‘We did a quick 180 and got really low (for night time) and really fast. Dropping to ~1,000 feet we took it to 800 knots IAS (1.2 Mach) which is book limit for the F-14 at sea level,’ Chuck Hunter, US Navy F-14 Tomcat pilot.
The iconic F-14 Tomcat saw much more combat than usually thought: indeed, much more than the other ‘teen fighters’ – including F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 – combined. Alone during the 1980s, it saw eight years of intensive combat operations during the Iran-Iraq War, where it scored its first kill ever (a gun kill against an Iraqi Mi-25 attack helicopter), and then in service with the US Navy off Iran (Iran hostage crisis), Lebanon and Syria (reconnaissance ‘only’) and Libya (two air combats and dozens of ‘close calls’).
‘When doing operations off of Libya one evening we got the opportunity to demonstrate “speed is life”. The Libyans had these huge surface to air missiles called the SA-5 Gammon. It had long range capability and they kept locking us up and then shot at my squadron one afternoon. A mission was schedule that evening to get them to shoot at us again and when they did our HARM shooters would take out their site.’
‘My 2 plane flight of F-14s was designed to be the bait. We started at a nice high altitude so we were very visible and then pointed straight at the site and accelerated and descended on a simulated attack profile (a really stupid one, but looking very obvious). Sure enough in the darkness at quite a distance we see the missiles launch in our direction. They fly up to a high altitude giving them the distance to get to us. As we saw them top out still heading our way we figured it was time to get out of there. We did a quick 180 and got really low (for night time) and really fast. Dropping to ~1,000 feet we took it to 800 knots IAS (1.2 Mach) which is book limit for the F-14 at sea level. If I needed more I would have used it. That put us well below their radar horizon and out of the dynamic range of the now high altitude SA-5. So much for being the bait.’
‘The Tomcat was very comfortable at those speeds, though things do go by quickly. At higher altitude we were limited to 1.88 Mach with external tanks and when we needed to get some place quickly doing 1.7–1.8 was fine, you just burn a lot of gas to get there. Doesn’t come close to somebody doing Mach 2.5–3, but if they are pointed at us it just means they will get to my missile faster.’
SA-5 picture with people for perspective: