Former F-14 RIO tells the story of when he and his pilot outran a USAF F-15 aggressor during a TOPGUN mission with their “Bombcat” fully loaded

Former F-14 RIO tells the story of when he and his pilot outran a USAF F-15 aggressor during a TOPGUN mission with their “Bombcat” fully loaded

By Dario Leone
Dec 2 2022
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“We loaded an F-14B Tomcat with 4 x MK-83 in the tunnel, 2 x drop tanks, 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow and 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder. Our mission was to do self-escort into the target area after splitting off of our F-18 escorts.” Lt Cdr Phil Nelson, former F-14 Tomcat RIO.

Designed in 1968 to take the place of the controversial F-111B, then under development for the Navy’s carrier fighter inventory, the F-14 Tomcat used the P&W TF30 engines and AWG-9 system and carried the six Phoenix missiles that had been intended for the F-111B. A completely new fighter system was designed around these with emphasis on close-in fighting “claws” along with standoff missile fighting.

In addition to its outstanding fighter capabilities, the Tomcat served as a potent, adverse weather, medium-range strike aircraft.

The F-14 “Bombcat,” as it became known, was first capable of dropping unguided iron bombs and cluster bombs, then added the capability to carry laser- and even satellite-guided bombs.

The Tomcat inventory included F-14As, F-14Bs and F-14Ds.

“As a RIO (with 3200+ hrs in type), I had the privilege of flying all three versions of the aircraft during a tour with VX-4 from 1987-1989,” Lt Cdr Phil Nelson, former F-14 Tomcat RIO, recalls in the comments of the above YouTube video featuring former Northrop Grumman Vice President Mike Ciminera explaining why the F-14 Tomcat was the Ultimate Fighter.

“During that time, we reconstituted the Tomcats air-to-ground capabilities and proved beyond a shadow of doubt that it could be the ultimate Navy strike-fighter.

“In mid-1989, during a TOPGUN class at Fallon, VX-4 provided the striker role. We loaded an F-14B with 4 x MK-83 in the tunnel (we were using BRU-9 ejector racks vice the certified fleet standard BRU-32), 2 x drop tanks, 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow and 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder. Our mission was to do self-escort into the B-19 target area after splitting off of our F-18 escorts. Our initial run-in altitude was 28K’ and with that load we were doing 1.2 Mach without afterburners.

Remembering the last glory days of VF-84 Jolly Rogers

“We split S to the deck and was cruising in Mil power doing about 550 KTS when I got tally on an F-15 aggressor at our 3 O-clock /~4-5miles trying to lead turn us. I told my stick who promptly lit the burners and we literally walked away from that F-15 without him even coming close to getting a shot.”

Nelson continues;

“A little more historical data regarding the Tomcat 21 and other advanced F-14 concepts. When these proposals were being developed for presentation in the 5-sided wind tunnel, Sec Def Dick Chaney had just wiped out Naval Aviation (I was in the Pentagon from 1991-1993) by cancelling the A-12, A-6F, NATF and truncating the F-14D buy to 55 aircraft. Mac D [McDonnell Douglas] was all over the building getting face time with everyone touting their Hornet 2000 “upgrade” to the F-18C (became the F/A-18E/F).

VF-32 F-14Bs print
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Farewell to the Tomcat, VF-32 Swordsmen, 2005

“For whatever reason someone in SEC DEF office or PA&E had a burr up their butt about Grumman and would not take the Grumman presentations. Shortly after the 1st Gulf War concluded, in a social setting Adm Dunleavey OP-05 at the time, commented to RADM “Sweetpea” Allen and myself that they had ‘picked’ McDonnell Douglas to proceed with the Hornet 2000 ‘Upgrade’. And that was how the Navy ended up spending 5B$ to grow the Hornet to the same size as an F-14 but without the kinematic/range or load carrying capability of the Tomcat.”

Photo credit: LCDR Dave Parsons / U.S. Navy

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. Rehoboth says:

    Excellent post

  2. says:

    Clearly this F-14B had either been retrofitted with the GE power plants or been fitted with them during production at Grumman in Calverton . Mike Ciminera was a Grumman Aerospace Corporation Vice President and a fine gentleman.

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