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. Great movie! The whole idea of the Nimitz taking on the whole Japanese fleet to prevent Pearl Harbour and change history is just irresistible. Too bad it was returned back to the present before they could attack…

    • I wondered the same thing. Of course the F-14 outguns it, but at slower speeds, can the zero outmaneuver it?

  2. In the “ready room” scene, There in the link, front row third from right is Edward Andrews. He was my CAG aboard the USS Independence in Lebanon and was shot down on December 4, 1983. He was recovered by a fishing vessel after ejecting from an A-7. He flew in most, if not all of the Final Countdown scenes. is

    • Dear James, it’ s a honour to me talking to a US Navy pilot. If I am not wrong the mission in which your CAG was shot down, was a bad day because the aircrafts were launched from the Indie very early in the morning, without a full load of weapons: in other words there were few planes with few bombs over the target.

      However, I remember that Andrews, after the recovery by the fishing vessel, was taken in Beirut and then he was brought back to the Indipendence by a Marine helicopter.

      • You are correct. Lt. Mark Lange and Lt. Robert Goodman were shot down as well in an A-6 from the Kennedy. Lt. Lange died after the ejection and Lt Goodman was taken prisoner.

  3. I was a movie critic in Washington DC when “The FInal Countdown” had its world premiere there. I took the military advisor to the movie aside (long time ago, details fade) and said “There’s a scene in there where it looks like you almost lost a TomCat. Was it as close as it looked?”

    He rolled his eyes and said, “Let’s put it this way. When we screened it for the brass, we cut that scene out of the movie.”

    It’s when a maneuvering F-14 gets a little behind the power curve and appears to almost pancake into the drink.

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