Top Gun – F-14, like a Phoenix rising from swept wings

If an enemy sees a Tomcat this close then things were over an hour ago

Here we are with the star of the show.  An aircraft with a rather odd little history. Top Gun single handed made this aircraft a star and probably extended its self life.  So let’s dig in.



Grumman iron works home of the F-14?

Grumman F-111B prototype

Let’s go through the F-14’s history before we get to the part the jockey sized Tom Cruise played here. To start with you have to go back to an aircraft that mirrors our current F-35 perfectly. Kennedy’s Whizkids in the Department of Defense wanted one aircraft to serve all branches of the military. So they started the TF-X project. From this we got the F-111 platform. They learned two things very quickly. The US Airforce has very different needs than the US Navy. Second the US Navy doesn’t like heavy and long aircraft.

/insert usual military branch jokes here



You didn't think I would avoid dropping a Veritech on here. Roy Fokker for ever!

Of course I included a VF-84 Tomcat. Aka a Veritech. Aka a G1 Transformers Jetfire.


The US Air Force likes a good multi-function aircraft and don’t really care about weight. As long as performance and range match the requirements. To do this General Dynamics would make a rather large aircraft with swept back wings. The swept back wings were the it thing of the day and quite popular. The downside was that it added considerable weight and complexity to the aircraft. Of course who cares when it looks cool. So it went onto the F-111. Next General Dynamics hands the Navy version off to the Grumman Iron Works. Who looks at this beast and tries to figure out how to make it work on a carrier. Long story short they really couldn’t. They had this large air to air missile called an AIM54 Phoenix that it had to work with. Next it needed to fit onto current carriers and be able to take off and land. The US Navy decided that it just wasn’t going to work out.  Grumman went aww shucks and walked away.

Of course this isn’t what happened. After the US Navy backed out of Robert McNamara’s one fighter for all platform. They went back to Grumman and asked for the perfect interceptor. Oh and look at what Grumman happened to be sitting on. Funny how the distance  between the Aardvark and the Tomcat really isn’t that far.  Someday I will have to look into whether General Dynamics sued Grumman or not for IP. They even brought the Phoenix along and had the F-14 carry six.

The F-14 would go on to serve for better part of three decades  with distinction. Only coming out of service because the cost of keeping them on the carriers was cost prohibitive versus using the F/A-18 for the same role. No matter whether you had the need for speed or not.

That's a mean mustache

Mustache property of the Irianian Airforce.

So  an interesting side note on the Tomcat’s journey is how sixty of them ended up in Iran before the fall of the Shah in 1979. The ones that did had enough parts for ten years. The gentleman above scored eleven kills in his Tomcat. Making him the highest ace of any Tomcat pilot anywhere in the world. For this bravery the Iranians would put him in prison for a decade.  He would then reach Brigadier General and pass away at the ripe old age of 49 in April of 2001.
The Iranian Tomcats have seen a lot of service. The general view by most Americans is that they sit in a hangar don’t move but quite the opposite turns out to be true. Being in the air tends to dissuade the enemy.

Now let’s talk about the weirdness of what happened when we retired ours. Due to our relationship with Iran we had to take ours out of service in a rather specific way. Every part of our fleet was cataloged and inventoried before the frames were put out for museums and such. No bolt, screw, electronics or seat was available for the black market. We weren’t going to be a party to keeping these glorious war birds in the air.  I will say this though. I will bet that in another fifty years there will be a movement to bring some of the survivors back to the US as warbirds. While the Iranians save them as warbirds as well.  They have shown what a Tomcat is capable of and it makes me proud as a fan of Grumman.


It was the pilots first day

It actually mean to do this. This is not a failure.

The last page of the Tomcat story was where the US Navy wanted to keep them on board the carriers but couldn’t get the money to use them as interceptors. While the F-14 was being developed there was always a provision for it to carry bombs. Which was a horribly expensive way to drop dumb bombs. So the US Navy used this as a back door to keep F-14s around for a bit longer as “Bombcats”. In fact if you make your way to Udvar Hazy Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Dulles airport there is a Bombcat on display.


Heyyyyy that's a ruskie star

Damn it Mavericksi stop buzzing the tower!

It only seemed fitting to use this image as the last picture of the Top Gun stories. The F-14 goes from from fighter to fake Russian. Mostly because the aircraft would be copied by several Sukhoi designs during the Cold War. So it makes sense.

America has seen several glory moments in the twentieth century. The end of the Cold War allowed us to see it without a huge cost in lives. It was a political ending. This wasn’t the end of Vietnam, Korea, or WWII. This was a fall of the USSR. This was the culmination of everything we had done for fifty years. We were cocky youngsters and we got to look like it.

It was one of those movies you can watch with an older parent that both of you can put your fists in the air when Maverick gives the middle finger to the Russians. It’s just so cheesy that it could have been done in the fifties. Which is also when the special effects could have been done but let’s ignore that. There is just so much bravado right until Goose’s death and heck even after that there is redemption. Just like America there is loss but we fall down and then we get back swinging! Well that’s what the movie, with the help of the US Navy, wants you to think.  So grab some popcorn and your family and sit back to relive the eighties in all its glory.

  • Victor

    Am I the only person here reading these articles? This is good stuff.

    • Widirstky Matt

      I just saw it posted to Facebook, so there should be more views coming

      • Wayne Moyer

        Atomic Toasters has been quiet for so long. It will take it awhile until things to gear up. Right now I’m trying I’m trying to decide how I want to work the next theme. Whether I want to stick truly to the Cold War or not. Cold War gives me anything in service from 1948 to anything in development in 1991. So that’s a nice huge range to work with.
        So if you get bored here are my older articles. The ones I desperately need to go back and reedit 🙂

        • Victor

          I mentioned new content here on Hooniverse in a post by Greg about his F-150 drive.

    • Vairship

      People are slowly trickling in. It takes a bit longer for them to get here using AT-approved transportation https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7d0ef81ce0a24e5d9e92bfb4679e1306d69b9676908617d40034cc31b7a87d49.jpg

  • You don’t get to tell me it’s supposed to have one wing swept forward and the other swept back without an explanation. Also, whether the American designers of the jet pods that allowed for engine updates were forward thinking or merely lucky.

    • Wayne Moyer

      I honestly don’t know why it allows the asymmetrical wing arrangement.

      • Tiller188

        So it can wave “hi” while doing a flyby, clearly.

        Actually, when I first saw that I wondered if there was some kind of stress test being conducted (“can it still fly if one wing is jammed in the swept condition and the other in the extended condition?”), but I would have assumed that would be the type of thing that you’d have to dummy up/use multiple overrides to get to happen, short of some crazy failure mode.