F-14 Tomcat

F-14 plane captain recalls when his Tomcat RTB from ACM training with 95% of its starboard stab missing. The pilot never knew it was missing and just used a little trim for the ACM mission.

‘The pilot said he never knew it was missing and only used a little trim for the ACM,’ Ian Harrington, US Navy F-14 Tomcat plane captain.

Air combat maneuvering (ACM) is the art of maneuvering a combat aircraft in order to attain a position from which an attack can be made on another aircraft. It relies on offensive and defensive basic fighter maneuvering (BFM) in order to gain an advantage over an aerial opponent.

BFM consists of high speed, dangerous, and skillfully executed moves which can determine life or death in the air.

In fact ACM can be a very dangerous business as Ian Harrington, former US Navy F-14 Tomcat plane captain explained to The Aviation Geek Club;

‘I had my aircraft rtb, after some ACM training with TOPGUN [adversary aircraft] in San Diego, missing the stbd [starboard] horizontal stab. Pilot said he never knew it was missing and only used a little trim for the ACMs.’

A Canadian 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet aircraft and a US Navy Reserve Fighter Squadron 302 (VF-302) Grumman F-14A Tomcat aircraft in flight in 1990.

He adds more details;

‘I was a plane captain on an F-14A with VF-302 in circa 1987 and the aircraft taxied in from hot refuel. I brought it to park and shut it down. Then assisted with egress of crew and saw the stab MIA [MIA stands for missing in action, in this case it refers to the missing stab]. I walked over and verified and went back to talk to pilot. Asked how flight was and he eventually said he has to trim it a bit more than usual.

‘I said come check this out. We both walked to the vert stab and laughed but we both stopped and wondered out loud “just when and where did that come off?”

‘Inspecting from the ground there may have been a total of 2 square feet still attached to the pivot arm left, but more than 95% [of it] was gone.

‘I can’t remember perfect dates for my brain injuries after being blown up many times in Iraq. But that’s was one of those weird moments. I got lucky and have had several fun events, like an A-10 stbd engine dropping its oil just as I was doing a final checker insp [inspection] and felt it somewhat deflect off the back of my cranial helmet. That was hot and a lot!’

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-14A Tomcat VF-21 Freelancers, NF200 / 161616 / 1996

Harrington concludes;

‘I served in the Navy from 84-94 then in the Army from 96-2009 and I did 4 tours in Iraq.

‘On a funny note, kinda, I was under a Tomcat when the pilot dropped the TAILHOOK and I contacted and broke my cranial and knocked me out. I was pulled from underneath, walked to a car in the parking lot, a ‘67 Mustang, taken to infirmary unconscious and was in traction for many hours with many weeks on light duty.

‘I was given the nickname TAILHOOK KID for that.’

Photo credit: Joseph F. Towers / U.S. Navy

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

  • Many aircraft have had their horizontal stabilizer torn off from ACT missions, we lost a few on F15 Eagles when in Sardina Italy. It seemed that flying from cold weather in northern Europe to hot southern Italy, made the honeycomb structure weak, now all of them are composite made.
    Darell Adams
    Crew Chief 81-0065

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