Editor’s Note: For every person I know who has flown The Big Fighter, every single of them to a man–or woman–misses flying the airplane. For those of us in the Top Gun generation of aviators, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat is an icon, but it’s so much more than that. It awakened something in us that begged to be let loose, and drove us to becoming pilots. Big, powerful, sexy, fast and just…mean. The kind of stuff legends are made of. It wasn’t the fastest jet, it wasn’t the most maneuverable, but it did have a unique personality and qualities that set it apart from the other fighters in the “Teen Series.”

One pilot relayed it to me like this:

“It’s was like having this awesome 70s muscle car–no frills, nothing fancy, and what you saw is what you got. The Tomcat was built only for the purpose intended. It was fleet interceptor and air superiority fighter, and it could dogfight really well in close if you knew how to max perform the airplane. But when they retired it, it was like going from that 70s Camaro Super Sport to a nice new….Honda Accord–with a GPS and cruise control. The new airplane…to us…was just that underwhelming. It was sad.”

The F-14 Tomcat may be the most pined for military aircraft of a generation. When talking to senior Navy officers we’ve heard more than once how some admiral is always going on about how much they miss flying the F-14.

Tomcat: The Fighter Everyone Wishes They Still Flew
The CAG jet from VF-31 tickles the Mach at NAS Oceana during an air show. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

They say the F-18 just doesn’t compare; the newer Hornet lacks the ’14’s power, maneuverability and apparently it’s simply a whole lot less fun to fly. One officer laughed and told us her admiral goes on about the “F-14 days, like a little girl.”

It’s nothing new;  those first couple thousand flight hours in a fighter likely fail to ever compare with anything else. Perhaps they can’t, because the generation before the Tomcat, who flew the F-8 say, the exact same thing about “their” jet.

Click here to see the article in its entirety, to include an awesome F-14 photo gallery.

Gone, but never forgotten, Baby!

(Featured photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)