The Story behind this Photo of An F-14 Tomcat Shooting Itself Down while Firing an AIM-7 Sparrow Air-to-Air Missile

The Story behind this Photo of An F-14 Tomcat Shooting Itself Down while Firing an AIM-7 Sparrow Air-to-Air Missile

By Tom Cooper
Mar 1 2020
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One of the most complex parts of the F-14 Tomcat testing were firings of AIM-7 Sparrows from stations on the belly of the aircraft.

Here something for all those who wonder – or simply cannot imagine – why it ‘might be important’ to complete flight testing of a new combat aircraft before actually sending it (and its crew/s) into the harm’s way.

… And why that takes years to complete – so much so, related testing is sometimes never completed at all.

Back in early 1970s, Grumman run weapons-separation testing on its – then – brand new F-14A Tomcat. One of the most complex parts of that testing were firings of AIM-7 Sparrows from stations on the belly of the aircraft.

The Story behind this Photo of An F-14 Tomcat Shooting Itself Down while Firing an AIM-7 Sparrow Air-to-Air Missile
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-14A Tomcat VF-1 Wolfpack, NE103 / 162603 / Operation Desert Storm, 1991

Mind: the F-14 was the first fighter jet with something like ‘lifting body’ configuration. The huge flat area between its engine nacelles – which ended in what was colloquially known as the ‘pancake’ at the rear – was creating lots of lift. Back then, nobody knew how were weapons going to separate from weapons stations installed into that part of the aircraft.

Eventually, engineers came out with such solutions like complex mechanisms that – literally – ejected the AIM-7 into the slip-stream before this would activate its motor. The essence of the same was nothing new: similar solutions were applied on McDonnell-Douglas’ F-4 Phantom more than a decade earlier.

However, while sounding great, such systems not only added to the weight of the aircraft: in combination with the lift created by F-14’s underbelly, and Sparrow’s predilection to ‘jump up high’ upon launch, they also proved to be mechanically unpredictable.

F-14 Model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS

As the photo in this post shows, in 1973, this resulted in an F-14 shooting down itself. You can read the full story of the accident here.

What a complex issue this really was can be understood alone from the fact that, according to recollections of one of former test-pilots at Grumman during the Tomcat Sunset Symposium at Oceana, back in September 2006, related testing was never fully completed.

Check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories written by The Aviation Geek Club contributor Tom Cooper.

The Story behind this Photo of An F-14 Tomcat Shooting Itself Down while Firing an AIM-7 Sparrow Air-to-Air Missile

Photo credit: U.S. Navy


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Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper, from Austria, is a military-aviation journalist and historian. Following a career in a worldwide transportation business — in which, during his extensive travels in Europe and the Middle East, he established excellent contacts — he moved into writing. An earlier fascination with post-Second World War military aviation has narrowed to focus on smaller air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives of material. Concentrating primarily on air warfare that has previously received scant attention, he specializes in investigative research on little-known African and Arab air forces, as well as the Iranian Air Force. Cooper has published 21 books — including the unique Arab MiGs' series, which examines the deployment and service history of major Arab air forces in conflicts with Israel — as well as over 200 articles on related topics, providing a window into a number of previously unexamined yet fascinating conflicts and relevant developments.

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