F-14 pilot recalls when he nearly fired an AIM-7 Sparrow against a Boeing 727 on intercept vector to the RC-135 his Tomcat was escorting

F-14 pilot recalls when he nearly fired an AIM-7 Sparrow against a Boeing 727 on intercept vector to the RC-135 his Tomcat was escorting

By Dario Leone
Nov 24 2023
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The F-14 Tomcat

Overall, the US Navy’s Grumman F-14 Tomcat was without equal among Cold War fighter jets. Six long-range AIM-54A Phoenix missiles could be guided against six separate threat aircraft at long range by the F-14’s AWG-9 weapons control system. For medium-range combat, Sparrow missiles were carried; Sidewinders and a 20mm were available for dogfighting.

As Chuck Hunter, former US Navy F-14 pilot, recalls on Quora, firing a missile for a Tomcat crew ‘is always a thrill. We spend most of our deployed flight time carrying them around, prepping them, practicing with them, and then usually landing back with them. Dropping dumb bombs is fun, but when you can light a rocket motor hanging on your wing and watch it fly off, then track a target to a kill it is a special day.

The AIM-9 Sidewinder

F-14 pilot recalls when he nearly fired an AIM-7 Sparrow against a Boeing 727 on intercept vector to the RC-135 his Tomcat was escorting

‘I was able to shoot an AIM-9L Sidewinder, AIM-7F Sparrow, and the big one an AIM-54C Phoenix. The AIM-9 is cool because it comes straight off the rail and you can see it from the moment it leaves and flies right out in front of you. It is also a short distance missile so you get to see if it hits the target.

The AIM-7 Sparrow

F-14 pilot recalls when he nearly fired an AIM-7 Sparrow against a Boeing 727 on intercept vector to the RC-135 his Tomcat was escorting

The AIM-7 and AIM-54 are ejected downward away from the aircraft, so there is a thump and you feel the release of the weight. The Sparrow is 500 pound and the Phoenix was 1,000 pounds. After they leave, they fly out in front of you toward the target but you see them coming up from under the nose. With the radar missiles, often you are still focused on making sure that they are tracking as they may be using information from the aircraft’s radar and you need to be sure you are continuing to send the information.’

F-14 Tomcat AIM-54 Phoenix shot

Hunter continues;

F-14 pilot recalls when he nearly fired an AIM-7 Sparrow against a Boeing 727 on intercept vector to the RC-135 his Tomcat was escorting

‘The Phoenix was an amazing shot, the 1,000-pound big white telephone pole’s rocket motor burns for 22 seconds so you have this beautiful white plume to follow. Our shot was in a heavy ECM environment against a PRN (Pseudo Random Noise) target so not as exciting as a turning and burning dogfight AIM-9 shot, but a very technical shot with lots of work and communication between the RIO and myself. We saw the missile guide but had to wait on the results as we were shooting at a QF-86 with a jamming pod on the wing. While launching the big white wingman was exciting, when we found out the missile hit the jamming pod on the wing of the QF-86 at 20+ miles there was a real high five.’

Short of pulling the trigger

‘I was never able to launch one in combat but was close a few times. The training was there and short of pulling the trigger it felt pretty much like the other shots. In one case the Master Arm was on, missile ready, and one-inch trigger squeeze before the Sparrow would be heading toward the target. We were already 3+ miles inside of cleared to launch range when we finally got a visual through broken clouds of a 727 airliner. I could have been famous, glad I wasn’t.’

VF-33 F-14A Print
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

AIM-7 Sparrow nearly fired against Boeing 727 airliner

Hunter concludes;

‘That was a big YIKES. In and out of puffies, they were on an intercept vector to the RC-135 we were protecting, 10 miles cleared to fire, Master Arm ON since we took the vector, missile selected and really wanted to pull the trigger, but waited…waited…9miles…8miles…no tally…7 miles….6miles…. oh crap 727…Master Arm OFF. We still intercepted, but low to high came up underneath and took pictures.’

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

VF-84 F-14
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS

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Dario Leone

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.

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