Tag Archives: Grumman F-14 Tomcat

How two F-14 Tomcats shot down two Gaddafi’s MiG-23s, 25 years ago today

After two F-14 Tomcats from the VF-41 Black Aces shot down two Su-22 Fitters on Aug. 19, 1981 and, above all, after Operation El Dorado Canyon, the air strike launched on Apr. 15 1986 against Libya, Colonel Gaddafi and its regime went off the U.S. high priority agenda.

But in late 1988, tensions between Washington and Tripoli raised again. In fact the United States government accused Libya of building a chemical weapons plant near the town of Rabta and once again Gaddafi warned the U.S. against interfering in Libyan affairs, reiterating the threat of military actions. In response to Gaddafi’s menace, the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) and its battle group were dispatched to conduct a “freedom of navigation” exercise off the Libyan coast.

On Jan. 4, 1989, in the morning, four pairs of F-14s, two of those belonging to the VF-14 Tophatters and two with the VF-32 Swordsmen, were flying Combat Air Patrols (CAP) close to the Gulf of Sidra, while a single E-2C from the VAW-126 Sea Hawks supported them.

For several years, due to terrorist concerns, the crews had to remain anonymous and their names withheld from reports, but today we know that the two VF-32  Tomcats on the southernmost CAP station, were the BuNo. 159610, call sign “Gipsy 207” flown by Swordsmen skipper Commander Joseph B. Connelly and by Commander Leo F. Enwright as Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) and the BuNo. 159437, call sign “Gipsy 202″ crewed by Lieutenant Hermon C. Cook III and Lieutenant Commander Steven P. Collins as RIO.

Vf-32 4

The two F-14s were armed with four Sparrows and two Sidewinders, since they were launched before the intended loadout of four AIM-7s and four AIM-9s was complete. After being refueled by a KA-6D Intruder, the two F-14s with Gipsy 207 leading the section, returned to their CAP station, when the Hawkeye, call sign “Closeout”, warned them that two Libyan aircraft had taken off from Al Bumbah airfield.

Almost immediately the contact was picked up by the Tomcats radars at a distance of about 72 miles and locked up: this procedure was aimed at alerting the Libyan fighters that they were monitored by armed F-14s.

Several times this was enough to persuade them to turn away, but this time the bogeys kept coming.

The Tomcats began the engagement at 20,000 feet descending toward the bogeys that were descending from 10,000 to 8,000 feet. The two F-14s performed also a thirty degrees turn away from the enemy fighters but the bogeys countered it with a turn which placed them in a fast collision course against the Tomcats.

But the turn executed by the American fighters also to put the F-14s between the bogeys and the aircraft carrier, giving to the Tomcats an advantage position to provide protection to the USS Kennedy.

What nobody could know, was that in a matter of few minutes the events that had started as an almost normal close encounter would turn into a real air to air combat, as reported by the Rear Admiral Paul t. Gillcrist in his book Tomcat! The Grumman F-14 Story.

At 11:58:43 the US fighters leveled off at 3,000 feet and 475 knots, while the bogies were closing on a collision course at a range of 53 miles and descending. To avoid a head-on engagement with the enemy aircraft armed with radar guided air to air missiles, the F-14s turned a second time trying to offset themselves from the bogeys, hoping to gain a tactical advantage.

Less than one minute later, at 11:59:16 the Libyans, controlled by their own ground controlled radar, had already turned back towards the Tomcats with a closure speed of about one thousand knots. The air warfare commander on Kennedy transmitted to the two Swordsmen crews the coded signal “Warning yellow, weapons hold, I repeat, warning yellow, weapons hold”.

MIG-23 Libya

This radio call caused some misunderstanding  since it was interpreted that the F-14s were not cleared to fire, but a “yellow, weapons hold” is used to alert the fighters that there is a possible threat to the battle group (warning yellow), and weapons hold reminds that peacetime ROE (Rules Of Engagemt) still apply  and the fighters must assess hostile intent or threat, or act in self defense in order to shoot.

At 12:00:53 Enwright reported that bogies had jinked at him for the fifth time and that the Libyans were inside of twenty miles: at this point he directed the section to turn “on” the master armament switches. At a range of exactly 12.9 miles Enwright aboard Gipsy 207 fired a Sparrow missile and Connelly executed thirty degree turn to the left while Cook III onboard Gipsy 204 performed the same maneuver to the right.

In this way, at 12:01:20 the two F-14s turned back into the bogeys and Enwright fired a second Sparrow. Connelly still couldn’t see the enemy fighters but he noticed that on its right Gipsy 202 fired a Sparrow and at the same time Cook III called “Tally-ho, eleven o’ clock high. They are turning on me” and he casually told to Collins “They got one off”.

This statement caused some confusion, since Enwright believed that the now detected MiG-23s had fired and he began to release defensive chaff bundles. Meanwhile Connelly followed Gipsy 202 missile flight which exploded into the right intake duct of the second Flogger.

At 12:01:57 Gipsy 207 began a hard right turn to position himself to the six o’clock position of the lead MiG-23 which was passing in front of him from left to right. The second damaged Flogger instead, streaming black smoke entered a right turn and was lost from view after its pilot ejected.

At  12:02:06 Connelly was at six o’ clock position of the first MiG-23 and reported “Good kill, good kill, I’ve got the other one” while  switching on his stick to select Sidewinder. But no familiar tone came from the missile’s seeker head on his head set. While Enwright was shouting “Select Fox 2, shoot Fox 2”, Connelly switched back to Sparrow, but since they were overtaking the Flogger, he shifted again to Sidewinder which eventually emitted the right tone.

Connelly pulled the trigger, the missile left the left wing station and hit the MiG-23 in the fuselage just behind the cockpit.

At 12:02:36 Connelly reported to the E-2C that they had “splashed two Floggers and that there were two good ‘chutes in the air”.


In the days after the engagement Libya tried to confuse things by asserting that the Floggers were unarmed reconnaissance aircraft, but the video footage recorded in the Tomcats TCS (the Television Camera System, the camera mounted under F-14’s nose which enhanced crew ability to identify the enemy early in an engagement) clearly showed that the MiG-23s were armed with air-to-air missiles, proving that Libyan fighters represented a real threat.

In the video below you can hear the radio communications of the engagement and see the footage recorded by the F-14s.


David Cenciotti has contributed to this post.

Image credit: U.S. Navy


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Iranian F-14s vs UFOs: urban legend or weird drones in action over Iranian nuclear plants?

Retired by the US Navy more than seven years ago, the iconic Grumman F-14 remains in service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF). Iran extensively used its Tomcats in the Iran-Iraq War and the F-14A is still today the backbone of IRIAF air defense.

In the last years the “Persian cats” have reportedly flown against a very particular threat: the Unidentified Flying Objects, universally known as UFO.

More detailed information about this weird use of the last operational Tomcats can be find in the October 2013 issue of Combat Aircraft.

An interesting article written by Babak Taghvaee gives an exclusive overview of IRIAF F-14s missions conducted to intercept UFOs. But according to Taghavee these unknown flying objects didn’t conduct any extraterrestrial activity: “When Iran’s suspicious nuclear program was revealed to the public, Western nations, led by US and Israel, warned it to abandon its nuclear activities. The US attempted to gather information concerning the activities at three important Iranian nuclear facilities: the reactor of Bushehr, an additional reactor in Arak and the fuel enrichment plant at Natanz. A number of reconnaissance UAVs were sent to collect intelligence to help prepare for a possible attack.”

To intercept UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), IRIAF F-4Es and F-14As, based to Bushehr to serve as QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) interceptors, were scrambled several times. But the American drones have astonishing flight characteristics: “Including an ability to fly outside the atmosphere, attain a maximum cruise speed of Mach 10, and a minimum speed of zero, with the ability to hover over the target” as explained by Taghavee. These performances along with their powerful ECM make the F-14s unable to operate their weapons.

But, according to Taghavee, at least one time a Tomcat was able to come very close to an engagement with one of these “UFOs”: “In one case over Arak in November 2004, the crew of an F-14A armed with two AIM-9Js and two AIM-7E-4s spotted a luminous object flying near the heavy water plant of the Arak site. When the beam of the jet’s AN/AWG-9 radar painted the object, both the RIO and pilot saw that the radar scope was disrupted, probably due to the high magnetic energy of the object increasing the power of the reflected radar waves. The pilot described the object as being spherical, with something like a green afterburner creating a considerable amount of turbulence behind it. The Tomcat crew achieved a lock-on when it was flying a linear and constant flight path. Once the pilot selected an AIM-7E-4 to launch against it, the object increased its speed and then disappeared like a meteor.”

F-14 IRIAF 2

This kind of flight were suspended after several attempts to intercept the US UAVs were made by F-4Es and F-14A over the Bushehr, Arak and Natanz plants, but, as reported in the article, another mission was launched around the 04.20hrs on January 26, 2012, when “an Iranian Air Defense Command radar site near Bushehr identified an unknown aircraft flying towards the area. An F-14A was ordered to scramble. At 04.30hrs it took off from TFB.6, ( 6th Tactical Fighter Base, placed near Bushehr) but seconds later the fighter exploded, killing both crew instantly. The reason for the incident remains a mystery, and the aircraft involved was one of the fittest IRIAF Tomcats, with the lowest flying hours in the fleet.”   

This Tomcat was the serial 3-6062, the one which could have been shot down by the “Revolutionary Guards” air defense as explained recently by The Aviationist. So if this was the cause of the “incident” (several sources believe the F-14 was not shot down by “friendly fire”), it becomes clear that there wasn’t any UFO involved in this mishap and it remains unexplained only the nature of the drones involved in the intelligence activity over Iranian nuclear plants.

We can affirm that while many times in the last years several UAVs flew over Iran to gather information (such as the stealthy RQ-170 captured in December 2011), a drone with flight characteristics like those described by Taghvaee is still unkown, unless we assume the SR-72, a replacement of the SR-71, or something similar, is already covertly flying.

But again, Taghvaee has no doubts about the nature of these unidentified flying objects, since in his article he says that “After two years of research on the objects flight profiles and examination of remnants of a crashed example recovered in 2006 (in both Iran and then by experts in Russia), the Iranian Army specified that they were US intelligence drones.”

Dario Leone for TheAviationist.com

Image credit: IRIAF Facebook page

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[Photo] F-14 Tomcat could land on carrier with missing radome, damaged wing

The Grumman Aerospace Corporation, acquired in 1994 by Northrop Corporation to form the Northrop Grumman,  was one of the most respected aircraft manufacturer in the world and leading airplanes builder for the U.S. Navy in the 20th century.

But among the fighter pilots community it was known as “Grumman Ironworks”, due to its aircraft ability to come back to the carriers or bases after having been heavily damaged, thanks to their strength and durability.

These incredible achievements were the result of the main Ironworks rule: pilots are far more valuable than planes.

The last product of the Grumman was the F-14 Tomcat which was not only one of the deadliest fighter in the aviation history, but also one of the sturdiest airframe ever built: in fact, like the Wildcat, Hellcat and Avenger in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War, the Tomcat was able to bring back home its aircrews even if badly damaged.

Look at the impressive pictures in this post.

The first photo depicts the F-14A BuNo 159832 side number 205 which on Jun. 29, 1991 experienced a mid-air collision over South Chinese Sea with another Tomcat, the BuNo 161597 side number 201. Both aircraft were from Black Lions of the VF-213, at the time embarked on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and while the “201” crashed into the sea where the crew was rescued, the “205” was able to land to Singapore after loosing part of its right wing.

Another proof of the F-14 strength is given by the BuNo 161433, at the time assigned to the VF-142 Ghostriders, that is here photographed while landing aboard the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) in the Persian Gulf. This picture was taken on Nov. 13, 1991 when the Tomcat lost its radome which hit the canopy, broke the windscreen and injured the pilot, LCdr. Edwards: however Edwards and its Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) LCdr. Grundmeier were able to make a successful landing back aboard the “IKE”. For their skills both aircrew members received the Distinguished Flying Cross decoration and  the Tomcat, which was the seventh A model to be modified to F-14B standards that mounted the new General Electric F-110 engines, was repaired and continued to fly until its retirement in 2004.

without radome

The Grumman Ironworks heritage is well shown in the following video: at first sight it appears to be a standard carrier landing, but if you stop the video at 0:21 you can see this F-14A from Checkmates of the VF-211 landing aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) without its right vertical stabilizer (and not without a wing like the title of the video says)!

Most probably, the best recognition to the Grumman Ironworks and to the F-14 came from Cmdr. James E. Howe, the commanding officer of the VF-31 Tomcatters, the last Tomcat Squadron, who brought the last flying F-14D (BuNo 164603) to Farmingdale Republic Airport on Oct. 4, 2006: “It is truly a comfortable feeling when I man the aircraft and look down at the rudder pedals and it says Grumman. I know that I am going to make it back.”

Dario Leone for TheAviationist.com

Image credit: U.S. Navy via M.A.T.S.

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Iranian F-14 Tomcat crashed last year mistakenly downed by Iranian Air Defense?

In the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 2012, an Iranian F-14A (serial 3-6062 that can be seen here) was scrambled to intercept a ‘UFO’ near the port city of Bushehr in south of Iran. Less than 5 minutes into the flight, the mighty ‘Tomcat’ disappeared from the ground control radar. The pilot and RIO both lost their lives in the crash.

So far the Iranian regime has attributed the cause of this terrible incident to some unknown technical failures.

But that was not the case.

The ‘3-6062’ F-14 was one of the best maintained aircraft in the Iranian Air Force’s inventory assigned to critical ‘QRA’ duties in the important port city of Bushehr where Iran’s sole nuclear reactor is also located.

But what was the cause of this mysterious crash?

The Iranian regime has not revealed much beyond its official line that the crash was due to technical issues. But now it can reliably be said that the ‘Revolutionary Guards’ air defense near Bushehr 6th tactical air base shot this valuable ‘Tomcat’ down.

The regular air force officers I spoke with over the past week claim that the IRGC’s air defense personnel are “totally unfamiliar” with the type of aircraft flying for their own country. One of them told me that the ‘IRGC’ AAA personnel fire at anything that might scare them. Although my guess is that they fire at all high speed flying objects out of fear of getting reprimanded for not actually fighting.

This story exposes an existing gap between the regular armed forces and their more radical revolutionary guards’ comrades. A gap that could be exploited during a coalition air strike to de-fang the Iranian regime and its nuclear weapons facilities.

Winston Smith for TheAviationist.com

Top image: IRIAF

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U.S. Navy’s Last F-14 Tomcat Flight, On This Day, In 2006

Still in service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, where it was recently spotted with a beautiful splinter color scheme, the F-14 Tomcat was retired by the US Navy seven years ago.

Even if, officially, the last flight of a U.S. Navy Tomcat took place on Sept. 22, 2006 during the ceremony that was held at NAS (Naval Air Station) Oceana, the real last flight of a Tomcat in the USN colors was on Oct. 4, 2006.

Seven years ago today, a VF-31 Tomcatters F-14D (BuNo 164603) was transferred from Oceana to Farmingdale Republic Airport, on Long Island, New York and you can see its last landing in the following video.

The airframe that reached such a milestone was a Grumman F-14D and it was last but one Tomcat (or Super Tomcat, as the D version was also known) built.

The BuNo 164603 was first delivered on May 29, 1992 at NAS Miramar to VF-124 Gunfighters, the West Coast Tomcat Fleet RAG (the Replacement Air Group, the naval training squadron for a specific aircraft).

Then, in June of the following year, the BuNo 164603 was one of the first F-14D to be assigned to VF-2 Bounty Hunters.

By February 1998 it was flying with the VF-213. As “Black Lion 101” this Tomcat achieved another important milestone on Oct. 7 2001, when this F-14D along with some other Tomcats and Hornets belonging to the CVW-11 (the Carrier Air Wing 11, embarked on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) destroyed an SA-3 SAM battery near Kabul’s international airport, conducing the first strike of the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

The BuNo 164603 stayed with the Black Lions until early 2002 when it was passed on to VF-101 Grim Reapers, originally the East Coast Tomcat Fleet RAG and became the entire Tomcat Fleet RAG after Gunfighters disbandment on 30 September 1994.

However, it was during the summer of 2003 that the BuNo 164603 reached its last squadron and was transferred to VF-31 Tomcatters.

The Tomcatters made of the airframe their “Felix 101” jet, meaning that it became the colorful CO (Commanding Officer) aircraft.

With VF-31 this Tomcat completed two cruises including the Mediterranean Cruise 2005-2006 embarked on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), in support to Operation Iraqi freedom (OIF), that signed the end of Tomcat career.

The last chapter of the US Navy F-14 life was closed on Oct. 4, 2006, when the BuNo 164603 completed the ultimate flight, with the last of the U.S. flying Tomcats transferred from Oceana Naval Air Station to Farmingdale Republic Airport.

Then the BuNo 164603 was ferried on the road from Farmigdale to Bethpage and displayed in front of the Northrop Grumman Plant 25 where it still rests today.


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