when he nailed Satrapa: “Lieutenant junior grade Satrapa, for hosing off all his bullets in one pass, will hence forth be known as Hoser. That’ ll be five bucks.”
Hoser was also widely known during the Vietnam War as a fearless F-8 pilot who regularly carried a good forty pounds of lethal ordnance, in case he was suddenly forced to eject from his aircraft and face an entire platoon of North Vietnamese Army regulars.
As explained by George Hall in his book Top Gun – The Navy’ s Fighter Weapons School, Hoser’s interest for guns continued when he transitioned to the F-14 Tomcat.
During the AIMVAL/ACEVAL (the Air Combat Evaluation/Air Intercept Missile Evaluation) fighter trials that put the F-14s and the F-15s against the F-5Es to test new weapons and tactics which took place from 1974 to 1978 at Nellis Air Force Base, Hoser (assigned to the VX-4 evaluators) was put in a 1 vs 1 against an F-5.
As the two combatants sat side-by-side on the Nellis runway, awaiting tower clearance for takeoff, Hoser looked over at his opponent, reached his hand up over the control panel, and mimicked the cocking of machine guns in a World War I Spad. A thumbs up came from the other cockpit, meaning that guns it would be, the proverbial knife fight in a phone booth, forget the missiles.
Both jets took off.
As soon as they reached the assigned area, the fighters set up twenty miles apart for a head-on intercept under ground control. Seven miles from the merge, with closure well over 1,000 knots, Hoser called “Fox One”, a Sparrow missile away, scoring a direct hit.
As they flashed past each other, the furious F-5 driver radioed, “What the hell was that all about?” “Sorry.” said Hoser, “lost my head. Let’s set up again. Guns only, I promise.”
Again the two fighters streaked towards the pass, again at seven miles Hoser called “Fox One.” The F-5 driver was apoplectic.
Hoser was first back to the club bar, nursing an end of the day cold one as the flushed Aggressor stomped in. “Hoser, what the hell happened to credibility?” the F-5 pilot asked. Hoser replied “Credibility is DOWN, kill ratio is UP!”
This story became very popular around Topgun, alongside the lesson learned: from 1 vs 1 to forty-plane furball, expect anything. But never expect your enemy to be a sweet guy.
Still, Hoser’s best experience during the AIMVAL/ACEVAL most probably came after the end of the trials. Even if Tomcat and Eagle drivers could not engage each other, Hoser and his RIO Bill “Hill Billy” Hill with Dan “Turk” Pentecost and Frank “Fearless” Schumacher onboard the second F-14, went 2 vs 2 against a couple of F-15 instructors from 415th Training Squadron (415th Flight Test Flight).
Both Eagles were gunned down and a gun camera film which showed the F-15 locked in the F-14 HUD almost caused Japan to revert its decision to buy the Eagle.
On a typical sortie, the aircraft would keep a combat air patrol station located several hundred miles from the carrier. The loiter and radius advantage of the Tomcat were achieved thanks to its swept wings, which have been the greatest engineering challenge in F-14’s development, as explained to The Aviationist by a very special reader.
As Baranek explains, the variable geometry wings brought several advantages to the Tomcat: “At their forward sweep position of 20 degrees (the angle of the wing leading edge), they allowed the F-14 to have a relatively low landing speed, an important consideration for safe operations from an aircraft carrier. As speed increased, they would automatically sweep back based on indicated Mach number (IMN) to a fully-swept position of 68 degrees, reducing drag for high speed flight” (and also to reduce wingspan for aircraft movement and storage – Bio told us that on the flattop’s deck the wings could be swept back to 75 degrees in a position called “oversweep”).
The F-14’s wings could also be manually swept, even if, according to Baranek, the Tomcat’s driver had to consider several factors since “The pilot could manually sweep the wings aft of the position determined by the CADC, but not forward of that position, as that could cause structural damage due to the tremendous lift it would generate. Manually sweeping the wings back could confuse an adversary by giving a false indicator of F-14 airspeed. But it also provided much less lift and less maneuverability, so it was a “tactic” or trick that would be used very carefully.”
This last statement is confirmed by Bio himself who recalled exclusively for The Aviationist, the tale of a Tomcat’s driver who forgot the wing swept aft in the middle of a furball in the F-14 simulator.
“One time in the F-14 simulator (the name of which was 2F112), we completed our planned work and still had time, so we were messing around. A very good pilot was flying, I don’t remember the RIO, and I was out at the control console. The pilot wanted to try to get out of flat spins by manually sweeping the wings aft. I don’t remember if it helped, but after he did it a few times we still had some time left, so he said, “Let me fight a MiG-21.”
The operator set up the simulator and they started a dogfight. After about two minutes, the pilot said, “Wow, this is the best MiG-21 I’ve ever seen, I should have killed him by now!”
Then I looked at a display that showed an external view of the F-14 and told the others at the control console: “Look, he still has the wings swept aft!” They couldn’t contain their laughter and told him, “Check your wingsweep!” The pilot put the wings in Auto and the engagement ended soon after that with a kill by the Tomcat.”
Besides being a Naval Flight Officer, Baranek completed an assignment as Top Gun instructor at the Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School (based at the then Miramar Naval Air Station), hence his chance to see how the F-14‘s swept wings could be used as an advantage during a real dogfight, also against more maneuverable aircraft.
In particular Bio recalls an episode involving a Naval Aviator flying his 1 vs 1 Graduation hop against a Top Gun instructor flying a very particular adversary aircraft.
Before telling the story, Baranek explains how a typical 1 vs 1 Graduation flight took place: “For the “Graduation 1 vs 1″ flight in the Top Gun class, instructors arranged for students to fight an aircraft whose identity would be unknown until merge plot.
Everyone briefed against everyone, so it was legal. This was in the 1980s, and students didn’t know if they were going against an A-4, F-5, or something else. The set up was a 30-mile intercept, so you discovered the identity of your opponent when you could visually ID him, maybe 4-5 miles before the merge.
To keep things interesting they sometimes arranged for an outside aircraft, such as a QF-86 from the Pacific Missile Test Center that would be flown by a live pilot for the event.”
In the second half of the 1980s the Hornet drivers alongside with their then new F/A-18s, began to join Topgun classes and some of them believed they had a huge advantage over the bigger Tomcat during a real air-to-air engagement.
“Around 1987, an F/A-18 pilot went through the Topgun class, and he kept trash-talking F-14s. He called them “interceptors” and bad-mouthed them at every opportunity,” says Bio.
“Most instructors at this time had been F-14 pilots and RIOs, and they decided to teach him a lesson. So they had a former instructor participate in the Graduation 1 vs 1 secretly, and he was flying an F-14A. This Hornet pilot went out for his 1v1 flight, ran the intercept, and as he approached the merge saw an F-14 with wings fully swept.
The Hornet pilot thought, “The F-14 is going 450 knots or more, I’m going to win.” So at the merge he pulled hard into the vertical. What he did not know: the F-14 had burned much of its fuel, so it was light. Plus, it was only doing 300 knots. At the merge, when the Hornet pulled into the vertical, the Tomcat selected wings to Auto, lit afterburner, and did a max performance turn into the vertical. Since the Hornet was much faster, the Tomcat ended up dead six on the Hornet at one mile and called “Fox 2, kill.”
Following this first engagement “To get max training benefit from the opportunity they followed up with a regular one” but as Baranek recalls “the story was a big hit around Miramar, which of course was home to West Coast F-14s. It also reiterated one of Topgun’s main teaching points, which is credited to the Red Baron himself: “It’s not the crate, but the man sitting in it.”