The Persian Tomcats, that the IRIAF plans to fly until 2030, are based at TFB.8 (Tactical Fighter Base 8) Baba’i near Eshahan, in central Iran.
“TFB.8 has three F-14 Squadrons with total 62 F-14As but only almost half are airworthy at this moment; just 35 according to the 2013 records” says Iranian Defense Journalist and writer Babak Taghvaee.
“During this three days exercise six of the best F-14As of the 82nd and 83rd Tactical Fighter Squadrons participated. Why the best? Because IRIAF has two types of F-14As: PMC (Partially Mission-Capable) ones, usually suitable for Training and can become FMC in case of war. And Fully Mission-Capable Tomcats with fully operable fire control system, armament system and INS. These FMC F-14As are usually used for 24/7 Quick Reaction Alert and other combat missions (Usually 70% of the airworthy Tomcats are FMC).”
According to Taghvaee at least six of these FMC Tomcats, including an F-14AM, took part to the exercise and for first time in ten years pilots had chance to renew their AIM-9 and AIM-7 AAM launch skills.
“The F-14s were used in simulated HVACAP, BARCAP and CAP. Escorted F-4Es in first night of exercise. Then engaged with MiG-29s in morning of second day. And launched missiles today morning (Last and third day). They also escorted the Tanker airplanes.”
The lessons learned during the Vietnam War showed that the fighter that the F-4 Phantom replacement had to excel in WVR (within visual range) engagements and feature those BVR (beyond visual range) capabilities essential for a premiere Navy fighter. Thus Tomcat crews were trained to conduct intercepts almost from the start of training in Pensacola and continuing with their assignment to the RAG (replacement air group, a squadron dedicated to training aviators for a specific type of aircraft).
According to “Bio” one of these sorties, flown with LT Jim McArthur (who would later become an admiral) as his instructor pilot, and their wingman in the second F-14 was Sandy Winnefeld (a student RAG pilot, Baranek’s college friend, and a future admiral himself) and his instructor RIO Willy Driscoll, the Vietnam MiG ace, was particularly memorable.
This hop was a “2 vs 2 intercept to engagement” with a TA-4 Skyhawk and an F-15 Eagle as opponents.
As Baranek recalls: “As with the Tomcat, the designers of the Eagle applied the hard lessons from aerial combat in Vietnam and took advantage of further advances in engines and aerodynamics. The Air Force jet was lighter, unencumbered by the heavy structure that the Tomcat needed for repeated carrier landings, nor by the Tomcat’s heavy radar and other systems that came with the Phoenix missile. With its incredible maneuverability, the Eagle was a challenge for the Tomcat.”
Noteworthy, given that the engagement took place in the skies over the range near Yuma, the rough terrain of the area challenged the AWG-9 in automatic modes and the Tomcat RIOs in manual modes. Flying at an altitude of 20,000 feet and at 350 knots, both groups – the F-14s and their adversaries – were closing at a speed of 700 knots. As Bio says “It was cool to have a college friend and a flying legend on my wing.”
The intercept began and Bio started to direct the F-14s’ attack, when Driscoll came up on the radio and said: “My radar is acting up, Dave, you’re going to have to run this one.” His radar problems left their section without Driscoll’s experience during the engagement, but also reminded the aircrews that in the real world radar sometimes fails.
So, with encouragement and a little coaching from his pilot, Bio directed the two F-14s through the intercept, calling an AIM-7 Sparrow missile shot and describing the radar picture for the wingman.
“We got a tally-ho on both adversaries, streaked past them at the merge…and the fight was on! Though it was more maneuverable than the TA-4, the F-15 was also larger and easier to keep track of. Even so, duking it out with a nimble little guy and his big brother was challenging as our two F-14s maneuvered aggressively in a vigorous dogfight. I have to admit that the details are a blur: I don’t remember who took shots, who won or lost. After about two minutes the fight ended with “Knock it off” on the radio. […] One thing I do remember: Driscoll’s radar was fully functional on the second and third engagements of the flight. Did I get “sandbagged,” an old trick of instructors to see how I would handle it? Or did he just have a knack for fixing an AWG-9 during a dogfight? I’ll never know, but I do know I was in awe of his radar and communication skills. He (Driscoll) definitely lived up to his reputation.”
But for U.S. Navy aircrews being fully capable to man their aircraft during real combat operations is not enough: indeed, before being assigned to an active duty squadron they must be qualified to operate from an aircraft carrier and the biggest challenge they have to overcome during CQs (carrier qualifications) is called “night carrier qualification.”
In “Before Topgun Days” not only does the author bring the reader onboard a Tomcat during carrier night flight operations but also provides a unique description of these tense moments: “Surreal is not a strong enough word to describe the experience of calmly flying around a pitch-black sky for an hour, steadily monitoring red-lit instruments, breathing oxygen through a mask, talking on the radio and occasionally trading small talk or mission-related comments with your pilot. We really could have been sitting in a black room. Until the final two minutes of greatly increased activity and stress, followed by the physically jarring arrested landing that suddenly placed us on a small world dimly lit by orange lights. In this place we talked to each other and interacted with people outside for a frenzied few moments until we were again brain-scrambled by a cat shot into the serenity of darkness. This time it was only a few minutes of serenity before we again started the relentless rush of a night carrier approach.
No, surreal is not a strong enough word.”
“Before Topgun Days” tells how student RIOs were brought to this level of skill through a structured training approach that begins in Pensacola. Baranek gives detailed descriptions of his early training, which was exciting and challenging, and tells about the times he thought he might not complete the program. But he did. Several vignettes from Bio early days in a fleet F-14 squadron that show how well the training prepared him for the real world finish the book.
Persian Tomcat and Russian Bear fly together during a strike mission against ground targets in Syria.
Something really interesting details have been exposed by the material released by Russia’s MoD lately.
Indeed, as you can see in the video below, IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-14 Tomcat interceptors escorted Russian Air Force Tu-95 Bear bombers flying in Iranian airspace during their 9h 30mins missions (from Engels airbase and back, along the Iraq-Iran-Caspian Sea 6,500 km-long corridor) against terrorist targets in Syria.
The two Hornets, along with another F/A-18, were playing the MiG-29 role during a Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP) sortie. Flown by the Flight Lead LCDR Greg “Stubby” Stubbs and his two wingmen, LCDR Greg “G.I” Anderson and LCDR Cal Worthington, the three F/A-18s engaged two VF-41 F-14s that were escorting an EA-6B Prowler.
Almost immediately the two Tomcats scored two kills with simulated missile shots at eight miles out against LCDR Stubbs and against LCDR Anderson.
The three Hornets remained in formation together until the merge point (where friendly fighters meet enemy fighters) and following the rules of engagement the two “MiGs” killed by simulated shots, executed aileron rolls to give the students a visual indication of which Bandits were killed and which one they should attack.
The nose of the Hornet flown by Anderson ripped through Stubbs F/A-18’s left wing and clipped off half of the vertical tail, while Anderson Hornet’s nose cone along with his canopy and his drop tank were lost. One of his engines was damaged as well.
The “Knock it off” (the signal given by the pilots to stop a training air engagement) of the furball was called and someone said on the radio that a mid-air had occurred. LCDR Worthington called Stubbs asking him if he could control his F/A-18. Stubbs applied right stick, right rudder and started pulling the power back a little bit and the nose came up. He answered to Worthington “yeah, I have it.” In the meantime also Anderson called to say he was fine, even if the sound of the wind filled his radio communications.
Both the damaged Hornets headed towards the coastline, with Stubbs assisted by Worthington, while the F-14s were trying to communicate with Anderson. Since the Tomcats weren’t able to contact LCDR Anderson because of a radio problem, Stubbs said to Worthington that he had to join up with Anderson since he was facing more serious problems: in fact Anderson had lost his probes during the collision and his airspeed and altitude indicators didn’t work.
Even though the Coast Guard station in Elizabeth City was the nearest airfield, it lacked an arresting cable system and so Stubbs and Anderson decided to go to Oceana. Not only did the aircraft configuration make a standard approach almost impossible, but Stubbs also discovered that his Hornet entered in dangerous left rolls if the speed descended below 200 knots. So the long runway and the arresting cable system available at NAS Oceana were the best option for them.
After consulting with a McDonnel Douglas representative Stubbs decided to land without lowering his remaining flap. Two more Hornets, flown by LCDR Bertran and Bowman, joined up with him while he was preparing to lower his landing gear.
The damaged Hornet touched the runway at 200 knots, a speed that exceeded both the arresting gear engagement speed limit (175 knots) and the speed limit beyond which the hook might be ripped off (182 knots).
Few moments later also Anderson came to landing: his F/A-18 had lost the whole canopy aft of the windscreen (hence the sound of the wind that filled his radio communications) and wires were flapping out of the nose, beating against the side of the jet, but he was able to safely land.
After two months, both pilots returned to flight status. Among the lessons learned in the mishap there was the need to put more emphasis on how pilots have to come out from the merge during the pre-flight briefing.
Conversely this accident was a significant testament to the sturdiness of the F/A-18: in fact although both the fighters were written off, the two Hornets were able to bring back home their pilots safely even after sustaining huge damages shown in the photos above.
As explained by Bio himself, the story behind this video is quite interesting: “I have to say that the opening segment (head-on pass) was a boring ‘1v1’ during deployment, so the comm is kind of sloppy, because we were basically fooling around. But when we got back to the ready room and looked at the video, I thought, ‘That is a keeper!'”
The TCS was a camera that could be slaved to the radar antenna providing a gray-scale visual image to the aircrew. Even if it had a fairly limited field of view and was heavily affected by atmospheric haze, the TCS was one of the F-14’s most interesting system. Being integrated into the weapons system in fact, it was useful in many scenarios: although the television camera set was most useful at high altitude where the air is clear, it delivered to the Tomcat aircrew a unique first sight-first shot capability given the fact that the aircrew could visually identify (VID) hostile aircraft at a greater distance than using eyeballs alone.
Other interesting segments of the video show four Tomcats sweeping their wings, and a cool F-14 night catapult shot from USS Ranger using maximum afterburner.