Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where Have All The Tomcats Gone? Part III

The Tomcat served with four US Navy Reserve squadrons, two located at NAS Miramar and two at NAS Dallas. The two Miramar squadrons were disestablished on December 31, 1994, and one of the Dallas squadrons on October 1, 1994 - all because of budget cuts. The final Reserve squadron lasted until 2006, when it too fell to the budget axe.

The Tomcat saw some limited service as an adversary platform with Top Gun at Miramar and NSAWC at Fallon. F-14s were assigned to test organizations for the entire length of its service life. Indeed, the very last Tomcat built served exclusively with a test squadron from its acceptance until its retirement - never once landing on a carrier deck!

During its service in the US Navy, Tomcats equipped 24 Fleet squadrons (12 Air Wings), 4 Reserve Squadrons (2 Air Wings), 2 training squadrons, and 10 test/development organizations.

VF-201 received its first F-14 in January of 1987. It received very old Tomcats, which had been rebuilt by Grumman to new standards. They also got 2 of the last 4 F-14As off the production line. After the closure of NAS Dallas in 1996, the squadron moved to the new NAS Ft. Worth (ex-Carswell AFB). The Hunters gave up their Tomcats and became VFA-201 in 1998, flying F-18A Hornets. The squadron was finally disestablished in 2006 as a result of budget cuts. 160396, seen here on the Ft. Worth flightline in 1998, was the last Hunters CAG F-14. This jet survived its service with -201 and was retired to AMARC as 1K0118.

The very last F-14A built, BuNo 162711, was delivered to reserve squadron VF-202 at NAS Dallas directly from the Grumman factory in 1987. In a strange twist, VF-201 and VF-202 ended up flying the very oldest Tomcats in the inventory (albeit they had been rebuilt to new standards) and the very last F-14As produced - a very odd combination. 162711 had a surprisingly short career for such a young airframe. It last served with VF-101, and was reportedly delivered to NAS Jacksonville FL in a wrecked condition in 1998 - where it was to be dumped into the sea as an artificial reef.

VF-301 was one of two F-14 squadrons assigned to Reserve Carrier Air Wing 30, the West Coast NAVAIR reserve Air Wing. They were based at Miramar, where BuNo 158990 is seen in this photo. The Devil's Disciples were disestablished on December 31, 1994, when budget cuts eliminated Air Wing 30. 158990 was one of the first Tomcats retired from fleet service, going to AMARC on August 26, 1991, with inventory number 1K0039.

VF-302's Stallions were based at Miramar along with its sister squadron VF-301. Operating some of the oldest Tomcats in the fleet, the Stallions provided reservists with Tomcat training and flight time. BuNo 159591 is seen here waiting for takeoff at Bergstrom AFB during the RAM 88 Recon competition. -302's jets participating in the meet carried the TARPS (Tactical Air Recon Pod System) for film and other visual sensor data capture. VF-302 shut down on December 31, 1994, along with the rest of Reserve Carrier Air Wing 30. 159591 finished its flying career with VF-101, and was written off in April of 2001.

The Naval Air Test Center (NATC) at NAS Pax River made use of multiple F-14s over the life of the Tomcat program, to test systems and upgrades. Initially they carried the tail code 7T, which was the station code for Pax River. Later, when NATC was redesignated Strike Directorate, the tail code changed to SD. BuNo 158620, a very early production jet, is seen here passing through Dallas in 1985. In less than 2 years, it would be rebuilt by Grumman to newbuild standards, and be delivered to VF-202 at this very base.

Top Gun, the Navy's Fighter Weapons School at Miramar, made use of a few Tomcats for adversary training. This great looking bird is BuNo 159855, see at Miramar in December of 1991. It is painted to simulate a Russian SU-27. When Top Gun was reformed as the NSAWC and moved to NAS Fallon, a few Tomcats continued to serve in the role. However, its time as a bad guy was short - high operating costs and high maintenance requirements ended up getting it replaced with early production F-18 Hornets rather quickly.

BuNo 164604 was the last F-14 built, being delivered to NAS Pt. Mugu from Grumman in 1992. Nicknamed 'Vandy One', this jet carried the overall black scheme for most of its career. It served with VX-4, and then VX-9, fleet test squadrons, at Pt. Mugu for its entire career. The jet is seen here attending an airshow in Oklahoma City in 1998. Upon retirement, this aircraft was delivered to NAS Oceana, to become a monument to the F-14. Unfortunately, someone decided to paint it in the same grey as fleet aircraft, instead of leaving it in this special paint scheme.

All Photos by yours truly.

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