Tag Archives: Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Two unknown F-14 Tomcat wing sweep stories to celebrate Top Gun Day

May 13 is Top Gun Day. Let’s celebrate it with two unknown Tomcat stories told by the former F-14 Tomcat RIO Dave “Bio” Baranek.

Developed in the late 1960s as a multi-mission fighter, the F-14 Tomcat’s mission was to protect U.S. Navy Carrier Battle Groups (CVBG) from raids conducted by the Soviet bombers armed with long-range cruise missiles.

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.

“One of the most distinctive and memorable features of the F-14 Tomcat was its variable geometry wings” says Dave “Bio” Baranek, author of the book Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks and a twenty-year experienced Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO).

Bio explains that the F-14’s wings were controlled by “a microprocessor known as the Central Air Data Computer (CADC) — world’s first microprocessor (designed and developed by Steve Gaeller and Ray Holt from 1968-1970 for the F-14A Tomcat).

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.


Image credit: U.S. Navy


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Iran stages “massive” aerial parade with F-14, F-4, Mig-29 and several other warplanes

The traditional military parades at mausoleum of the Late Founder of Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, south of capital Tehran saw the flyover of several warplanes, including the legendary F-14 Tomcat.

On Apr. 18 Iran celebrated the National Army Day with a traditional and interesting flypast of most of its active warplanes. Eight formations for an overall 27 aircraft took part in the aerial parade: not really “massive” as some Iranian media wrote, still an interesting opportunity to see the majority of the IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) fighters and bombers in the air.


The flypast featured F-5F Tiger, F-5E Saeqeh, FT-7N, Mirage F.1EQs, F-14A Tomcat, F-4E Phantom, Mig-29UB Fulcrum and Su-24Mk Fencer divided in 8 formations.

F-14 takeoff

One of the formation was a mixed flight made of a Mig-29UB, an F-4E, an F-14A, a Mirage F.1BQ-3 and a Su-24Mk.


As highlighted by a member of the ACIG.org forum, both Mirage F.1BQ-3s were carrying F-5E/F external fuel tanks thanks to domestically designed and manufactured underwing pylons.

Mirage F1

Obviously, no sign of the famous F-313 Qaher stealth jet.


Along with the fixed wing aircraft, 26 helicopters of their Iranian Army Aviation performed their flypast which included AB-206Bs, AH-1Js, Bell 214As and CH-47Cs.


Image credit: IRNA News Agency


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The most interesting Warplanes of the Iranian Air Force Open Day

Every year from Mar. 21 to Mar. 31 the regular Iranian Air Force holds an open house and exhibition similar to those one might see in North America or European nations.

The Open Day of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force is a legacy left from the former Imperial Iranian Air Force where military installations were opened to public more often than not.

Actually, the recent air show at Dezful 4th air base also coincides with the Persian Norooz and the annual trips to former Iran-Iraq war fronts/trenches taken by the enthusiastic Iranian public.


Among the aircraft on display, obviously, several U.S. types locally modified, including the legendary IRIAF F-14 Tomcat, the F-4E Phantom (like the two involved in a close encounter with an American F-22 over the Persian Gulf last year) and the F-5 Tiger.


The IRIAF still operates some Mig-29 Fulcrums as the one depicted in the image below.


Su-24 Fencer:


Image credit: Danial Behmanesh/nahaja.aja.ir


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Iranian F-14 Tomcat in “splinter” color scheme appears at Isfahan Open Day

A domestically upgraded Iranian F-14 Tomcat wearing a three-tone Asian Minor II color scheme took part in the flying display.

The photos in this post were taken last week at the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) Open Day at Isfahan International Airport – TAB 8 airbase.

They show one of the F-14AM (“Modernized”) aircraft that have been reportedly updated with modern avionics, and indigenous weapons, that took part to the flying display with some flybys.

As previously noted, the modernized Tomcats wear a camouflage pattern resembling that invented by the U.S. Marine Corps.

How many Tomcats have already received the new paint job is still unknown.

F-14 splinter 2

Image credit: MEHR News Agency


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These photos prove F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat could take off and land with folded wings

You won’t believe it but U.S. Navy legendary planes (F-4, F-8 and F-14) could fly with folded wings, asymmetric configurations.

To save space aboard the deck of U.S. flattops, aircraft built for carrier operations can fold their wings making room for more planes.

Obviously wings must be extended tbefore catapult launch.

But what happens if the wings aren’t unfolded before take off?

Even if the pictures in this post show aircraft that were safely brought back without any trouble, for sure no aircraft can fly in those configurations.

One case in which the wings were forgotten folded occurred in August 1960, when a US Navy F-8 took off from Naples and climbed to 5,000 feet, when its pilot felt an amount of pressure on the stick: immediately, he started to look around to discover why its Crusader was facing the pressure amount and noticed that the wings were still folded.

Instantly he started to dump as much fuel as possible, and after 24 minutes of flight he was able to come back to Naples, landing safely.

He said that his Crusader faced no serious problems during the unusual kind of flight and the landing had been very fast but uneventful.

At least seven more times F-8s took off with wings folded, in several occasions at night, but without any mishap, proving Crusader strength and revealing the great job done by Vought engineers.

F-8 folded wings

Six years later was the turn of an F-4B (BuNo. 152327) aircrew belonging to VF-14 Tophatters to experience a “wings folded” flight: in fact, on May 10, 1966, LT JG Greg Scwalber and his RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) Bill Wood were launched from USS Roosevelt (CVA-42) and once airborne they discovered that their Phantom II was flying with outboard wings folded.


They immediately understood that the locking mechanism was not properly set before launch. They quickly dumped all external stores, dropped the flaps and after declaring an emergency they diverted to the nearest airport that was Navy airfield in Cuba.

After 59 miles of flight Scwalber and Wood were able to made a successful arrested landing at a speed of 170-180 knots. As happened with the Crusader the F-4B BuNo 152327 returned into service few days later.

At least one Air Force crew had the chance to experience this strange kind of flight with their F-4, but the Rhino revealed to be a very robust airframe and it always brought its aircrew back home even without its wings fully opened.

The last impressive picture depicts the third F-14 prototype (BuNo 157982) with its wings swept asymmetrically: with the starboard wing locked fully forward and the port wing swept fully aft.

To reduce deck spotting area its wings could be “overswept” to 75°, eliminating the need for the folding mechanism of the wings. However in this photo the wings position is the result of tests undertaken to explore how the Tomcat could return back to the carrier with this asymmetric configuration.

Six flights were made between Dec. 19 1985 and Feb. 28, 1986 in this unusual configuration and landings were conducted with the aft-swept wing at up to 60°. These trials were conducted after four fleet aircraft found themselves in this difficult situation.


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