Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Where Have All The Tomcats Gone? Part I

The F-14 Tomcat was retired from US Navy service back in 2006, after 34 years of defending the fleet. An elegant fighter that was nicknamed 'Turkey', the Tomcat was a loud, impressive aircraft that was designed as a fleet defense fighter, and morphed into a capable attack platform late in its career. Age and politics got to the F-14 in the end, with the F-18 Hornet taking its place on the Navy's carrier decks.

I had the pleasure of photographing several hundred of the 700+ F-14s that were built. For no particular reason, I'd like to share some of those photos here. I do miss that aircraft. I'll put these into three postings: Tomcats of the Pacific Fleet (PACFLT), Tomcats of the Atlantic Fleet (ATLFLT), and Rerserve/Adversary/Test Units.

First, F-14s of the Pacific Fleet. PACFLT Tomcats were based at NAS Miramar, outside of San Diego. Known as Fightertown, Miramar's ramp featured dozens of F-14s from their introduction to the fleet in 1972, through the base being turned over to the Marine Corps in October of 1997.

The Wolfpack of VF-1 was established in 1972 as one of the first two F-14 fleet squadrons. They sailed on the USS Enterprise, and actually were in SEA at the conclusion of the Vietnam War, though they did not fly combat missions. 162597 is seen carrying throwback CAG markings at Miramar in 1988, duplicating the markings all of its jets carried when the squadron first stood up. VF-1 was an early victim of Clinton's massive military drawdown after the First Gulf War, standing down on October 1, 1993. 162597 was struck from the inventory on Feb. 18, 1999 after finishing its service life with VF-14.

VF-2 was the Wolfpack's sister squadron during the early days of the Tomcat, participating on that first cruise. Also carrying throwback markings, 162596 on Miramar's ramp in 1988. Now known as VFA-2, ths unit currently flies the F-18F Super Hornet. This aircraft crashed on Sep. 22, 1988, less than 6 months after this photo was taken.

Many of VF-21's F-14As carried this attractive yellow and black scheme when they were delivered from the Grumman factory. The glossy grey paint was applied by Grumman to all F-14As when delivered as new, as stated by contract. Low-vis tactical grey paint was applied to all F-14B and D aircraft delivered. 161615, NK-205, seen here at Miramar in 1988, between cruises on the USS Constellation. The Freelancers were disestablished on January 31, 1996.

This VF-24 F-14B was caught transiting through NAS Dallas in 1989. BuNo 163224, normally based at Miramar, coded NG-203. The Fighting Renegades were disestablished on August 31, 1996, one of the last victims of the Clinton cuts. This aircraft survived to be retired to AMARC as 1K0148.

The Screaming Eagles of VF-51 carried this attractively painted CAG bird in 1991. NL-100 was BuNo 162602. VF-51 was disetablished along with its stablemate VF-111 on March 31, 1995. 162602 crashed while flying with VF-51 on July 11, 1994.

VF-111's Sundowners teamed with VF-51 on carrier cruises. The sharkmouth and sunburst on the tail were some of the most striking markings carried by any Tomcat. The CAG bird, 162594, heads a line of normal grey squadron aircraft on the Miramar ramp in 1991. VF-111 stood down on March 31, 1995. Recently, VFC-111 was established at NAS Key West, flying F-5s in an aggressor role. This aircraft crashed while flying with VF-101 out of Oceana on Oct. 3, 2002.

The Aardvarks of VF-114 flew off the Enterprise for most of their time in the Tomcat. 161615, NH-107, seen in the afternoon sun at Miramar in 1991. The 'Varks were one of the first squadrons lost during the Clinton cutbacks, being disestablished at Miramar on April 30, 1993. 161615 is preserved at the Combat Air Museum, Forbes Field, KS.

VF-124 was the West Coast F-14 training squadron, tasked with readying pilots and RIOs to operate the F-14 for Pacific Fleet Squadrons. Based at Miramar, the squadron was not assigned to an Air Wing. Gunfighter 400, BuNo 161620, seen here at Miramar in 1991, carried special markings as the CAG bird. The unit's other aircraft weren't nearly as colorful! VF-124 was disestablished on September 30, 1994 - at that point all F-14 training was transferred to VF-101 at Oceana. 161620 survived its service, and is preserved at the air museum at Selfridge ANGB near Detroit.

VF-154's Black Knight 102, BuNo 161614, seen at its home base of Miramar in 1988. -154 later forward deployed to NAF Atsugi (Japan), becoming the only Tomcat squadron based on foreign soil. VFA-154 survived the drawdowns and now flies the F-18F.

VF-191 was one of the shortest lived F-14 squadrons, being established in 1987 to join the new Air Group CVW-10. CVW-10 was scrapped before it ever deployed to a carrier, due to budget cuts. 161279, NM-102, see here on a approach to NAS Dallas in February of 1988. The squadron stood down on April 30, 1988. This aircraft was last used by VF-101 at Oceana, and struck from the inventory on Dec. 12, 2003.

VF-194 was -191's stablemate in CVW-10. Satan's Kittens' CAG bird is seen on the MIramar ramp in March of 1988, shortly before the squadron stood down on April 30, 1988. This aircraft, BuNo 161626, survived its service and retired to AMARC as 1K0160.

F-14B 163229, VF-211's NG-100. Normally based at Miramar, seen here on the NAS Dallas TLine in 1989. When Miramar moved to Marine hands, VF-211 moved to NAS Oceana along with the rest of the Pacific F-14s. Upon retirement of its F-14s, -211 stood down for a time, then was reborn with F-18Fs. The unit currently flies off the USS Enterprise. 163229 was retired to AMARC with the inventory number 1K0172.

VF-213's 160920, NH-213, seen transiting through NAS Dallas in 1985. VF-213 moved to NAS Oceana when Miramar reverted to Marine hands. The Black Lions were one of the last squadrons to fly the F-14, giving up their F-14Ds for F-18Fs. This specific aircraft was retired by 1999, and transferred to a 'museum' at Chino CA, where it became embroiled in a controversy regarding Tomcat parts being delivered to Iran.

All Photos by yours truly.

No comments: