BYE-BYE BABY…! REMEMBERING THE F-14 TOMCAT LAST COMBAT TRAP

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The decision to incorporate the Super Hornet and decommission the F-14 was mainly due to high amount of maintenance required to keep the Tomcats operational

Eleven years ago a chapter in naval aviation history was closed aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) with the last recovery of an F-14 Tomcat from a combat mission.

Piloted by then-Capt. William G. Sizemore II, commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, Fighter Squadron (VF) 213 Black Lions’ aircraft 204 was trapped at 12:35 a.m. on Feb. 8, 2006 and marked one of the final stages of the Navy’s transition from the F-14 to F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet.

“It’s the end of an era and it just kind of worked out that I was the last trap,” tolt Sizemore after that historic flight to Journalist 2nd Class Stephen Murphy, USS Theodore Roosevelt Public Affairs for his article TR Traps Last Tomcat from Combat Mission. “This is one of the best airplanes ever built, and it’s sad to see it go away. It’s just a beautiful airplane. It’s powerful, it has presence, and it just looks like the ultimate fighter.”

Then-Lt. Bill Frank, a VF-31 Tomcatters pilot, also took part in the last mission, and is credited with being the last pilot to ever drop a bomb from an F-14 Tomcat.

“We were called on to drop, and that’s what we did,” said Frank. “It’s special and it’s something I can say I did.” He also claimed that what was more important has been the work of the Sailors who did their best during last Tomcat’s cruise to make every F-14 operational.

The decision to incorporate the Super Hornet and decommission the F-14 was mainly due to high amount of maintenance required to keep the Tomcat operational. On average, an F-14 required nearly 50 maintenance hours for every flight hour, while the Super Hornet requires five to 10 maintenance hours for every flight hour.

“I don’t think there is anything better than a Tomcat, but it’s probably a good time for it to go away,” said Senior Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate (AW) Gene Casterlin, VF-31 after Tomcat’s last combat mission. The U.S. Navy in fact was getting smaller and more efficient, and maintaining the Tomcat would have been a real challenge. Nevertheless as Casterlin stated “No matter what, the Tomcat is the sexiest airplane in the sky.”

VF-213 to VFA-213 Blacklions Transition, 2006 / F-14D Tomcat – F/A-18F Super Hornet – Profile Print by AircraftProfilePrints.com

The F-14 entered operational service with Navy fighter squadrons VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in September 1974. The Tomcat’s purpose was to serve as a fighter interceptor, and it eventually replaced the F-4 Phantom II Fighter, which was phased out in 1986.

According to the U.S. Navy during their final deployment with TR, VF-31 and 213 collectively completed 1,163 combat sorties totaling 6,876 flight hours, and dropped 9,500 pounds of ordnance during reconnaissance, surveillance, and close air support (CAS) missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

“As we near the end of the Tomcat’s last deployment, we are proud of our legacy and take solace in the fact that the Tomcat is going out at the top of its game, but also regret saying farewell to an old, revered and trusted friend,” said Cmdr. Richard LaBranche, then-VF-31 commanding officer, who made his 1,000th trap few days earlier, on Jan. 16, 2006.

In keeping with its history of being adaptable to new challenges, the Tomcat soared to a new level during its last deployment when it became the first Navy aircraft to make use of the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receivers (ROVER) system in Dec. of 2005. The system allowed for ground forces to view video via laptop computers which gave them the ability to view their surroundings from the aircrafts’ point of view in real-time, and provided better reconnaissance and target identification, which were essential to combat air support missions in Iraq.

Previously, ROVER had been used by the U.S. Air Force (USAF), and with a few modifications from personnel of Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Va., and members from Naval Air Depot Jacksonville, Fla., it became one of the last great modifications to the Tomcat.

“From its inception, the Tomcat has been the icon of Naval Aviation with its striking appearance, speed, formidable lethality and versatility,” said LaBranche. He also remarked that the aircraft was most capable in its last days “than at any other time during its existence because of the innovation, dedication, and tenacity of every maintainer and pilot who has ever been associated with it.”

Photo credit: Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Tony Foster and Photographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Nathan Laird / U.S. Navy

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com