Losses and Aviation Safety

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

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.

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.

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.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and historian. Following a career in the worldwide transportation business – during which he established a network of contacts in the Middle East and Africa – he moved into narrow-focus analysis and writing on small, little-known air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives. This has resulted in specialisation in Middle Eastern, African and Asian air forces. As well as authoring and co-authoring 560 books and over 1,000 articles, he has co-authored the Arab MiGs book series – a six-volume, in-depth analysis of the Arab air forces at war with Israel, in the 1955–73 period. Cooper has been working as editor of the five @War series since 2017. tom@acig.info

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