F-14 Tomcat

170 F-14s could provide the same level of Defense as 290 F-15s but USAF bought the Eagle instead of the Tomcat. Here’s why.

The F-14

Advancements during the Cold War in Soviet long range patrol and bomber aircraft dictated a requirement for a fleet defense fighter that could engage high-altitude bombers from well beyond visual range. The iconic F-14 Tomcat was Grumman’s answer. Equipped with long range AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles, F-14s could engage multiple hostiles over 90 miles away. Needing an interceptor’s high speed while carrying this heavy ordnance, Grumman produced the highly effective variable sweep wing of the F-14, enabling it to operate at a wide range of airspeeds.

Following Grumman’s tradition of naming its aircraft after cats, the new “Tomcat” made its first flight in December 1970. After a number of changes following flight testing, the first F-14As were delivered to the Navy in June 1972, with Fighter Squadron (VF) 124 designated to provide crew training.

In the same year the F-14 was also offered to the US Air Force, as the photos in this post show.

Taken at the Grumman Calverton test facility in the summer of 1972, the interesting images in this post show the mock-up of the so called “ADCOM F-14” created by Grumman in response to an U.S. Air Force (USAF) proposal to replace the Convair F-106 Delta Dart as an Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM) interceptor in the 1970s. Note the simulated “Buzz Code” and Aerospace Defense Command livery and emblem on the tail.

The Tomcat that USAF never bought

To meet this need, Grumman developed an F-14B Tomcat Interceptor variant, with a single example in mock-up form produced in 1972. The modifications included changes to the missile launchers and increased internal fuel capacity, but little interest was shown and the project quickly died.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-14A Tomcat VF-33 Starfighters / Tarsiers , AB201 / 19428 / 1982

Actually the USAF tested the F-14 but the USAF opted to purchase more F-15 Eagles. As told by David F. Brown in his book Tomcat Alley: A Photographic Roll Call of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, when comparing the air defense capabilities of both, the purchase of the F-15 seemed foolish. The Phoenix missile system alone was far more capable than the Eagle’s AIM-7 Sparrow. Studies indicated 170 Tomcats could provide the same level of Defense as 290 F-15 Eagles. General Daniel `Chappie’ James, the former Commander of NORAD, personally evaluated the Tomcat. He recommended that it be purchased by the USAF.

Today it is the F-15 Eagle which guards the sky over the continental United States; the F-14 was defeated by interservice rivalry, by politics and…… by its high cost.

Tomcat Alley: A Photographic Roll Call of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat is published by Schiffer Military and is available to order here.

This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

    • From the article: "the F-14 was defeated by interservice rivalry, by politics and…… by its high cost." Are you sure your read the whole post?

  • Yes, I read the article. So your "Here's Why" is:
    *Interservice rivalry--never mentioned in the piece
    *Politics--never mentioned in the piece
    *High cost--never mentioned in the piece

    It's like you pulled those reasons out of thin air to wrap up the article. A better title would've been "Here's Why the AIr Force Buying F-15s Made No Sense" because that's all you talked about.

    I subscribed anyway, because I love this shit as a Navy brat. But I'm also a writer so I won't go any easier on you. :-)

    • Your title would be pretty good and I can take it in consideration for a future article on this topic! Thanks for following my site and please continue to not going easy on me :-) ;-) Suggestions and tips are always welcome from my readers!

  • No. The Eagle was better for the Air Force. The F14 was great for what it did....long range carrier defense. It did not survive the passage of time, hence it is long gone and the Eagle is still around, through a number

  • No. The Eagle was better for the Air Force. The F14 was great for what it did....long range carrier defense. It did not survive the passage of time, hence it is long gone and the Eagle is still around, through a number of variants. The Phoenix was only good against slow, lumbering non-maneuvering targets like bombers and tankers. Air Force picked the right jet.

  • Ridiculous. I flew the mighty Eagle, the F-15C. With the 43rd TFS I flew multiple 1v1's in DAC, and without the Phoenix the turkey was a grape. The navy fired the Phoenix , what, twice? I don't believe they hit anything. The entire reputation of that missile is based on the reports of the notoriously unreliable Iranians.
    Meanwhile the mighty eagle flies on, undefeated, with an official score of 104-0, a score which includes shooting down a satellite in orbit. A score which I know to be low.

  • There were many factors in the choice of the F-156 over the F-14 by the USAF. Flight test showed that the F-15 was more maneuverable and in most scenario, the F-15 could beat the F-14 in a one on one dogfight. The maintenance cost was much higher and there were the usual issues of the swept wing at the beginning of the F-14 program. One of the other issues was the defense department wanting to fund both aviation firms to keep up the competition in military procurement at a time when defense spending was starting to see post Vietnam cutbacks. But a nervousness to compete with the Soviets. Apollo showed the world that the US had a technology lead and with the 70's middle east wars, the Soviets hoped that they could show their aviation could still compete successfully with the US supplying aircraft to anti-us/Israel nations. The US believed that gap was widening until 1976, when Soviet Pilot Victor Belenko defected with the latest Soviet superior fighter, a Mig 25, which after study showed the US was actually ahead of the tech gap.And Israel being supplied with the F-15 had an incredible victory rate that proved the F-15 was a juggernaut in aerial warfare. Both the F-14 and f-15 were incredible aircraft for their times and if it was not for both budgets and back room politics, the F-14 would be still flying as the Super tomcat. Politicians have always had short vision and the current threat with China shows that the tomcat's replacement, the F-18, lacks intercept speed, distance and a smaller platform than the F-14. And as an interception aircraft, nothing met the speed and capability of the F-14 until the F-22 was introduced. One statistic stands clear, in dogfights, the F-15 ranks 104 victories to 0 losses, which is why the F-15 will be in the USAF inventory for quite some time yet.

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