It was not just 1 vs. 1; it was to be many F-14s vs. many F-15s! It was a Wild West, no-holds-barred, shootout and a huge fur-ball fight!
The following story is by former F-14 Tomcat pilot John Chesire and appears on FliteTime.net.
In 1977 the F-14A was still in the very early stages of its existence. My squadron, VF-1 “Wolfpack” was on a temporary detachment from NAS Miramar to Naval Air Station, Fallon Nevada. We were doing “workups” with our entire air wing, prior to deploying on another WestPac cruise aboard USS Enterprise.
Like the F-14 Tomcat, the F-15 Eagle was an even newer Air Force fighter, having been introduced only the year prior. Both Navy and Air Force crews and squadrons were extremely eager to test their new generation fighters against each other for the very first time. However at that time and for a variety of reasons this was not to be allowed.
The aggressive Commanding Officer of our VF-1 squadron at the time was a former MiG-killer, Commander “Mugs” McKeown. During our workup exercises at the NAS Fallon and Nellis AFB ranges, we often had Air Force opposition simulating an adversary. Somehow without higher authority authorization or knowledge, Mugs coordinated privately with his Air Force counterpart in setting up the first dissimilar air-to-air engagement between an F-14 and F-15. Furthermore, it was not just 1 vs. 1; it was to be many F-14s vs. many F-15s! It was a Wild West, no-holds-barred, shootout and a huge fur-ball fight!
To be successful in the fighter pilot arena, a pilot must study and become knowledgeable as to his adversary’s aircraft strengths and weaknesses against their own aircraft’s capabilities. With little advance notice, every aircrew in our squadron “hit the books” to learn about the F-15 capabilities, its strengths and weaknesses, and also Air Force pilots’ tactics and tendencies.
What we learned on paper was that the F-15 was quite superior to our F-14As in a majority of areas. We knew we would have our work cut out for us and were not very optimistic about achieving much success. However as we were to later learn, we should not have been so impressed or worried. It is what is in the cockpit and happens in the air, and not what is on paper that determines real world results.
It has been almost 40 years, so all the details are somewhat blurry. However I remember taking a couple head-on shots on an F-15. The area was not at the time an electronic range so the results of my shots were unknown. What was known, at least to me was that very soon I had surprisingly gained some angles on an F-15. We had heard before that when they were in trouble, they would pitch up and go into the pure vertical. And he did just that, zoomed straight up. OK, so did I.
I chased this F-15 upward, but could not get a Sidewinder tone on him. He must have ‘topped-out’ around 55,000 feet. Flying the ACM ‘egg’ I decided to cut him off as he started to come back down. Pulling at 54,000 feet and going inverted I closed to gun range on him. Then BANG! Both of my damn TF-30 worthless fighter engines compressor-stalled, popped, and flamed out.
The top of the air start envelope for the F-14’s TF-30 engine was around 33,000 feet. So technically, I had to glide without power for nearly 20,000 feet before I entered the restart envelope and could try and begin engine restarts. Gliding down without engines to the restart envelope takes a lot of time I learned, especially if you are coming down at only 1,000 or 2,000 feet per minute. (Like 10 minutes maybe, unpowered?)
Meanwhile my RIO has put out a Mayday call, “Mayday, mayday, November Fox One One Zero is going down!” Of course the radio lit up with offers of assistance, from fellow Navy and Air Force pilots too. Thankfully none was needed. As we finally descended to our air start envelope, both engines fired up as advertised. I don’t know if any F-15 called a “FOX-2” on us while gliding down, or not. They could have. We had become a grape.
Despite my problems, our squadron had scored a resounding and unanticipated success against our aggressor F-15s. In a telephone debrief, they admitted as much, and allowed that they had some serious work to do.
Late that afternoon our squadron retired to the Fallon Officer’s Club to celebrate our amazing and surprising success against the formidable F-15s. Everyone recounted their individual engagements over several beers. What was not known was over in the corner was a correspondent taking notes on our success. We later learned his notes were the basis of the Flight International article.
Of course the article caused quite a stir. At the time Japan was considering purchasing the F-15 (which they eventually did). However as a result of this article of the F-14 besting the F-15, they suddenly had second thoughts. Meanwhile Mugs, our CO was in very hot water. The phone lines from higher command and from Washington to him were not pleasant. Nevertheless, all is well that ends well. Mugs was not relieved of his command, the Japanese bought the F-15, and I have a nice little story to tell many years later.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force