"It's time to buzz the tower:" Former F-14 RIO explains how legendary Top Gun tower fly-by scene was filmed

F-14 Pilot tells the story of when Air Traffic Controllers asked him to buzz the tower so that they could see for themselves a Navy Tomcat

By Dario Leone
Aug 21 2023
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The F-14 Tomcat

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. On the West Coast, VF-1 and VF-2 were the first operational squadrons to receive the new aircraft, while on the East Coast VF-14 and VF-32 became the first Atlantic fleet Tomcat squadrons.

The Tomcat became the symbol of an era through its engagements with Libyan aircraft in the 1980s and flashing across the silver screen in the blockbuster motion picture Top Gun, which featured the F-14 crewed by Maverick and Goose buzzing the tower in one of the most memorable scenes of the movie.

Air Traffic Controllers ask F-14 pilot to buzz the tower

Something similar happened during John Chesire’s career, a former F-14 Tomcat pilot.

F-14 Pilot tells the story of when Air Traffic Controllers asked him to buzz the tower so that they could see for themselves a Navy Tomcat
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

As he remembers on Quora, the event took place in the skies over Iowa.

‘I once flew across the plains of Iowa, low and slow on my way to an airshow in Cedar Rapids. Growing up as a kid on a farm in Iowa, I figured that some farm kid and their parents might enjoy seeing an F-14 for the first time, flying low over their farm. When near Waterloo, Iowa the Air Traffic Controllers could not believe that they had an F-14 under their control and so very low…500ft/152m. They asked me to turn around and circle them so that they could come outside their control room and see for themselves a Navy F-14 Tomcat.

‘While I did stay relatively slow, I was at 500ft AGL. I swept the wings back to 68 degrees from their full forward position and briefly lit the afterburners. I may have cycled both the wings and ABs a couple of times for them. The ATC guys apparently really liked it and thanked me profusely as I continued on to my destination.’

Photo credit: Paramount

F-14 model
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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  1. blazeww420 says:

    Was a lawyer lying when he said that you can be put to death for buzzing the tower?

    Buzzing the tower refers to the act of flying an aircraft at a low altitude near a control tower or any other structure. This action is highly dangerous and illegal in most jurisdictions due to the potential risks it poses to both the pilot and people on the ground. The consequences for buzzing the tower can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the incident.

    In many countries, including the United States, buzzing the tower is considered a violation of aviation regulations and can result in severe penalties. These penalties can range from fines and license suspensions to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense and any resulting damage or injuries.

    However, it is important to note that being put to death for buzzing the tower is an extreme statement and not a typical punishment for this offense. Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is reserved for crimes that are considered the most serious, such as murder or treason, and typically involves a lengthy legal process with multiple safeguards in place.

    While buzzing the tower may endanger lives and property, it does not typically meet the criteria for capital punishment. The lawyer might have used this statement as a hyperbole or an exaggeration to emphasize the seriousness of the offense.

  2. Shawn81001 says:

    As I recall Salt Lake tower requested the same of an SR-71 pilot.

  3. D8Mach says:

    Your friend may be confusing civil and commercial aviation rules with military flight rules. IIRC the only military rules that matter are all of them except for those the CO chooses to be fluid with .
    Also, consider the era . There weren’t many if any Karen’s back then

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