The dramatic story of a US Navy Tomcat RIO, POW during Operation Desert Storm.
As we have recently explained, in the early morning of Jan. 21, 1991, the F-14B (BuNo 161430, at the time designated F-14A Plus) from the VF-103 “Sluggers,” callsign “Slate 46”, flown by Lt. Devon Jones and RIO Lt. Lawrence Slade, was hit by an Iraqi SA-2 Surface to Air Missile.
The crew was forced to eject due to the violent flat spin which followed the SAM explosion.
During the descent, the two men saw each other for the last time before entering the clouds and once they put their boots on the ground their fate was quite different.
In fact, while Lt. Jones was saved with a spectacular Combat SAR mission, Lt. Slade tried to go as far as he could from the Tomcat crash site, walking for about 2 ½ hours in the desert using his radio every hour without receiving any reply.
Then, while Slade tried to hide himself near a little knoll, the Iraqis found him.
“At about 1030, a white Datsun pickup truck came around the knoll,” Slade says in the book Gulf Air War Debrief.
“It was probably bad luck because I don’t think they were looking for me; they were just driving by. Two men stopped and got out. One had a 12-gauge shot gun, the other, an AK-47. […] They approached me, but it never crossed my mind to pull out my pistol. I was obviously had. They made me strip off all my gear.”
The two men were very polite and after they put Slade between them in the pickup, took him in their tent where they fed him.
Then, after the lunch, they put him again in the pickup and they asked him if he wanted to go to either Saudi Arabia or Baghdad. Of course, he told them Saudi Arabia, choosing the most northern town he could recall. Slade knew that if the trip took three hours, it would have been Baghdad; eight, Saudi Arabia. Sure enough, 3 ½ hours later they pulled into an army camp, and he knew it wasn’t Saudi Arabia. For the rest of the day Slade was shuttled to six different camps, blindfolded and handcuffed. Nevertheless he was for sure a subject of interest, since people came out to see him, take pictures of him and poke at his gear. They’d pick on him, kick him, and if they spoke English they’d say things like “You kill our children.”
Slade spent the following three days in Baghdad where he experienced very harsh interrogations, then he was transferred in the first of several prisons where he spent his POW (Prisoner Of War) experience.
As he recalls: “In retrospect, I was shot down on the fourth day of the war and they had already had a few prisoners: a couple of Tornado crews, an A-6 crew and a Marine OV-10 crew. ”
Lieutenant Slade and his fellow POWs changed different prisons in Baghdad where they also experienced several allied bombs raids, the most intense of which was the one that took place on Feb. 23, when 2,000-lb bombs almost completely destroyed their jail.
But for sure the most impressive experience faced by Slade were the interrogations by Iraqi jailers. He had a total of six interrogations, some of what they called soft-sell, where they just asked him questions. Then there were the hard-sells, where they pounded on him. For the most part, they didn’t use any classic torture methods. They just beat him up, tied his hands behind his back and double-blindfolded him to the point where he couldn’t even blink.
They beat allied prisoners even when they answered their questions. Slade, as well as the other POWs answered to the questions just to make beatings stop “even though the answers were complete garbage. Some I didn’t know the answer to, and I’d tell them, then I’d make up something. I could hear them writing it down. I thought, ‘You idiots!’ […] Some time toward the end of February, they banged me up against the wall and broke my seventh vertebra.”
During these interrogations Slade was blindfolded and never saw his interrogators, probably so that he could not identify them later, or perhaps because the Iraqis understood how terrifying it is to be blind in the hands of a torturer.
Lt. Slade endured interrogation, torture and starvation in the Iraqi hands for 43 days: even if his six weeks as a POW were not anywhere as long as six years in North Vietnamese prisons, to Lawrence Slade every week must have seemed like a year.
This video proves that the F-14 Tomcat was much more than a capable fleet defender.
Clips taken from the Tomcat HUD and TCS, show that the F-14 could win against some of the best and most agile fighters ever built, such as the F-16, the MiG-21, the MiG-29, the F/A-18, the Mirage 2000, the F-15 and the MiG-23 during DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) and/or real dogfight sessions.
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.