Airborne Awesomosity

Cuba of the Skies

There exists a magical land in the mists off of south Florida, where American automobiles from times gone by continue to thrive along the streets. Since the US embargo was enacted in the early 1960, the Cubans have prided themselves on their ability to keep these machines operating.

In a land much farther from the American shores, there exists another place of wonder, where two aircraft that once captivated multiple generations of Americans still rule the skies. Picture a Vietnam-era air superiority fighter, the last US fighter to attain ace status in the 20th century, being flown alongside the ultimate in 1980s aircraft performance, as documented on the silver screen.

Much the same way the ’57 Chevy dominated the car lust of men and boys for years, giving rise to the hallowed myths of Cuba, the F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat were the ultimate objects of desire. If you wanted to imagine yourself dodging SAMs and tangling with MiGs, you would envision yourself in an F-4. And some years later, if you wanted to be dangerous, to feel the need for speed, you would be out there in your F-14, taking it ballistic!

ماقصدداریمبالستیک،ماوریک،دریافتآنها!*  During the late 60s on into the 70s, the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) became one of the largest and most sophisticated air forces in the world. They benefitted greatly from the positive relationship that the Shah of Iran had with the west, and were able to outfit themselves with top of the line US military equipment. By the time of the fall of the Shah in 1979, the IIAF was comprised of Northrop F-5s, McDonnell Douglas F-4s, Lockheed P-3s, and Grumman F-14s.

After the revolution, the air force became the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF), which thanks to a US arms embargo, stemming from the new government’s much less conciliatory relationship with the western world, found itself essentially cut off from a parts source for much of its aircraft inventory. When the revolution came, there were 223 operational Phantoms and 77 operational Tomcats in the air fleet.

The IRIAF soon found itself being tested in combat, with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war on September 22, 1980. Combat stresses added to severe maintenance problems, between the lack of parts and trained personnel. Another factor that affected the readiness of the IRIAF was the purging of almost all of the US trained pilots from the force.

F-4s saw much more use during the war, with the F-14s being primarily relegated to airborne early warning support due to their powerful radar. It is estimated that by the summer of 1984, Iran could only fly 15-20 of their Tomcats, primarily relying on cannibalization of the remaining aircraft. Although the ground war was much more of a dominant factor than the air battle, the F-4 was the star of the IRIAF during the conflict, due to a more extensive parts inventory and longer time in service that resulted in better maintenance capability.

Since the institution of the embargo, Iran has resorted to an extensive variety of means to maintain their aircraft fleet. Some parts may have been acquired through the Iran-Contra deal, others have may have been smuggled from Israel(!), and Iran has slowing increased its ability to produce parts domestically. They claim 100% can be produced, but the US places their ability at 70%. In recent years several smuggling operations have been uncovered, and the US went so far as to suspend sales of any surplus parts in 2007-2008.

Current speculation is that Iran has been working with Russia to upgrade weapons, avionics and other equipment on the Phantoms and Tomcats. While estimates on actual flyable aircraft vary, these 2 hot rods of the sky are still a presence in Iran, as can be seen in these January photos of the Russian Knights aerobatic team in Su-27s being escorted by Iranian F-14 Tomcats and F-4 Phantoms.



*”We’re going ballistic, Mav, go get ’em!”

Sources were for information and most of the photos, and for information, Cuban car from Dave_Davies Flikr, and for the Russian escort photos.

  • Deartháir

    Awesome. Completely awesome.

  • B72

    Nice writeup! Apparently the road to retro-awesomeness is paved with American animosity.

    • You have to love before you can hate, and then truly love.

      Or something.

  • fodder650

    I've known about the Iranian F14's for some years now but didn't know the extent of it. I thought hey had gotten maybe 14 before the Shah's fall not 77. Add in not knowing about the fleet of F4's and this article really caught my attention.

    Back when we retired the F-14 the US Navy went to some extreme measures to catalog every part they pulled off the retired aircraft. Numbering everything and really going to extra mile to make sure they didn't get to Iran. It looks like they succeeded in stopping any parts from moving overseas.

    With the F4 though they have a much tougher job. Produced in some very high numbers and sold to a lot of nations both as new and used. There will be a treasure trove of parts left over for decades to come. Add in the Russians using them as the basis of a refurb project and you are looking an actual threat. Sure our current planes can take a F4 out pretty easily but it's a very capable aircraft

    The reality may be a bit different though. The Iranians just showed off what they claimed was a brand new aircraft. The truth was it wasn't it was an upgraded and rebodied F-5 Freedom Fighter. So this would seem to show they don't have any real air power over there.

    • I remember they made a big deal out of shredding and/or torching all the F-14 parts. They REALLY don't want Iran flying these things. Seems like it would take out two birds with one stone by just putting a bunch of sabotaged parts out there on the market.

      • fodder650

        But the Iranians would realize this and fix them. Because the Iranians are that smart and can smell a western plot a thousand miles away

        • Well, I did find this at Wikipedia: "On 26 January 2012, an Iranian F-14 crashed three minutes after takeoff. Both pilots were killed." But any military aircraft will have some operational losses.

          • fodder650

            If they weren't relying on eastern technology they wouldn't have this issue. Mother Russia would be more then willing to sell them some newer toys

            You did realize I wasn't being serious right?

          • highmileage_v1

            An interesting tidbit is that Canada was offered these aircraft at a bargain basement price back in the late '70's. I guess the Shah and the US knew Iran was going to eventually completely destabilize, therefore, they tried to get a friendly power to buy the airframes and Phoenix missiles. But then the Canadian PM opened his mouth about putting the Canadian embassy in Jerusalem (a very touchy point at the time). The resulting uproar made any sale impossible. A shame because the F-14 would have been a good fit for Canadian defence.

          • Number_Six

            Dammit. They would have looked awesome in dark grey.

          • highmileage_v1

            Didn't need the carrier rated landing gear, but yeah, they would have been perfect for arctic defence.

  • Cavemanengineer

    We worry about Iranian F14's, but with the Russians in the picture, what about this?

    [youtube 4yySrcLlSmc youtube]

  • CruisinTime

    Interesting story,surprised at the lack of comments.No wonder Atomic Toasters closed up shop.

    • Vairship

      It was actually a massive Spam Storm that caused Atomic Toasters to delete almost all the old comments and close up shop. This was shortly after a similar thing happened at Hooniverse, so I think the principals involved just got tired of the never ending Spam Wars.

      • CruisinTime

        Thanks for the input.