Tomcat vs Zero: When The F-14 Of The ‘Jolly Rogers’ Flew To Hollywood

File photo of an F-14 Tomcat assigned to the "Jolly Rogers" of Fighter Squadron One Zero Three (VF-103) making an arrested landing on the flight deck aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). (U. S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Apprentice Anthony Riddle).

Do you remember “The Final Countdown” movie?

Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103 is one of the most famous squadrons in the U.S. Navy. The unit has gained a certain popularity over the year thanks to the famous squadron markings they gained when the “Sluggers” (as the squadron was nicknamed until then) became the “Jolly Rogers” and adopted the most recognizable symbol in Naval Aviation: Ensign Jack Ernie’s skull-and-crossbones on all-black tails.

VFA-103 is actually the third squadron to use the name and symbol of the Jolly Rogers: despite being different units, with no “lineal descent” from one another, both VF-61 (originally VF-17), VF-84, and VFA-103 have shared the same name, insignia and traditions.

When the Jolly Rogers were still equipped with the F-14 Tomcat (they now fly the F/A-18F Super Hornet) the Fighter Squadron (VF) 84, they took part in two movies. In 1995, VF-84 starred in Executive Decision, a movie about the hijacking of a Boeing 747 transporting enough nerve agent to wipe out the entire United States East Coast, intercepted by VF-84’s Tomcats loaded with Sidewinder, Sparrow and Phoenix air to air missiles. The Jolly Rogers took part to the movie with two Tomcats (BuNo 160391 and 160655).

On Oct. 1, 1995, few days after filming the flying sequences, the Jolly Rogers of VF-84 were disbanded. However, the motion picture that gave the world recognition to the Jolly Rogers, was the 1980’s “The Final Countdown”.

Not only the VF-84, but also the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) which steamed in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, was featured in the movie.

In this film, the ship and its Carrier Air Wing (at that time, the Nimitz had the CVW-8 on board) are transported back in time till Dec. 6 1941,  when they have a chance to face the Japanese Fleet ready to attack Pearl Harbor. Along with a beautiful RF-8G Crusader belonging to VFP-63 (which is the one and only appearance of this kind of aircraft on the deck of a Nimitz class carrier) “The Final Countdown” features some F-14 of the Jolly Rogers, two of those find themselves in a dogfight against two Japanese Zeros replica.

The scenes of the “close encounter” between the Tomcats and the Zeros are among the highlights of the movie.

You may find the dogfight in the videos below a bit anachronistic, but watching the Tomcat maneuvering in all its “feline grace” against another legendary WWII warbird, is both unusual and cool.


  1. I don’t know all the details but I believe it was the CAG of the ship who was later in serious trouble for underbilling the movie production for amount of sorties flown, thus making it MUCH cheaper to make. Generally, the rules with Hollywood are if they are filming a normal training event, no dramas. But putting up sorties to fly formation with a T-6 (nee Zero) is clearly not something our Tomcat guys would need to do so the producers would have to pay for JP-4.

    In fact, I believe he was either courtmartialed or received non-judicial punishment and yes, that scene of the F-14 pulling for all it’s got almost lost the jet.

    • A few years ago, I bought The Final Countdown when it came out on DVD. I got the one with the bonus CD. On that bonus CD, they talk about that scene. The jet leveled out at about 100 feet with afterburner screaming. Looks like he got a little slow coming over the top inverted.

      Once in a blue moon when discussion of the movie comes up with friends and coworker, people always talk about that scene. Great movie, but the Tomcat near-crash is what everybody really remembers.

  2. I’m not a pilot but am a fan. As a kid, The Final Countdown was one of my all-time favorite movies. I ran across this by accident. Brings back great memories of my childhood. And it was always very interesting to think about the “what if” if a US CVN took out the Japanese fleet on before the attack.

    • Still today when I look at the movie I am very sad that the Nimitz had to come back to the present!

  3. They aren’t Zero, but plane camouflage like a6m… And the moviemaker told them to use every trick to shake off the tomcat from their tail….And here it come an hummerhead that almost kills a navy crew ;).
    By the way,the sound of the engine is mixed with the scream of the navy’s pilot when she first saw the scene..

  4. Fun fact, during the Zero dogfight scene, the one F-14 pulls out above the ocean WAY closer than planned.
    After the scene and landing, it was revealed to be a near miss crash.

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