F-14 Tomcat

 
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat carrier-based interceptor fighter is a relatively elderly design by
contemporary world standards, but continual developments and improvements have maintained its
capabilities to the extent that it is still a potent threat and an effective deterrent to any hostile air force
unwise enough to threaten US Navy carrier battle groups. Its mix of air-to-air weapons is unmatched
by any other interceptor type, and its radar is the most capable long-range airborne interception radar
carried by any fighter today. With its mix of weapons, it can attack any target at any altitude from
ranges between only a few hundred feet to over 100 miles away. 

A total of 556 F-14As were procured for the US Navy, while 80 roughly similar machines were
purchased by the Iranian government before the downfall of the Shah. The improved F-14B and F-14D
have been built and deployed by the Navy in modest numbers. 

The Grumman Aircraft Corporation of Bethpage, Long Island had dominated the market for US Navy
carrier-based fighters ever since the early 1930s, creating one successful design after another. The FF,
F2F and F3F biplane fighters, the F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat monoplane fighters of the Second
World War, and the postwar F8F Bearcat and the jet-powered F9F Panther and Cougar fighters had
dominated the decks of Navy carriers for nearly three decades. However, by the mid-1950s the
Grumman company seemed to be running out of gas and was beginning to lose its edge over its
competitors. In 1953, the company's Design 97 proposal, a single-seat fighter powered by a single Pratt
& Whitney J57 turbojet, lost out to the Vought F8U Crusader. The Design 118 project, a two-seat
missile-armed interceptor powered by a pair of General Electric J79 turbojets, had initially been ordered
by the Navy as the F12F-1, but was cancelled in favor of the McDonnell XF4H-1 Phantom in 1955
before any aircraft could be built. Even the successful Design 98 (F11F Tiger) had its production
career cut short in favor of more Crusaders for the Fleet. 

In the early 1960s, In search of more business, Grumman had collaborated with General Dynamics in
the development of a carrier-based escort fighter version of the TFX, the F-111B. The F-111B had the
same swing-wing geometry as did the F-111A Air Force tactical fighter version, but was equipped with
a Hughes AN/AWG-9 long range search radar and was armed with a battery of six Hughes AIM-54
Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles. It was powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney TF30 turbofans.
However, as the 1960s wore on, the F-111B began to encounter some severe difficulties, especially
with an ever-increasing weight. In spite of herculean efforts on the part of Grumman, the weight
problems ultimately proved to be incurable, and the axe finally fell in May of 1968, when the US
Congress refused to fund F-111B production, officially terminating the program. 

Even before the final cancellation took place, Grumman management had seen the handwriting on the
wall with the trouble-ridden F-111B program. They concluded that they had better have some sort of
alternative project in mind should the F-111B project end up being cancelled, lest the successful
Grumman line of Navy fighters come to an end. Consequently, even before the F-111B project was
officially terminated, Grumman began work on a company-funded project known as Design 303. The
basic goals of Design 303 were to combine the particular aptitudes of the F-111B with capabilities that
would be superior to those of the McDonnell F-4 Phantom, particularly in the air superiority, escort
fighter, and deck-launched interception role. At an early stage, Grumman decided on a tandem rather
than a side-by-side seating arrangement for the two crew members. The armament was to consist of a
mix of Sparrow semi-active radar homing missiles, Sidewinder infrared homing missiles, and Phoenix
long-range missiles. A built-in 20-mm rotary cannon was to be included as standard equipment. 

On June 18, 1968, only a month after the F-111B project was cancelled, the Navy issued a request for
Contract Definition Phase proposals in search of an alternative. The RFP issued to the industry a
month later specifically mentioned a requirement for a fleet defense fighter with tandem two-seat crew
accommodations, a mix of short, medium, and long-range missiles, an internal cannon, two TF-30
turbofans, and track-while-scan long-range radar. The new fighter was to be capable of patrolling
100-200 miles from its carrier, remaining on station for up to two hours. A secondary close support role
was also envisaged for the aircraft, and the plane was to be capable of carrying up to 14,500 pounds of
bombs. Maximum speed was to be Mach 2.2 

Grumman, General Dynamics, Ling-Temco-Vought, McDonnell Douglas, and North American
Rockwell submitted bids. Four out of five of the submissions were for variable-geometry designs. In
December 1968, Grumman and McDonnell Douglas were selected as finalists. Grumman had the
inside track in this particular contest, and was announced as the winner on January 14, 1969. The
designation F-14 was assigned. Grumman was awarded a research, development, test, and evaluation
contract on February 3, 1969. During fiscal year 1971, contracts were signed for 12 prototypes and 26
production aircraft. 

The project which Grumman's design team, led by Mike Pelehach, had submitted was for a two-seat,
twin jet aircraft with the pilot and weapons system officer seated in tandem under a single elongated
canopy. The powerplant was to be a pair of afterburning Pratt & Whitney TF30 turbofans, which had
also powered the abortive F-111B.