Happy Monday, FighterSweep Fans! We wanted to start the week off correctly, and it’s hard to imagine a better way than celebrated the first flight of the ever-awesome, amazing, and mighty Grumman F-14 Tomcat!

We all know The Big Fighter as the twin-engine, twin-tailed, swing-winged, death-dealing megastar of the movie Top Gun. She was developed for the United States Navy’s Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) program, which followed along after the joint General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B project failed to make it past the development stage.

The F-14, originally known at Grumman as the Model 303, was the first of the teen-series fighters, all of which were designed based on lessons learned–good, bad, ugly, or otherwise–in Southeast Asia after years of  air combat against Soviet-built MiG fighters. Even though it was lighter than the F-111B by a fair margin, the Turkey would still be the largest and heaviest fighter to ever take off and land aboard an aircraft carrier.

A Tomcat pulls into the verticle on takeoff at the beginning of a tactical demonstration at NAS Oceana, Virginia. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)
An F-14D “Super Tomcat” pulls into the vertical on takeoff, signaling the beginning of a tactical demonstration at NAS Oceana, Virginia. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

The F-14 Tomcat first flew on 21 December 1970 from Grumman’s facility in Calverton, New York–near the east end of Long Island. The start was a rocky one; nine days after the first flight, the initial Tomcat experienced a catastrophic hydraulic failure in flight, and while attempting to return to Calverton, it crashed less than a mile from the end of the runway. Both the pilot and Radar Intercept Officer ejected safely.

The F-14 embarked on its maiden deployment in the fall of 1974 aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. The first two squadrons, the “Wolfpack” of VF-1 and the “Bounty Hunters” of VF-2, did not see any air-to-air combat over Vietnam, but were flying Combat Air Patrols during the evacuation and subsequent fall of Saigon.

The Tomcat had its first real engagement in 1981, when two F-14s from the “Black Aces” of VF-41 were engaged over the Gulf of Sidra by two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 “Fitters.” The Tomcats made short work of the Russian-built jets, sending both of them to the bottom of ocean. In early 1989, two F-14s from the “Swordsmen” of VF-32 were engaged by Libyan MiG-23 “Floggers” over international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. Both Tomcats defended themselves and the engagement resulted, again, with two Libyan Air Force fighters at the bottom of the Gulf of Sidra.

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The F-14 served as the U.S. Navy’s primary maritime air superiority and fleet defense fighter, as well as a tactical aerial reconnaissance platform for more than three decades. In the 1990s, with the advent of upgraded F-14A/Bs and brand-new F-14D “Super Tomcats,” the jet began performing precision ground-attack missions–which it proved to be quite adept at during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was due in large part to the Lockheed-Martin Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) system.

The Tomcat was retired from the U.S. Navy’s active fleet on 22 September 2006, and for anyone who has seen the Tomcat in action…we will always remember it. Tomcats forever!!