F-14 Tomcat Flies Final Mission

An era in military aviation has come to an end: the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat has been mothballed, reports USA Today‘s Steven Komarow.

The F-14 Tomcat, the fighter jet that soared into the national imagination in the movie Top Gun, has flown into the danger zone for the last time. The Navy announced Thursday that the last F-14 combat mission was completed Feb. 8, when a pair of Tomcats landed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt after one dropped a bomb in Iraq.

Capt. William Sizemore, who flew on that last mission, said the Tomcat will be missed. “This is one of the best airplanes ever built, and it’s sad to see it go away,” Sizemore said in a Navy report from the ship. “It’s just a beautiful airplane. And it just looks like the ultimate fighter.”

Although still swift and deadly, the F-14 is a victim of changing times. For example:

•Sophisticated missiles have made its specialty, aerial dogfighting, obsolete. Opposing aircraft target each other from miles away, often before the pilots can see each other except on radar.

•Precision bombing is the new priority, and despite modification, the Tomcat can’t carry the loads of the new F/A-18 Super Hornet.

•It’s too expensive in the long run. The jet that flew its first combat missions in September 1974 requires 50 hours of maintenance, compared with five to 10 hours for the Super Hornet, for each hour of flight time.

In most cases, it is hard to justify retiring an American military aircraft, simply because no plausible opponent will have a better one. The Tomcat, though, was an exception; it had simply become obsolete.

That doesn’t keep its admirers from getting a bit misty eyed:

Although the Navy is better served by the newer jets, the beautiful F-14 will be missed, Fallon said. “It was the last of the pure fighters.”

You fly jets long enough, something like this happens.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Hoodlumman says:

    Godspeed, Maverick.

    Godspeed, Goose.

  2. DJ Elliott says:

    1. F14 was built as a long range interceptor and has the longest range air-air missile built, dogfighting was secondary. REMFs have been claiming dogfighting is dead since WWI and the bomber advocates AND IT STILL HAPPENS. FA18 is a more of a dog-fighter and is F14 replacement.
    2. F14D version is capable of precision bombing and can carry the same load as FA18 further since larger airframe provides longer endurance.
    3. F14As have been out of the inventory for a decade and that is what the 1974 date and maintenance comparison is based on. D’s require 25 hours, were built in late 80s/early 90s, were equipped with laser designation and strike capabilities. And has a longer range than FA18.
    4. Commonality of airframes is the real savings. By using an all FA18 air-wing spare parts are streamlined.

    USN(Ret)

  3. DC Loser says:

    Pure fighter? I think not. It’s as much as a fighter as the F-4.

  4. Mythilt says:

    If this was the last mission of the Tomcat, can only say 2 things. The first is that the decision was probably made about 7 years ago, it takes that long to go through at the fastest, and once started is almost impossible to stop. (The navy is learning that lesson with the Viking, since the decided to kill it several years ago, and are just now learning what they are losing with it. The P-3 and Helo’s can’t do its job.)
    The second thing is a bit of a snark, the F-18 mafia hit team has struck again.

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    I am reminded of the decision to not put a canon on the early versions of the F4 because the dog fight had been superceded by the air to air missle. The good news is that the F18 and the F14 can probably both match up well to most probable opponents such as China’s latest fourth generation fighters. Even so, F22 and F35 would be the prefered choice. You don’t want close when you can get vastly superior. Especially given the current US aversion to casualties. Can you imagine how the press would deal with a battle of Midway that saw 150 US airdcraft lost and 307 US dead? The modern day democrats would call for a cut and run policy and declare the war was obviously un winnable given the casualty rate.

  6. DC Loser says:

    The good news is that the F18 and the F14 can probably both match up well to most probable opponents such as ChinaÂ’s latest fourth generation fighters

    I’d agree with that assessment if based on a combination of equipment and training. If it were solely based on the capabilities of the aircraft and equipment, I’d have to say the SU-30s will win against the F-18s hands down.

  7. Daniel says:

    Anyone know if Iran’s F14’s are still operational (I know that they always seemed to be out there looking for spare parts for them)? I hope not. It would be a sad ending for that pretty plane for its last combat operation being a combat sortie against US forces (probably ending with a meeting with an SM2 or AMRAAM).

  8. DC Loser says:

    Yes, Iranian Air Force still flies their F-14s. Somehow, they get enough spare parts to keep them flying.

  9. GT Elmore says:

    Sheesh. Who really wrote this story? It looks like a public relations piece from the Super Hornet mafia, which apparently drinks its own bathwater. The titular author should be embarrassed to have his name appear above it. Virtually every key assertion presented is not just wrong, but exactly wrong.

    Arising out of the thunderous failure of the ill-conceived one-plane-to-do-it-all-for-everybody, McNamara TFX/F-111 fiasco (sound familiar?), the Tomcat was painstakingly designed and purpose-built to meet the Navy’s unique requirements. It came through the political fires, shepherded by hardheaded naval aviators who wouldn’t take no for an answer and, more than once risked their careers to make it happen.

    The F-18E/F Super Hornet, conversely, has no such pedigree. Sort of a Hornet, but not really, it was apparently obliquely derived from the original F-18, an honest and competent strike/fighter developed from the Northrop F-17 (which lost out to the F-16 in the Air Force’s 1970s lightweight fighter flyof

  10. former Grummbag says:

    “Anytime Baby” Tomcat stickers still adorn my luggage — 21 years after cutting my teeth as a programmer/analyst in the Engineering Development Center/Advanced Crewstation Lab working on the D…

    Good times…