The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is an American carrier-capable supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, twin-tail, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft.
The Tomcat was developed for the United States Navy’s Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX) program after the collapse of the General Dynamics-Grumman F-111B project.
The F-14 was the first of the American Teen Series fighters, which were designed incorporating air combat experience against MiG fighters during the Vietnam War.
The F-14 first flew on 21 December 1970 and made its first deployment in 1974 with the U.S. Navy aboard USS Enterprise(CVN-65), replacing the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.
The F-14 served as the U.S. Navy’s primary maritime air superiority fighter, fleet defence interceptor, and tactical aerial reconnaissance platform into the 2000s.
The Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) pod system was added in the 1990s and the Tomcat began performing precision ground-attack missions.
The Tomcat was retired by U.S. Navy on 22 September 2006, supplanted by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Several retired F-14s have been put on display across the US.
Having been exported to Iran under the Pahlavi dynasty in 1976, F-14s were used as land-based interceptors by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force during the Iran–Iraq War.
Iran claimed their F-14s shot down at least 160 Iraqi aircraft during the war (only 55 of these confirmed, according to historian Tom Cooper), while 16 Tomcats were lost, including seven losses to accidents.
As of 2022, the F-14 remains in service with Iran’s air force, though in low numbers of combat-ready aircraft due to a lack of spare parts.
The F-14 Tomcat was designed as both an air superiority fighter and a long-range naval interceptor, which enabled it to both serve as escort attack aircraft when armed with Sparrow missiles and fleet air defence loitering interceptor role when armed with Phoenix missiles.
The F-14 was designed with a two-seat cockpit with a bubble canopy which affords all-around visibility aiding aircrew in air-to-air combat.
It features variable geometry wings that swing automatically during flight.
For high-speed intercept, they are swept back, and they swing forward for lower speed flight.
It was designed to improve on the F-4 Phantom’s air combat performance in most respects.
The F-14’s fuselage and wings allow it to climb faster than the F-4, while the “twin-tail” empennage (dual vertical stabilizers with ventral fins on the engine nacelles) offers better stability.
The F-14 is equipped with an internal 20 mm M61 Vulcan rotary cannon mounted on the left side (unlike the Phantom, which was not equipped with an internal gun in the US Navy), and can carry AIM-54 Phoenix, AIM-7 Sparrow, and AIM-9 Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles.
The twin engines are housed in widely spaced nacelles.
The flat area of the fuselage between the nacelles is used to contain fuel and avionics systems, such as the wing-sweep mechanism and flight controls, as well as weaponry since the wings are not used for carrying ordnance.
By itself, the fuselage provides approximately 40 to 60 percent of the F-14’s aerodynamic lifting surface depending on the wing sweep position.
The lifting body characteristics of the fuselage allowed one F-14 to safely land after suffering a mid-air collision that sheared off more than half of the plane’s right wing in 1991.
The landing gear is very robust, in order to withstand catapult launches (take-offs) and recoveries (landings) needed for carrier operations.
It comprises a double nosewheel and widely spaced single main wheels.
There are no hardpoints on the sweeping parts of the wings, and so all the armament is fitted on the belly between the air intake ramps and on pylons under the wing gloves.
Internal fuel capacity is 2,400 US gal (9,100 L): 290 US gal (1,100 L) in each wing, 690 US gal (2,600 L) in a series of tanks aft of the cockpit, and a further 457 US gal (1,730 L) in two feeder tanks.
It can carry two 267 US gal (1,010 L) external drop tanks under the engine intake ramps.
There is also an air-to-air refuelling probe, which folds into the starboard nose.
The F-14A was the initial two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather interceptor fighter variant for the U.S. Navy.
It first flew on 21 December 1970.
The first 12 F-14As were prototype versions (sometimes called YF-14As).
Modifications late in its service life added precision strike munitions to its armament.
The U.S. Navy received 478 F-14A aircraft and 79 were received by Iran.
The final 102 F-14As were delivered with improved Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-414A engines.
Additionally, an 80th F-14A was manufactured for Iran, but was delivered to the U.S. Navy.
The F-14 received its first of many major upgrades in March 1987 with the F-14A Plus (or F-14A+).
The F-14A’s TF30 engine was replaced with the improved GE F110-GE-400 engine.
The F-14A+ also received the state-of-the-art ALR-67 Radar Homing and Warning (RHAW) system.
Much of the avionics components, as well as the AWG-9 radar, were retained.
The F-14A+ was later redesignated F-14B on 1 May 1991.
A total of 38 new aircraft were manufactured and 48 F-14A were upgraded into B variants.
The TF30 had been plagued from the start with susceptibility to compressor stalls at high AoA and during rapid throttle transients or above 30,000 ft (9,100 m).
The F110-400 engine provided a significant increase in thrust, producing 23,400 lbf (104 kN) with afterburner at sea level, which rose to 30,200 lbf (134 kN) at Mach 0.9.
The increased thrust gave the Tomcat a better than 1:1 thrust-to-weight ratio at low fuel quantities.
The basic engine thrust without afterburner was powerful enough for carrier launches, further increasing safety.
Another benefit was allowing the Tomcat to cruise comfortably above 30,000 ft (9,100 m), which increased its range and survivability.
The F-14B arrived in time to participate in Desert Storm.
In the late 1990s, 67 F-14Bs were upgraded to extend airframe life and improve offensive and defensive avionics systems.
The modified aircraft became known as F-14B Upgrade.
The final variant of the F-14 was the F-14D Super Tomcat.
The F-14D variant was first delivered in 1991.
The original Pratt & Whitney TF30 engines were replaced with General Electric F110-GE-400 engines, similar to the F-14B.
The F-14D also included newer digital avionics systems including 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 Infrared search and track (IRST).
The GE F110-GE-400 engine provided increased thrust and additional endurance to extend range or to stay on station much longer.
In the overland attack role this gave the F-14D 60 percent more striking range or one-third more time on station.
The rate of climb was increased by 61 percent.
The F110’s increased thrust allowed almost all carrier launches to be made in military (dry) power.
While this did result in fuel savings, the main reason not to use afterburner during carrier launches was that if an engine failed the F110’s thrust in full afterburner would produce a yawing moment too abruptly for the pilot to correct.
Thus the launch of an F-14D with afterburner was rare, while the F-14A required full afterburner unless very lightly loaded.
Although the F-14D was to be the definitive version of the Tomcat, not all fleet units received the D variant.
A total of 37 new aircraft were completed, and 18 F-14A models were upgraded to D-models, designated F-14D(R) for a rebuild.
An upgrade to the F-14D’s computer software to allow AIM-120 AMRAAM missile capability was planned but was later terminated to free up funding for LANTIRN integration.
Starting in 2005, some F-14Ds received the ROVER III upgrade.
62 ft 9 in (19.13 m)
64 ft 1.5 in (19.545 m)
38 ft 2.5 in (11.646 m) swept
16 ft (4.9 m)
565 sq ft (52.5 m2) wings only
1,008 sq ft (94 m2) effective area including fuselage
Grumman (1.74) (9.6) (1.1) (1.1)
Grumman (1.27) (9.0) (1.1) (1.1)
43,735 lb (19,838 kg)
61,000 lb (27,669 kg)
Max take-off weight
74,350 lb (33,725 kg)
16,200 lb (7,348 kg) internal fuel;
2 × optional 267 US gal (222 imp gal; 1,010 l) / 1,756 lb (797 kg) external tanks
2 × General Electric F110-GE-400 afterburning turbofans,
16,610 lbf (73.9 kN) thrust each dry,
28,200 lbf (125 kN) with afterburner
Mach 2.34 (1,544 mph, 2,485 km/h) at altitude
1,600 nmi (1,800 mi, 3,000 km)
500 nmi (580 mi, 930 km)
53,000 ft (16,000 m) plus
Rate of climb
45,000 ft/min (230 m/s) plus
96 lb/sq ft (470 kg/m2)
48 lb/sq ft (230 kg/m2) effective
0.89 at gross weight (1.02 with loaded weight & 50% internal fuel)
1× 20 mm (0.787 in) M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling cannon, with 675 rounds
6 x under-fuselage,
2 x under nacelles
2 x on wing gloves with a capacity of 14,500 lb (6,600 kg) of ordnance and fuel tanks,
7x LAU-10 rocket pods (for a total of 28 rockets)
Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS)
LANTIRN Targeting System (LTS) pod (AN/AAQ-14)
2× 267 US gal (1,010 l; 222 imp gal) drop tanks for extended range/loitering time
AIM-54 Phoenix, AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder
2× AIM-9 + 6× AIM-54 (Rarely used due to weight stress on airframe)
2× AIM-9 + 2× AIM-54 + 3× AIM-7 (Most common load during Cold War era)
2× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-54 + 2× AIM-7
2× AIM-9 + 6× AIM-7
4× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-54
4× AIM-9 + 4× AIM-7
JDAM precision-guided munition (PGMs)
Paveway series of laser-guided bombs
Mk 80 series of unguided iron bombs
Mk 20 Rockeye II
Hughes AN/APG-71 radar
AN/ASN-130 Inertial navigation system, Infrared search and track, AAX-1 TCS
Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) upgrade.