In the last years the “Persian cats” have reportedly flown against a very particular threat: the Unidentified Flying Objects, universally known as UFO.
More detailed information about this weird use of the last operational Tomcats can be find in the October 2013 issue of Combat Aircraft.
An interesting article written by Babak Taghvaee gives an exclusive overview of IRIAF F-14s missions conducted to intercept UFOs. But according to Taghavee these unknown flying objects didn’t conduct any extraterrestrial activity: “When Iran’s suspicious nuclear program was revealed to the public, Western nations, led by US and Israel, warned it to abandon its nuclear activities. The US attempted to gather information concerning the activities at three important Iranian nuclear facilities: the reactor of Bushehr, an additional reactor in Arak and the fuel enrichment plant at Natanz. A number of reconnaissance UAVs were sent to collect intelligence to help prepare for a possible attack.”
To intercept UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), IRIAF F-4Es and F-14As, based to Bushehr to serve as QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) interceptors, were scrambled several times. But the American drones have astonishing flight characteristics: “Including an ability to fly outside the atmosphere, attain a maximum cruise speed of Mach 10, and a minimum speed of zero, with the ability to hover over the target” as explained by Taghavee. These performances along with their powerful ECM make the F-14s unable to operate their weapons.
But, according to Taghavee, at least one time a Tomcat was able to come very close to an engagement with one of these “UFOs”: “In one case over Arak in November 2004, the crew of an F-14A armed with two AIM-9Js and two AIM-7E-4s spotted a luminous object flying near the heavy water plant of the Arak site. When the beam of the jet’s AN/AWG-9 radar painted the object, both the RIO and pilot saw that the radar scope was disrupted, probably due to the high magnetic energy of the object increasing the power of the reflected radar waves. The pilot described the object as being spherical, with something like a green afterburner creating a considerable amount of turbulence behind it. The Tomcat crew achieved a lock-on when it was flying a linear and constant flight path. Once the pilot selected an AIM-7E-4 to launch against it, the object increased its speed and then disappeared like a meteor.”
This kind of flight were suspended after several attempts to intercept the US UAVs were made by F-4Es and F-14A over the Bushehr, Arak and Natanz plants, but, as reported in the article, another mission was launched around the 04.20hrs on January 26, 2012, when “an Iranian Air Defense Command radar site near Bushehr identified an unknown aircraft flying towards the area. An F-14A was ordered to scramble. At 04.30hrs it took off from TFB.6, ( 6th Tactical Fighter Base, placed near Bushehr) but seconds later the fighter exploded, killing both crew instantly. The reason for the incident remains a mystery, and the aircraft involved was one of the fittest IRIAF Tomcats, with the lowest flying hours in the fleet.”
We can affirm that while many times in the last years several UAVs flew over Iran to gather information (such as the stealthy RQ-170 captured in December 2011), a drone with flight characteristics like those described by Taghvaee is still unkown, unless we assume the SR-72, a replacement of the SR-71, or something similar, is already covertly flying.
But again, Taghvaee has no doubts about the nature of these unidentified flying objects, since in his article he says that “After two years of research on the objects flight profiles and examination of remnants of a crashed example recovered in 2006 (in both Iran and then by experts in Russia), the Iranian Army specified that they were US intelligence drones.”
The Grumman Aerospace Corporation, acquired in 1994 by Northrop Corporation to form the Northrop Grumman, was one of the most respected aircraft manufacturer in the world and leading airplanes builder for the U.S. Navy in the 20th century.
But among the fighter pilots community it was known as “Grumman Ironworks”, due to its aircraft ability to come back to the carriers or bases after having been heavily damaged, thanks to their strength and durability.
These incredible achievements were the result of the main Ironworks rule: pilots are far more valuable than planes.
The last product of the Grumman was the F-14 Tomcat which was not only one of the deadliest fighter in the aviation history, but also one of the sturdiest airframe ever built: in fact, like the Wildcat, Hellcat and Avenger in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War, the Tomcat was able to bring back home its aircrews even if badly damaged.
Look at the impressive pictures in this post.
The first photo depicts the F-14A BuNo 159832 side number 205 which on Jun. 29, 1991 experienced a mid-air collision over South Chinese Sea with another Tomcat, the BuNo 161597 side number 201. Both aircraft were from Black Lions of the VF-213, at the time embarked on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and while the “201” crashed into the sea where the crew was rescued, the “205” was able to land to Singapore after loosing part of its right wing.
Another proof of the F-14 strength is given by the BuNo 161433, at the time assigned to the VF-142 Ghostriders, that is here photographed while landing aboard the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) in the Persian Gulf. This picture was taken on Nov. 13, 1991 when the Tomcat lost its radome which hit the canopy, broke the windscreen and injured the pilot, LCdr. Edwards: however Edwards and its Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) LCdr. Grundmeier were able to make a successful landing back aboard the “IKE”. For their skills both aircrew members received the Distinguished Flying Cross decoration and the Tomcat, which was the seventh A model to be modified to F-14B standards that mounted the new General Electric F-110 engines, was repaired and continued to fly until its retirement in 2004.
The Grumman Ironworks heritage is well shown in the following video: at first sight it appears to be a standard carrier landing, but if you stop the video at 0:21 you can see this F-14A from Checkmates of the VF-211 landing aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) without its right vertical stabilizer (and not without a wing like the title of the video says)!
Most probably, the best recognition to the Grumman Ironworks and to the F-14 came from Cmdr. James E. Howe, the commanding officer of the VF-31 Tomcatters, the last Tomcat Squadron, who brought the last flying F-14D (BuNo 164603) to Farmingdale Republic Airport on Oct. 4, 2006: “It is truly a comfortable feeling when I man the aircraft and look down at the rudder pedals and it says Grumman. I know that I am going to make it back.”
So far the Iranian regime has attributed the cause of this terrible incident to some unknown technical failures.
But that was not the case.
The ’3-6062′ F-14 was one of the best maintained aircraft in the Iranian Air Force’s inventory assigned to critical ‘QRA’ duties in the important port city of Bushehr where Iran’s sole nuclear reactor is also located.
But what was the cause of this mysterious crash?
The Iranian regime has not revealed much beyond its official line that the crash was due to technical issues. But now it can reliably be said that the ‘Revolutionary Guards’ air defense near Bushehr 6th tactical air base shot this valuable ‘Tomcat’ down.
The regular air force officers I spoke with over the past week claim that the IRGC’s air defense personnel are “totally unfamiliar” with the type of aircraft flying for their own country. One of them told me that the ‘IRGC’ AAA personnel fire at anything that might scare them. Although my guess is that they fire at all high speed flying objects out of fear of getting reprimanded for not actually fighting.
This story exposes an existing gap between the regular armed forces and their more radical revolutionary guards’ comrades. A gap that could be exploited during a coalition air strike to de-fang the Iranian regime and its nuclear weapons facilities.
Even if, officially, the last flight of a U.S. Navy Tomcat took place on Sept. 22, 2006 during the ceremony that was held at NAS (Naval Air Station) Oceana, the real last flight of a Tomcat in the USN colors was on Oct. 4, 2006.
Seven years ago today, a VF-31 Tomcatters F-14D (BuNo 164603) was transferred from Oceana to Farmingdale Republic Airport, on Long Island, New York and you can see its last landing in the following video.
The airframe that reached such a milestone was a Grumman F-14D and it was last but one Tomcat (or Super Tomcat, as the D version was also known) built.
The BuNo 164603 was first delivered on May 29, 1992 at NAS Miramar to VF-124 Gunfighters, the West Coast Tomcat Fleet RAG (the Replacement Air Group, the naval training squadron for a specific aircraft).
Then, in June of the following year, the BuNo 164603 was one of the first F-14D to be assigned to VF-2 Bounty Hunters.
By February 1998 it was flying with the VF-213. As “Black Lion 101” this Tomcat achieved another important milestone on Oct. 7 2001, when this F-14D along with some other Tomcats and Hornets belonging to the CVW-11 (the Carrier Air Wing 11, embarked on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) destroyed an SA-3 SAM battery near Kabul’s international airport, conducing the first strike of the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
The BuNo 164603 stayed with the Black Lions until early 2002 when it was passed on to VF-101 Grim Reapers, originally the East Coast Tomcat Fleet RAG and became the entire Tomcat Fleet RAG after Gunfighters disbandment on 30 September 1994.
However, it was during the summer of 2003 that the BuNo 164603 reached its last squadron and was transferred to VF-31 Tomcatters.
The Tomcatters made of the airframe their “Felix 101” jet, meaning that it became the colorful CO (Commanding Officer) aircraft.
With VF-31 this Tomcat completed two cruises including the Mediterranean Cruise 2005-2006 embarked on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), in support to Operation Iraqi freedom (OIF), that signed the end of Tomcat career.
The last chapter of the US Navy F-14 life was closed on Oct. 4, 2006, when the BuNo 164603 completed the ultimate flight, with the last of the U.S. flying Tomcats transferred from Oceana Naval Air Station to Farmingdale Republic Airport.
Then the BuNo 164603 was ferried on the road from Farmigdale to Bethpage and displayed in front of the Northrop Grumman Plant 25 where all the Tomcats were built and where it still rests today.
Developed in the late 1960s to protect US Navy Carrier Battle Groups (CVBG) from the raids conducted by the Soviet bombers armed with long-range cruise missiles, the F-14 was the best fleet defender thanks to its weapons system, the AWG-9 radar.
This radar featured a large antenna, giving to the radar the possibility to scan huge part of airspace and the ability to track up twenty four targets. Furthermore, the AWG-9 could support six AIM-54 missiles attacking six different targets simultaneously at unmatched distance of one-hundred mile range and each Phoenix included a small onboard radar to guide itself during the last part of the run against the target.
But to have an edge above its adversaries by using this complex weapon system, the pilot was not sufficient on board the F-14: in fact it requires another skilled crew member in the back seat, called Radar Intercept Officer (RIO).
The RIO had the responsibility to chose among four search radar modes, he selected the scan pattern of the radar from a dozen choices and assured the radar antenna search the correct portion of the sky. Once the targets are detected, the RIO advised the pilot where to fly to optimize radar performance and set up for the attack. He could also launch long range missiles pushing the red button in the rear cockpit.
In other words a trained RIO would have been essential against a Soviet bomber raid. But the F-14 RIO was also responsible for communication and navigation and he assisted the pilot for the checklists. But also during a dogfight the RIO can make the difference giving its contribution reporting airspeed or fuel state and reporting to the pilot even more important information like the position of the bogey during the air to air combat.
“Even though you’re doing the flying, I’m right here with you in the fight”, with these words a real Tomcat RIO, Dave “Bio” Baranek, in his book Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks, describes the crew coordination, the term which became an essential skill for every Tomcat crew.
According to Topgun Days, a large fighter like the F-14, thanks to its design could win an engagement also against a smaller and more maneuverable fighter: a result that can be achieved only with an aggressive and trained crew.
To help the reader to understand the challenge of flying the F-14 Tomcat, Bio provides inside his book not only the full story of his career as Naval Flight Officer (NFO), but also some short intelligence briefings where you can even find several details about the history of the legendary Fighter Weapons School, the official name for the unit known as Topgun.
But the book is not only a detailed source of F-14 technical information since, as the title implies, Topgun Days also covers some never revealed before features about the realization of the most famous aviation movie, Top Gun.
So we discover that the first intercept of the MiG-28 (the movie fictional name of the F-5) was filmed over the Pacific from a Learjet 25 belonged to the air-racing legend Clay Lacy on board of which there was film’s director, Tony Scott.
After two head-on passes between the F-14s and MiG-28s, during which the two formations had been much closer than the normal 500-foot of separation generally required for safety purposes during training flights, the adrenaline that filled pilots was enough to make unforgettable that kind of experience.
But Tony Scott commented on the radio “Can we do it one more time, only a bit closer?”
Film’s director request was due to the fact that during the crucial passes between the black-painted bandits and the American Tomcats there was too much space between the aircraft and the two sections could not be fitted in the same frame.
For pilots this meant that they had to fly an even closer pass.
So, after the Tomcats made their turn, the lead Tomcat’s RIO called the distance every two miles, every twelve seconds and after this third thrilling faceoff at 700 MPH, Tony Scott eventually came up on the radio saying “That’s great gents! Super!”
Baranek’s book also includes more secrets about the making of the movie, because “Bio” took part to Top Gun flying in the rear cockpit of the only F-5 in a two seat configuration among those used in the movie and this is perhaps the best feature of Topgun Days: the perspective whose flew with the best trained American fighter pilots.