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 iiaf.net for information and most of the photos, aerospaceweb.org and tehrantimes.com for information, Cuban car from Dave_Davies Flikr, and defensetech.org for the Russian escort photos.