Exactly 32 years between two dates;
22 September 1974 saw the introduction of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat into the US Navy
22 September 2006 saw the Grumman F14 Tomcat retired from the US Navy.
The prototype F-14 Tomcat during a test-flight in 1972
Already in the 1950s, the US Navy wanted a long-range, long-endurance interceptor in its inventory to protect carrier battle groups, a so-called Fleet Air Defense aircraft. Several companies and joint ventures suggested several ideas;
North American Rockwell
Four out of the five proposed models were equipped with viral geometry wings. Out of the five bids, two finalists remained at the end of 1968, with Grumman being selected for the contract to deliver the production version of their VFX program, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. (According to rumours the name Tomcat actually finds its origin in the name of Vice Admiral Thomas F. Connolly. During the development of the project was referred t as Thoms Cat, this became Tomcat).
Grumman's design of the F-14 reused the engines designed for the F-111B, the TF30 engines. The F-14 was the largest and heaviest fighter designed for the US Navy to be operated from an aircraft carrier. This was the result of design requirements, the aircraft should be able to;
Be equipped with the AWG-9 radar
Carry multiple AIM-54 Phoenix missiles
Have an internal fuel load of 16.000 lbs (7300 kg)
Initially, the US Marines were also interested in the aircraft, however lost their interest when ground attack specifications were abandoned by the design team. At the same time, there had been a change in the presidency and the US Navy was scared of cuts in its budget and potentially having to abandon the program. To speed up the development program the prototype phase of the project was skipped and Grumman and the US Navy went directly for the full-scale development of the aircraft. Leading to the first flight on the 21st of December 1970, less then two years after Grumman won the contract. A unique feature of the F-14 are its variable geometry wings, which can be varied between 20 and 68 degrees in flight, and for parking/storage the wings can be "retracted to 75 degrees, so as to overlap the horizontal stabiliser to reduce space needed for parking. The geometry is automatically controlled to maintain the optimum speed to drag ratio at various speeds. During test flights also asymmetric profiles were tested, and the aircraft remained controllable without much effort.
F-14 Tomcat with wings in asymmetric sweep during testing for this possible in-flight malfunction
712 Tomcats were built between 1969 and 1991, in different variants:
F-14A The initial variant. 478 went to the US Navy 79 were exported to Iran, with the 80th airframe for Iran being delivered to the US Navy. The final 102 F-14A's for the US Navy were delivered with P&W TF30-P-414A engines. F-14B
Initially identified as the F-14+ the aircraft were fitted with GE F110-GE-400 engines and received a state of the art ALR-67 Radar Homing and Warning system. The new engines gave the aircraft a thrust to weight ratio bigger than 1 : 1 at lower fuel quantities (less than 50% fuel remaining), they also allowed the aircraft to cruise above 30.000 feet (9.100 meters) F-14B Upgrade
67 F-14B airframes were upgraded with new avionics in the late 1990s and also received airframe updates to extend airframe life. F-14D
Also known as the F-14D Super Tomcat, the final variant. It had the engines of the B version and had upgraded avionics and armaments.
The thrust of these engines was enough to allow the aircraft to be launched without afterburners operating. A benefit of launching like this was that the aircraft remained controllable when one engine failed, that was not the case with afterburners operating.
37 F14-D's were built
F-14D(R) 18 F-14A airframes were upgraded to F-14D standard. (R) was added to their designation to signify they were rebuilt airframes from F-14A to F-14D standard.
General specifications for an F-14D Tomcat:
Crew: 2 (Pilot and Radar Intercept Officer)
Length: 62 ft 9 in (19.13 m)
Wingspan: 64 ft 1.5 in (19.545 m)
Swept wingspan: 38 ft 2.5 in (11.646 m) swept
Height: 16 ft (4.9 m)
Wing area: 565 sq ft (52.5 m2) wings only
1,008 sq ft (94 m2) effective area including fuselage
Empty weight: 43,735 lb (19,838 kg)
Gross weight: 61,000 lb (27,669 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 74,350 lb (33,725 kg)
Fuel capacity: 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
Powerplant: 2 × General Electric F110-GE-400 afterburning turbofans, 16,610 lbf (73.9 kN) thrust each dry, 28,200 lbf (125 kN) with afterburner
Maximum speed: Mach 2.34 (1,544 mph, 2,485 km/h) at altitude
Range: 1,600 nmi (1,800 mi, 3,000 km)
Combat range: 500 nmi (580 mi, 930 km)
Service ceiling: 53,000 ft (16,000 m) plus
g limits: +7.5[N 3]
Rate of climb: 45,000 ft/min (230 m/s) plus
Wing loading: 96 lb/sq ft (470 kg/m2)
48 lb/sq ft (230 kg/m2) effective
Thrust/weight: 0.92 at gross weight (1.07 with loaded weight & 50% internal fuel)