The F-14 Tomcats that never were vs F/A-18E/F Super Hornet: who would have won?

A U.S. Navy F-14D. (Image credit: U.S. Navy)

Several years since it was eventually retired from the U.S. Navy, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat remains one of the most loved planes by aviation enthusiasts.

Any article about this iconic fighter plane, still operating with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, its story, capabilities, records and surrounding anecdotes, always become a much debated and commented post on The Aviationist. For this reason, we will continue writing about this legendary plane and its replacement: the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

After the Tomcat retirement, not only has the Rhino (as the F/A-18E/F is nicknamed by its aircrews) 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?

LCDR Joe “Smokin” Ruzicka, who was the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) who flew the last F-14 Demonstration before the Tomcat’s retirement in 2006, last year released an interesting interview to Foxtrot Alpha’s Tyler Rogoway. Among all the other things, Ruzicka explained that, while the Super Hornet is a great plane, it seems like its strength mainly comes from technology. “In the Tomcat, I think you had to be a better aviator because the technology just wasn’t there. It was up to the aircrew to maximize its performance (or minimize it if you sucked).”

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.”


  1. The eagle has a better thrust to weight ratio than the tomcat due to it being lighter. The ratio is calculated by pounds of thrust per engine, which of course is identical to the tomcat as they use same engines, but then parred with the plane’s weight. Because of the tomcat is about 25% heavier than the eagle, it therefore has a lower thrust to weight ratio yet still can down an eagle in a dogfight no problem, which is exactly what the tomcat was designed to do. It’s an air superiority dogfighter, and it does dogfights like they did in the OLD OLD days, low to the ground. But because the wing positions are selectable (most people think there’s only 2 positions, forward and back LOL) the pilot can set the bar where he wants for each height and mission requirement.

    Most of us who feel sorry for grumman, and our navy for the plight of grumman and it’s tomcats, don’t wish to have the f-14 tomcat be considered the “only viable fighter jet” like a lot of lockheed fanboys want their f-22 to do, we just love the plane because it derived from the TRUTH – which was only ever to PROTECT OUR COUNTRY. THe f-14 tomcat plays nice with other jets it doesn’t need to be so jealous of anything as to deny their capabilities.

    • F-15C vs F-14D in a 1 v 1 (assuming equal pilots) are equals in BFM dogfight. In a 2 v 2, or many v many the F-14 has the advantage of the RIO (2 pairs of eyes are better than one). And the F-15 never received a thrust upgrade as the D Tomcat. It actually received slightly degraded engines in the -220’s.

      • >>
        It actually received slightly degraded engines in the -220’s.

        Flat rated, not de-rated. The F100-PE-220E is essentially a -100 with 220 components refitted to the original carcass which means it doesn’t have all of the changes which require new configurations as much as metallurgy but it has things like DFC and DEEC that allows the engine to retain uniform stall margin and thrust levels through a wider range of altitudes and airspeeds.

        The absence of the analogue controls also meant ditching the V-Max cockpit switch which is what makes the analogue F100 truly powerful (like the T2 Reset on the J79 where air flow at high Mach gets so fast that it backfeeds the core stochiometrics at such a level that you can reset the stators and not heat the front end of the engine up with more thrust coming out of the core efflux, despite a lower stage rise…) but only within a very narrow range and only with an almost mandatory deplanining, boresight check and retune of the engine afterwards.

        The F-15 is actually very sluggish in the high speed regime anywhere below about 25,000ft. The fixed conical camber wing is the equivalent of flying around with the LEF on an F-16 permanently drooped and _greatly_ slows the Rodan to the extent that Vipers can run rings around them, literally accelerating at any G level below 7 or climbing above at 9.

        Only at FL300 and above does the lower density really reflect well upon Eagle performance and since you are almost entirely a Ps fighter there, it missile combat tends to be very much canned by sprint level and weapon poles.

        This is where the 220E+ does well because it is much more stable in the face of adverse flow and doesn’t suffer rake issues with vortices coming off the nose in hook and pump type maneuvers.

        Installing the F110-GE-129 in the Korean aircraft and the GE-132 on the Singapore and Saudi jets meant accepting a much larger engine (more weight) with a mass flow difference on the order of 250lb/sec which essentially meant the tuned F-15 ramp settings for the Pratt engine (200lb/sec) was no longer adequate to the required throat flow for the GE. If they didn’t retune the engine turbopath, it would not matter what the static thrust was, you would never get more than what the F100 equivalent ramp settings could supply and for purposes of inlet buzz and bypass duct choking there is very little margin here.

        Which brings us to one other thing you need to keep in mind: The F-14 was a pig relative to the F-111B as a FADF missileer. It never came close to 2hrs at 150nm with Six AIM-54 (the F-111B didn’t make it either but was within 20 minutes). And yet, the F-14 carried 16,800lbs internally and another 3,000lbs in the 267s, both of which could be retained, supersonically.

        The F-15A only had about 11,000lbs internal and the F-15C about 14,000lbs. This meant it carried the majority of it’s fuel fraction in very large, 600 gallon, fuel tanks which could neither be carried nor jettisoned, supersonically and whose G-constraints where highly dependent upon whether you were using the high quality forged aluminum tanks with triple welds and reinforcement strops down both sides (more than half a million each) or the cheapo ‘GTW’ tanks which were little more than rolled sheet cylinders, shipped to theater in concentric pallet loads and knocked together there.

        The F-15 was a marvel of it’s time but it was never a player outside of the 250-300nm radius of USAFE and NATO Europe and it’s design era, on the threshold of the RSS/FBW controls approach (the F-15 can be handflown without CAS), meant that it was simply never functionally going to match later designs like the F-16/18 for either acceleration, trimmed turn factor or high alpha pointing capabilities.

        It would also never match the F-14 for effective combat persistence in the mission area as it’s fuel, missile load and datalink as well as (later) lack of TCS made it very awkward at the sort-to-morte game of OCA sweep and TARCAP without someone else helping it with EID. Some of this would later change as select jets got Type II JTIDS terminals and Musket level JEM NCTR but the basic performance of the weapons system remains marginal and against the Su-27/30/35, it is completely outclassed.

        • Here is a SE with -229’s (and it is clean, no CFT)

          My brother’s squadron mate flew them at SJ, they had the original ones with -220’s and the USAF found the jet to be sluggish with a combat cruise load. They then installed the IPE -229, and it did give them more useful thrust (with the same inlet).

          As you can see from the video a SE with -229’s is a monster. Far better performer than with -220’s.

      • the tomcat still has a much lower thrust to weight ratio for combat. It’s instant turning and aerodynamics are what make the tomcat a good dogfighter.

  2. Now I’m breaking a promise I had made which was to leave those of you who enjoy the Tomcat (Just that) alone with those of you who do not (just that) as well. I however had several replies (all positive – thank you) so I decided to leave one more response – Hopefully my last….To Tim: Thankyou to your replies – they are appreciated, However where several F-14 enthusiasts are not understanding: Though the Tom will go down in aviation history as perhaps one of the finest military jets both offensive & defensive – the company that manufactured the 14 aka Grumman Aerospace is no longer with us in part as I said earlier to Dick Cheney.
    What Grumman offered and to date still has not been duplicated is: the company operated as one big loving family. They took great pride in everything they manufactured because of wonderful engineers, to welders, to accountants right – down the line. The 14 may be copied or updated in another airframe but the company that made it possible is no longer with us which leads me to respond to a Mirage who is or sounds like a Tomcat enthusiast and I’ll go so far as to guess a former pilot -( I was accepted to Annapolis in 83 to fly but my mom freaked so congrats to you if you flew) & to a Frank who sounds like he dislikes the bird immensely. To you both Ill say again I grew up Grumman my whole life and continue to this day talking to not only my father but other Grumman employees albeit our numbers are dwindling so let me add my father retired as a high level air frame engineer who started on the 14 in 69 but was allowed to work on other Grumman aircraft: the A6-E and E2-C. Where I’m having difficulty iso far as Frank is concerned the 15 is a land based aircraft with considerably less weight along with Frank not understanding how the craft is manufactured so I can’t beat it up and probably would not anyway as it is still classified – & still in active service. What I know on the 15 is through Grumman or aka my father, and yes some of what I know would be considered classified. I also have great difficulty pitting our aircraft against one another so to Mirage you are mostly correct on the 14, to Frank as I know what your going to say – here is a generalized response on the build of the 14 as its now retired – it was designed & built to fly @ approx 1,551 knots & maintain that speed without flying apart – had the Tom gone as far as the 21 concept it would of shed some 25,000 lbs due to new composites, updating both the structure and frame of the bird making it in its time more maneuverable than just about (everything) also attaining a speed of roughly 1,700 knots & add thrust vectoring, newer computers, less maintenance – fly by wire instead of outdated hydraulics – it’s also designed to take a hit and dish it out so it would of carried a heavier payload or other weapons besides your Phoenix – Sparrow or Sidewinder. Where I disagree with our govt is in cost cutting so your doing away essentially an allocated bomber or your A6 and converting your Tom or current 18 & even the 35 to do things they really were not designed to do which is drop bombs so you now compromise the aircraft. Anyway to all of you thanks for making this a great discussion – I’ll end by saying I too don’t know everything on the Tom and to you Mirage I know absolutely little on the 22 because once Grumman was bought out by Northrop in a hostile takeover ending with China calling our house constantly trying to employ my father say in 94/95 –

    • Al… have you been following this? Final assembly in calverton may be brought back to life. If you’re still on the island. Riverhead town board is holding hearings to bring aviation back to calverton. Ex Grummanites are needed at these hearings to support the return of the aviation industry.

  3. the tomcat was superior PERIOD. It always was. Even the f-14A models beat the f-15 in mock dogfights 2:1. Probably had something to do with the shitty engines that can’t climb the reason why it wasn’t higher.

    The F-14bs and d tomcats were the fastest air superiority fighters we’ve ever had clocked @ over mach 2.5-2.6. This only possible with the newly equipped f-110 engines which is what the plane was designed for. In fact the fighter was so new that the intended engine power was not even possible at the time. So it took a few years to get the f-110.

    The f-14 also had the highest sustained turn radius with it’s large wings and powerful engines. It could tell WELL over 9gs and sustain the turn, and it would out turn everything in the sky.

    The f-14 was also capable of performing the cobra maneuver with the wings back and the newer f-110 engines installed. Unfortunately until the very end of the f-14’s life pilots were still flying the tf-30s in many of the planes.

  4. Actually the F-14A,B, D had its best turn rate/radius at 325KIAS and 6.5-7G (this is known as corner velocity). Anything above that and the radius and rate start to suffer. And you cannot generate 9G at 325KIAS. The Tomcat turns best, again, at 325KIAS with the wings at around 20-22 degrees (reference the NAVAIR CHARTS). Once you add more speed to attempt to generate anything near 8.5-9G (NAVAIR set the airframe limit at 7.5G) the turn rate and radius suffer, and you have more drag added to the high aspect ratio wing (which is at 22 degrees). For example, the A-10 which is a high aspect ratio jet, turns best at lower speeds (just like the F-14 with the wings at 22 degrees). The high aspect ratio wing design will give you a small turn radius at lower speeds.

    All the GE-F110 engines did was alleviate the bleed rates of the TF-30 in the horizontal. I have talked to 4 Tomcat pilots (all flew the A and 2 flew the B/D); they have said that in the horizontal there is not much difference between an A and the B/D. However, the GE engines really helped in the vertical. One pilot told me that the D could do a triple Immelmann.

    Even in combat (the 1981 Libya incident) LT Lawrence ‘Music’ Muczynski said he entered into a 7G reversal turn at 38:45 of the video.

    Now this is in actual combat, and “Music” said he went into a 7G turn, not a 9G turn. (The first jet to sustain a 9G turn was the Viper, not the Eagle or Tomcat). Viper pilots also had to be G rated (9) in the centrifuge, not Eagle or Tomcat pilots.

    Under Mach .7 and with the 2 extra eyes of the RIO (2 sets of eyes are better than 1) the Tomcat could usually better the Eagle in the horizontal (not the vertical, and above Mach .73 ((the wings start to go back on the F-14 and the turn radius and rate drop off))). However, both the Tomcat and the Eagle could be out-turned by a Mig-17. Randy Ball a Mig-17 demo pilot even has said that the FIRST jet to out-turn the Mig-17 in both radius and rate was the F-16A Viper. In fact, both the Tomcat and Eagle were easily out-turned by the Rafale and Eurofighter in DACT exercises (only the big mouth Block 30 Viper was competitive against the euro-canards and that was generally under FL150 and nearly slick).

    Also, you have to remember the the F-18 was the portion of the “low” mix and the F-14 was the “high” portion. They constituted the High/Low mix similar to the F-15 and F-16 relationship in the USAF. You simply cannot take and F-18 and expect to make it the “high” portion, because it’s design was a compromise. However ALL the teen series aircraft are generally nearing obsolescence. LO is the way of the future, and the large RCS of the teen series jets is a handicap in modern warfare.

    • actually this isn’t true. The sale of 80 F-14As to Iran was accomplished after a little known pilot sustained and accelerated through an 8.5G turn. That’s a TF-30 equipped F-14A tomcat, not a F-14B with the future f-110 engines. Of course, he had burned his fuel down a lot. But blame the engines, not the plane. They weren’t fighter engines.

      • Look at the Ps=0 on the 5k chart, it is not even anywhere near 7.5 let alone 9g. The Tomcat could probably instantaneously pull 9g or more, but in NO way sustain it. Everything else is just fantasy and conjecture. And yes I am talking about the F-14D model.

        The Tomcat has a lot of lift, but it has A LOT OF DRAG. You need to look at total CL vs total drag, and not wing loading (a jets drag polar). Wing loading technically does not mean much.

        The reason why the F-16A/C can easily sustain 9g is because it hardly has any frontal drag. It has a much cleaner air-frame than the Tomcat or Eagle. There is just no comparison.

        • The tomcat does not have a lot of drag. As a matter of fact, due to it’s nearly in-line spoilers with the angle of it’s leading wing edges, no matter what position the wings have been swept to, of course, you have better turning performance than the f-15C. This is the reason the SU-27 also adopted the swept wing/swept control surface concept. It’s an aerodynamic advantage. The tomcat is more aerodynamic than both of those planes however.

          During flying-off for Iran, the puny F-15A could only manage to pull 7gs because that’s it’s structural limit. The f-14A managed to pull 8.5gs. That’s with the wing loading extremely low, as they only had about 3,000 pounds of fuel left. So the tomcat’s normal 44-48 psf wing loading was considerably lower than THAT with only 3,000 pounds of fuel.

          This whole “they can only turn high gs instantaneously they can’t sustain it!”. The biggest bulls*it retort in an aviation argument. You don’t over G a plane without seriously compromising it’s frame. The tomcat could turn 9gs whenever it wanted to. It was not over it’s structural limit. If you instantaneously turn 9gs without hurting the plane, and there’s video of f-14D pilots doing this on youtube, then you can sustain it. Period. If you can’t sustain it, then you would never turn that tight even instantaneously unless it was absolutely necessasry. F-4 phantoms have turned 9gs before in COMBAT, and they had to be repaired after returning home. This is not the case for the f-14 tomcat.

          Tom Cruise on kimmel talks about going 9.5gs in an F-14A for the movie top gun while he was in the back seat, apparently puking up his lunch.

          • Both the F-14D and F-15C are no match for a Su-27 in any turning regime.

            Once again, the NATOPS charts do not lie. No Ps=0 anywhere near 9g.

            Both F-15/14 have substantial amounts of drag, CL vs total drag is what matters, not wing loading-

  5. Why would the USA spend $50 billion replacing muscle cars with minivans? Surely, upgrading the F-14 fleet would have been much less costly. Some blame Dick Cheney, but the decision to develop and build the Super Hornet was made during the Clinton administration.

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