F-14 History and Performance

Lately, we have received a number of questions about the F-14 Tomcat. Since this popular plane is rapidly approaching the end of its career, we decided to dedicate one installment of our weekly answers to this historic aircraft.

F-14 Tomcat
F-14 Tomcat

The initial acquisiton cost of an F-14 is quoted by the US Navy at around $38 million. However, the primary disadvantage of the aircraft is not its purchase cost but maintenance expenses. As discussed previously, the life-cycle costs of operating and maintaining an aircraft far exceed the initial acquisition cost. These costs only grow as planes age and require increasingly more maintenance hours per flight hour. This trend has hit the F-14 harder than most of its contemporaries because of its complex airframe (including the variable-geometry wings) and harsh salt-air environment at sea. The F-14 is currently the most expensive aircraft to operate in the Navy inventory, requiring 40 to 60 maintenance manhours per flight hour. For comparison, the F-18 Hornet requires only 20 hours of maintenance and the latest F-18E/F Super Hornet requires just 10 to 15 hours. These high maintenance costs played a large role in the Navy's decision to move the retirement of the F-14 up from 2010 to 2006.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 13 April 2003

No trainer version of the F-14 was ever built. Although the F-14 is a two-seat fighter, it cannot be flown from the aft seat. Pilot training consists of many hours in trainer aircraft such as the T-34, T-2, and T-45 as well as in ground-based F-14 simulators. However, the first time a pilot flies the Tomcat, it is a standard, full-up aircraft just like what is used by the fleet. In the words of one F-14 pilot, "Before flight simulators, they just got into the air and figured it out."
- answer by Greg Alexander, 13 April 2003

We've been unable to locate any altitude records for the F-14, but most sources list the service ceiling of the aircraft at around 56,000 ft (17,085 m). The term absolute ceiling implies that a plane is using every ounce of power it can muster just to remain in steady, level flight and has absolutely no excess power to climb. However, the service ceiling is a more practical upper limit and defines the highest altitude at which an aircraft can operate and still have the ability to climb at 100 ft/min (30 m/min).
- answer by Jeff Scott, 13 April 2003

The AWG-9 radar fitted to the original F-14 models and the improved APG-71 that equips the F-14D are both quoted as having the ability to detect, track, and attack targets at ranges exceeding 100 nm (205 km). Though it was designed in the 1960s, the AWG-9 has been progressively updated with new software and remains a highly effective system. This radar gives the Tomcat the ability to track up to 24 targets and attack any six of them simultaneously in any weather condition. The AWG-9 is also able to detect small vehicles operating at low altitudes, such as cruise missiles.

The new APG-71 radar was built specifically for the F-14D, the final Tomcat model to enter production. Although the APG-71 has the same general capabilites as the AWG-9, the newer radar incorporates a number of upgrades to improve processing speed, signal processor capacity, and mission flexibility.
- answer by Greg Alexander, 13 April 2003

No, the F-14 entered service just too late to see action during the Vietnam War. Although the Tomcat first flew in December 1970, it did not begin entering service until October 1972 or reach initial operational capacity until 1973. Even so, the F-14 did not make its first combat cruise until September 1974 to May 1975, by which point the Vietnam War was over. Nevertheless, a few Tomcats did provide air cover during the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975.

But the Tomcat had to wait for its first combat until August 1981 when two Libyan Su-22 'Fitter-J' attack fighters were shot down by two F-14s from the carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) over the Gulf of Sidra.

Otherwise, the F-14's success in combat has generally been quite limited, not by lack of performance but by lack of opportunities. Aside from the Su-22 incident, its only other air combat experience is as follows:

Other missions were often flown to intercept and escort Soviet bombers during the Cold War. The F-14 also provided air cover during the 1983 peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, the 1986 raid on Libya, Operations Desert Strike and Desert Fox in Iraq, and over the Iraqi Northern and Southern No-Fly Zones from 1991 until 2003. TARPS reconnaissance missions were also flown over Grenada in 1983. In addition, the Tomcat has demonstrated its recently-added ground-attack capabilities in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Additional information of the F-14's combat experience during the Iran-Iraq War is available in a previous question. Much more detailed information about the F-14's combat history is also avaliable at M.A.T.S.
- answer by Joe Yoon, 13 April 2003

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