“We sat at the end of the runway, our F-14’s GE-110 motors humming, awaiting our clearance to begin what would be the last F-14 Demonstration ever. The Air Boss’s voice crackled over the radio: “Tomcat Demo, you’re cleared to five miles and 15k feet. The air show box is yours.” At that very moment, I distinctly remember what my Commanding Officer told us before the show: “Fellas, make it memorable… just not too memorable!””
– Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Lieutenant Commander Joe “Smokin” Ruzicka shortly before flying the last F-14 Demonstration flight, 2006
Our latest cache of military hardware includes this F-14 Tomcat, which bolted off the deck for its final time in 2006. The second in Hobby Master’s growing fleet of F-14 Fleet Defense Fighters, this beauty bears the insignia of VF-31 “Tomcatters”, and is painted in a stunning low-vis camouflage scheme intended to make it blend in with its nautical surroundings (HA5202).
The F-14 Tomcat program was initiated when it became obvious that the weight and maneuverability issues plaguing the U.S. Navy variant of the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) (F-111B) would not be resolved to the Navy’s satisfaction. The Navy requirement was for a fleet air defense fighter (FADF) with the primary role of intercepting Soviet bombers before they could launch missiles against the carrier group. The Navy also wanted the aircraft to possess inherent air superiority characteristics. The Navy strenuously opposed the TFX, which incorporated the Air Force’s requirements for a low-level attack aircraft, fearing the compromises would cripple the aircraft, but were forced to participate in the program at direction of then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who wanted “joint” solutions to the service aircraft needs to reduce developmental costs. The prior example of the F-4 Phantom which was a Navy program later adopted by the USAF (under similar direction) was the order of the day. Vice Admiral Thomas Connolly, DCNO for Air Warfare took the developmental F-111A for a flight and discovered it was unable to go supersonic and had poor landing characteristics. He later testified to Congress about his concerns against the official Department of the Navy position and in May 1968, Congress killed funding for the F-111B allowing the Navy to pursue an answer tailored to their requirements.
The F-14 first flew on December 21st, 1970, just 22 months after Grumman was awarded the contract, and reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 1973. While the Marine Corps was interested in the F-14 and went so far as to send pilots to VF-124 to train as instructors, they were never fully sold on the aircraft and pulled out when the stores management system for ground attack munitions was left undeveloped, leaving the aircraft incapable of dropping air-to-ground munitions (these were later developed in the 1990s).