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.
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.
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.
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Photo credit: U.S. Navy