by: Tim Wing
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat was a supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft. It served as a fleet defense fighter, air supremacy fighter and in later versions as a multi-role attack fighter. The Tomcat has the distinction of being the longest serving fighter plane in United States history, with almost fifty years of front line service. The Tomcat was developed for the United States Navy following the collapse of the F-111B project. The F-14 first flew in 1970 and was first deployed in 1974 with the U.S. Navy. The final version, the F-14S, was retired from the active UEDF Naval Corps fleet in October 2024, having been replaced by the VF-7 Sylphid.
- Role: Interceptor/multirole fighter aircraft
- Manufacturer: Grumman
- First Flight: F-14A – 21 December 1970, F-14S – 5 October 2007
- Introduction: US Navy – September 1974, UN Spacy – January 2001, UE Defense Forces Naval Corps – 2018
- Retired: UN Spacy – 2009, UE Defense Forces Naval Corps – 2024
- Status: Retired
- Primary users: US Navy, UN Spacy, UEDF (Navy), Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force
- Number Built: 1262
- Unit Cost: F-14D – $50 Million (In adjusted 2070 International Credits), F-14S – $78 Million (In adjusted 2070 International Credits)
The F-14 was originally developed as a Fleet Air Defense aircraft for the United States Navy. It was designed and built by Grumman after the collapse of the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) program, which sought to provide a common answer the US Air Force and US Navy requirements for an all-weather fighter. The resulting F-111B failed to meet US Navy requirements. In July 1968 the US Navy issued a request for a tandem two-seat fighter with maximum speed of Mach 2.2. The winning Grumman design reused the TF30 engines from the F-111B, though the Navy planned on replacing them with a more advance engine. While lighter than the F-111B, it was still the largest and heaviest U.S. fighter to ever fly from an aircraft carrier.
Most of the F-14A fleet underwent engine upgrades to the GE F110-400 in 1987. These upgraded Tomcats were redesignated F-14B. The F-14D variant was developed during this time and included the GE F110-400 engines from the start, as well as newer digital avionics systems including a glass cockpit. The F-14D also received systems for Link 16 datalink for secure exchange of data and a Digital Flight Control System (DFCS). The F-14D was the first variant to include ground attack capabilities.
After the arrival of ASS-1 (later to be called the SDF-1), the US Navy sought to upgrade the F-14 with new technologies introduced by the alien space ship. These included, but were not limited to, the Hughes AWG-20 radar from the VF-1 Valkyrie, upgraded F110 engines, and provisions for the AAM-1 Stiletto multi-purpose missile. The result was the F-14S Super Tomcat (commonly abbreviated to “Supercat”). As that most of the US Navy’s F-14D fleet was near life cycle’s end, the majority of the required 640 F-14S Supercats were of new manufacture. Grumman built over 500 Supercats at their Calverton-Long Island, New York facility from 2007 through 2011.
The F-14 Tomcat was designed as both an air superiority fighter and a long-range naval interceptor. The F-14 had a two seat cockpit with a canopy that afforded all-round visibility. It featured variable geometry wings that swung automatically during flight. For high-speed intercept, they were swept back and they swung forward for lower speed flight. The F-14 was equipped with an internal 20mm gun, and could carry AIM-54 Phoenix, AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-120 Scorpion and AAM-1 Stiletto missiles.
Fuselage and wings
The variable geometry wing on the F-14 could move between 20° and 68° in flight, and could be automatically controlled by the Central Air Data Computer. The wings had a two-spar structure with integral fuel tanks. Much of the structure, including the wing box, wing pivots and upper and lower wing skins were made of titanium. These sections were replaced by Space Metal on the F-14S. The F-14A, B and D Tomcats had fully mechanical flying controls. Grumman introduced a full fly by wire system on the F-14S Supercat.
The F-14A was powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30 (or JT10A) engines, which were relatively powerful for the time (5.670/9.480 kg/t) and being turbofans allowed reduced fuel consumption while cruising, which was important for long patrol missions. The TF30 engine left much to be desired both in power and reliability and was considered by many as “The worst engine/airframe mismatch in years”. Engine failures accounted for 28% of overall losses. The overall thrust-to-weight ratio at maximum takeoff weight is around 0.56, which did not compare favorably with the F-15A’s ratio of 0.85.
The General Electric F-110 solved these issues. Indeed, it was this engine that allowed to F-14 to fully realize it’s potential as an Air Supremacy Fighter. The F-14D had a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.73 at maximum weight, and 0.88 at normal takeoff weight. The final F-14S with the upgraded F110-GE-900 engines and lighter Space Metal construction had thrust-to-weight ratios of 0.89 and 1.04, respectively.
Avionics and flight controls
The F-14 was a two seat fighter, accommodating a pilot and a radar intercept officer (RIO). The ECM and navigation suite were extremely comprehensive and complex. The main element was the Hughes AWG-9 X-band radar, which in the initial version included a lightweight 5400B digital system with 32 kilobytes(!) of RAM. A maximum of 24 targets could be tracked simultaneously. Pulse-only STT mode has a maximum range of around 200 km. Though very advanced for the time, the later Hughes AWG-20 X-band pulse-Doppler radar improved this to nearly 300 km with an ability to search while still tracking a theoretically infinite number of targets. The Supercat was also up-dated a Laser Range Finder (LRF) and an improved Forward Looking Infra-red Imaging Sensor (FLIR) mounted under the nose.
For weaponry, the Tomcat was designed as a platform for the formidable AIM-54 Phoenix. With the AWG-9/Phoenix combination, the F-14 had the ability to engaged multiple targets at ranges up 200 km. This was improved further with the combination of the AWG-20 and AIM-54F+ Phoenix, which could hit targets at ranges as far away as 300 km. This made for a conventional fighter with intercept capabilities that were on par with the later VF-4 Lightning III Veritech and FA-112 Chimera Escort Fighter.
The F-14 Tomcat was the US Navy’s primary air superiority fighter from 1974 until it’s dissolution in 2020. The F-14S went on to serve an additional four years with the UEDF Naval Corps, bringing it’s total time spent as a front line fighter to an unprecedented half a century, a figure which is unsurpassed by a fighter to this day. (Note: the F-4 Phantom II can boast a longer service life, but since it spent it’s later years in Third World Air Forces, such as the Hellenic Air Force, the author does not count it. The F-4 was deployed by the US from 1960 to 1996, bringing it’s front-line total up to 36 years. The last F-4 flew in 2011, edging the F-14 out by one year only.)
Upon the formation of the United Nations Space Agency (UN Spacy), a number of F-14Ds were leased from the United States Government. The F-14D served as the UN Spacy’s primary maritime air superiority fighter through the Unification War of the early 2000’s. It conducted Combat Air Patrols from the decks of US Navy Aircraft Carriers (with UN Spacy pilots) and from Macross Island. It was eventually replaced in this capacity by the F-203 Dragon II and VF-1 Valkyrie. All F-14 Tomcats had been returned to the US Navy by 2009. The F-14D was used extensively by the US Navy during the Global Civil War and the Unification War, racking up an impressive 18 to 1 kill ratio.
The US Navy upgraded and replaced it’s F-14D fleet with Robotechnology Improved F-14S Supercats in the late 2000’s. When the United Earth Defense Force was formed under the Southern Cross Convention, all remaining F-14s in the US Navy were transferred to the UEDF Naval Corps (along with all other assets of the United States Military Service). The F-14 was retired from the active UEDF Naval Corps fleet in October 2024, having been replaced by the VF-7 Sylphid.
The sole foreign customer for the Tomcat was the Imperial Iranian Air Force, who purchased 80 aircraft during the reign of the last Shah. After the Islamic Revolution, the re-named Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) continued to fly the F-14A through 2011. Interestingly, during the Global Civil War, two US Navy F-14Ds engaged and destroyed three out of four IRIAF F-14As over the Persian Gulf in defense of Saudi oil tankers.
A total of 1262 F-14s were built from 1969 to 1991 (A, B and D) and 2007-2011 (S).
F-14A: The F-14A was the initial two-seat all-weather interceptor fighter variant for the US Navy. The US Navy received 478 F-14A aircraft and 79 were received by Iran.
F-14B: The F-14 received its first of many major upgrades in March 1987 with the F-14B. The F-14A’s P&W TF30 engine was upgraded with the GE F110-400. The F-14B also received the state-of-the-art ALR-67 Radar Homing and Warning (RHAW) system. A total of 38 new aircraft were manufactured and 48 F-14A were upgraded into B variants.
F-14D: The F-14D variant was first delivered in 1991. The F-14D included newer digital avionics systems such as a Glass cockpit and replaced the AWG-9 with the newer AN/APG-71 radar. Other systems included the Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS), SJU-17(V) Naval Aircrew Common Ejection Seats (NACES), and Infra-red search and track (IRST).
F-14S: The Final version of the F-14 was the F-14S Super Tomcat (Supercat). The Supercat had upgraded F110-GE-900 Tubofans, AWG-20 radar, fly-by-wire controls, advanced material (Space Metal) construction and a host of additional upgrades.
XFV-14: Rockwell-Bell contracted Grumman to provide “proof of concept” for the Ground Effective Reinforcement of Winged Armament with Locomotive Knee-joint (GERWALK) configuration. For this, Grumman modified an F-14D fuselage with mock-ups of the VF-1 engine nacelles. Though the nacelles were similar to the VF-1 Vertiech, they still contained conventional F110-GE-900 Turbofans. At lower combat weights, these allowed the XFV-14 hover, take-off and land vertically, and maneuver in the same manner as the soon to be built Veritech. Additionally, the XFV-14 mounted a Mauser RöV-20 under the nose, powered by a pair of protoculture canisters. These two canisters also provided the electrical power needed to move the legs.
- United States: United States Navy (USN) 1974 to 2020
- United Nations / United Earth Government: United Nations Space Agency (UN Spacy) 2001 to 2009, United Earth Defense Force Naval Corps (UEDF NC) 2018-2024
- Iran: Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) 1976 to 2011
General characteristics (all)
- Crew: 2 (Pilot and Radar Intercept Officer)
- Length: 19.1 m
- Wingspan: Spread – 19.55 m, Swept – 11.58 m
- Height: 4.88 m
- Empty weight: (A, B, D) 19,838 kg, (S) 18,702 kg
- Max takeoff weight: 33,720 kg
- Powerplant: 2× General Electric F110-GE-400 afterburning turbofans, dry thrust: 61.4 kN each, thrust with afterburner: 123.7 kN each
- Maximum fuel capacity: 7348 kg internal; 9070 kg with 2 external tanks
Performance (B, D and S)
- Maximum speed: Mach 2.34 (2,485 km/h) at high altitude
- Combat radius: 926 km
- Ferry range: 2,960 km
- Service ceiling: 15,200 m
- Rate of climb: (B, D) 229 m/s, (S) 263 m/s
- Thrust/weight: (B, D) 0.91, (S) 1.07
- Guns: 1× 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled gatling cannon, with 675 rounds
- Hardpoints: 10 total: 6× under-fuselage, 2× under nacelles and 2× on wing gloves with a capacity of 14,500 lb (6,600 kg) of ordnance and fuel tanks
- Missiles: AIM-54F+ Phoenix, AIM-120C Scorpion, AIM-9X Sidewinder, AAM-1 Stiletto (on wing glove mounted triple ejector racks)
Loading Configurations (S)
- 2× AAM-1 + 6× AIM-54F+ (Rarely used due to weight stress on airframe)
- 2× AAM-1 + 2× AIM-54F+ + 3× AIM-120C (Most)
- 6× AAM-1 (on wing glove mounted triple ejector racks) + 4× AIM-120C
- 2× AIM-9 + 6× AIM-120C
- 6× AAM-1 (on wing glove mounted triple ejector racks) + 4× AIM-54F+
- 4× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-7
- JDAM Precision-guided munition (PGMs)
- Paveway series of Laser guided bombs
- Mk 80 series of unguided iron bombs
- Hughes AGM-65R Maverick (mounted similar to AIM-54F+)
- Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS)
- 2× 1000 l drop tanks for extended range/loitering time
- Hughes AWG-20 X-band pulse-Doppler radar
- Thomson LT-3 multi-frequency laser ranger/designator, mounted co-axially to FLIR
- Zeiss FOI-8 Forward Looking Infra-red (FLIR) imaging sensor and low-light level camera system, mounted under nose
- Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ)
- Elettronica Radar Warning Receiver (RWR)
- Chaff dispenser
Robotech (R) is the property of Harmony Gold. The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (R) is the property of Big West Advertising and Studio Nue. This document is in no way intended to infringe upon their rights.
Original artwork by: Shoji Kawamori, Miyatake Kazutaka, Haruhiko Mikimoto and Hidetaka Tenjin. (Macross)
Acknowledgement is extended to the work of Egan Loo and the Macross Compendium. Egan Loo is given all credit for all quotes and paraphrasing of the Macross Compendium that has been utilized on Robotech Illustrated.
Acknowledgement is also extended to Peter Walker, Pieter Thomassen and Robert Morgenstern of the unofficial Robotech Reference Guide. Peter Walker, Pieter Thomassen and Robert Morgenstern are given credit for all quotes and paraphrasing of the unofficial Robotech Reference Guide that has been utilized on Robotech Illustrated.
Content by Tim Wing
Copyright © 2015 Tim Wing