Cradle of Aviation Museum restores Felix 101
On Sep. 14, 2023 the curatorial staff and dedicated team of restoration volunteers at the Cradle of Aviation Museum presented the newly restored F-14D Tomcat BuNo 164603 ‘Felix 101’, now permanently displayed at F14 Tomcat Plaza, outside of the entrance to the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York.
According to Metropolitan Airport News, a large crowd of spectators, museum officials, and aviation enthusiasts gathered before the sleek, twin-engine, swept-wing fighter at its inauguration. Among those present at the ribbon-cutting of ‘’Felix 101”, and introduced by Museum president Andrew Parton, were Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and distinguished guest Captain Robert ‘Hoot’ Gibson, who honored the legacy of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and its vital role in aviation history.
As already reported, BuNo 164603 is the 711th of the 712 F-14s built by Grumman on Long Island in the 1980s and 1990s.
As told by Tony Holmes in his book F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Enduring Freedom, F-14D 164603 was first delivered on May 29, 1992 at NAS Miramar to VF-124 Gunfighters, the West Coast Tomcat Fleet RAG (the Replacement Air Group, the naval training squadron for a specific aircraft), and subsequently became one of the first D-model aircraft assigned to VF-2 in June of the following year.
Transferred to VF-213 in late 1997, the jet remained with the ‘Black Lions’ until passed on to VF-101 in early 2002. However, while with VF-213 this Tomcat led the first manned strike of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), when F-14s and F/A-18s from CVW-11 hit an SA-3 SAM battery, and its attendant target acquisition and guidance radars, near Kabul’s international airport on Oct. 7, 2001.
Last US Navy F-14 Tomcat to fly
BuNo 164603 returned to the fleet in the summer of 2003 when the aircraft was sent to VF-31 and soon became its ‘Felix 101’ jet. Completing a further two cruises with the unit, the Tomcat had the distinction of making the final flight by a Navy F-14 on Oct. 4, 2006 when it flew from NAS Oceana to Republic Airport, in Farmingdale, New York.
F-14D BuNo 164603 has been parked at 600 Grumman Rd. West since 2008 when Grumman’s successor, Northrop Grumman Corp., and the Grumman Retiree Club, a former employees group, created a monument.
In June 2022 the Tomcat was moved to the Cradle of Aviation Museum’s Hangar 5 after Northrop Grumman sponsored and financially supported the restoration of the F-14. A committed professional crew skillfully undertook Felix 101 preservation and restoration back to its glory. Overseeing the entire project from start to finish were Josh Stoff, the museum’s curator, and Peter Truesdell, restoration lead.
As we have already reported, the Cradle of Aviation Museum’s collection already includes the third F-14 ever built and the oldest surviving, flying from 1971-1990, and two F-14 cockpits, nose and flight suits.
Photo credit: Elaine Phillips, Nassau County Comptroller Facebook Page, US Navy and Metropolitan Airport News