‘Actually, you could trap aboard the boat with 6 Phoenix, but you wouldn’t have much fuel at max trap gross weight,’ explains Dave Andersen, former F-14 Tomcat RIO.
Designed in 1968 to take the place of the controversial F-111B, then under development for the US Navy’s carrier fighter inventory, the F-14A Tomcat used the P&W TF30 engines and AWG-9 weapons control system and carried the six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles that had been intended for the F-111B.
Thanks to the AWG-9, six Phoenix missiles could be guided against six separate threat aircraft at long range by the F-14.
On the Tomcat, four missiles can be carried under the fuselage tunnel attached to special aerodynamic pallets, plus two under glove stations. A full load of six Hughes AIM-54 Phoenix missiles and the unique launch rails weigh in at over 8,000 lb (3,600 kg), about twice the weight of Sparrows.
So, given the Phoenix (heavy) weight, was there any chance for an F-14 with a full load of six AIM-54s to land on the aircraft carrier?
‘Actually, you could trap aboard the boat with 6 Phoenix, but you wouldn’t have much fuel at max trap gross weight,’ explains Dave Andersen, former F-14 Tomcat RIO, on Quora.
‘For a typical F-14A at 42K lbs nominal empty weight, add 6 AIM-54s with rails, you’re looking at about 8700lbs. At 54K lbs max trap gross weight that would give you 3.3K lbs of fuel for your first pass (you might check into marshal with a lot more but you’d have to dump down to max trap prior to trapping). That’s cutting it close for normal blue water ops, but in wartime if needed it could be done.
‘For an F-14D at 44k lbs empty weight, you’d be looking at <2K lbs of gas at max trap. That’s cutting it too close.
‘Landing on a runway with 6 Buffaloes…not a problem, as max field landing gross weight was 60K lbs (FCLP was 54K to simulate carrier ops). Doable but was not commonly done other than for an occasional photo shoot or maybe OPEVAL. I never flew with 6 Phoenix loaded. Usually one or two. Typical VF cruise load out in the ‘87-’89 timeframe for CVW-1 was 2/3/2/FAMMO.
‘Also the ship just didn’t keep many AIM-54s aboard in its mags; we understood only 25 or so at any given time, and when you out-chopped from cruise they’d all get transferred over the the in-chopping CV/CVN.
‘The pylons/rails/canoes were all part of the carrier’s weps dept inventory and our squadron ordies just ordered up what they needed and there always seemed to be enough to go around for both Tomcat squadrons.’
‘Also realize that by ’88-’89 AIM-54A was phased out and replaced with AIM-54C, which didn’t require liquid coolanol. The “Charlie” was a huge improvement in capability and reliability over the Alpha in numerous ways (although it still weighed the same).’
Former F-14 Tomcat pilot Chuck Hunter recalls on Quora;
‘Even before the F-14D arrived many of our F-14A were up over 43K base weight dropping your usable fuel down below 2K. Generally we would have 600 rounds of 20MM, so add a few hundred pounds unless you download the ammo, and we would usually have a couple AIM-9s on the aircraft so would have to download those also.
‘So the 6 AIM-54s would have to be a very special launch taking out the 20MM and AIM-9s just to carry them and putting you trick or treat (trap on your first pass or go to the tanker) at the back of the boat.
‘Additionally the TARPS aircraft gave up an AIM-54 station for the ability to carry the TARPS Pod. I don’t mean it physically blocked the AIM-54, they actually change the plumbing and wiring of the aircraft at that station so no AIM-54s.’
‘If you really needed to put some AIM-54 capability out there, a more reasonable load from the boat would be 4 x AIM-54, 2 x AIM-7, 2 x AIM-9, 2 x Aux tanks, and 600 rounds of HEI. Still relatively low fuel on the ball, but very doable. We regularly flew 2 x 4 – 2 each of the AIM-54, AIM-7, AIM-9, Aux tanks.
‘With a TARPS jet loaded with the POD (1,800 pounds) and weapons we were often near trick or treat on the ball at night, by had a few quick passes during the day. At night we like to plan for about 1,000 pounds per pass, daytime you could do it in 300–400 pounds.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy