F-14 Tomcat

US Navy F-14 test pilot recalls when his Tomcat was scorched after a Mach 2+ test sortie

The F-14 Tomcat

The F-14 Tomcat played a leading role in the 1986 movie “Top Gun.” The Navy needed an airplane to protect its surface fleets from hostile aircraft and anti-ship missiles at long range. After a naval version of the Air Force’s F-111 fighter bomber proved was unsuitable for aircraft carrier operations, its radar and long-range AIM-54 Phoenix air intercept missile systems were transferred to an entirely new design, the F-14 that could engage multiple hostiles over 90 miles away.

Needing an interceptor’s high speed while carrying this heavy ordnance, Grumman produced the highly effective variable sweep wing of the F-14, enabling it to operate at a wide range of airspeeds.

Mach 2+ test sortie

Doyle Borchers, former US Navy F-14 test pilot, recalls on Quora an exhilarating Mach 2+ test sortie flown in a Tomcat.

‘I was a Navy Test Pilot on the F-14A project so I got lots of supersonic time in the Tomcat. When I commanded an F-14 squadron on a test flight, I took a new Radar Intercept Officer supersonic for his first time. It was a neat thing to go Mach 2 also.

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‘The F-14 was limited to about 1.7 indicated Mach. The Mach meter got squirrely in that region. The airframe was limited to a much higher true Mach. I looked up the meteorology info for that morning and checked out the temperature at 45000 feet. (True Mach is a function of air temperature).

F-14 Tomcat scorched after a Mach 2+ test sortie

‘Anyway, I saw that if I got us to 1.72 indicated Mach that morning, we would exceed a true Mach 2 at that altitude. So, we launched and got to altitude and lit the burners and accelerated to 1.72 indicated Mach. Mission accomplished.’

Borchers concludes;

‘We landed and as I was taxiing into the line the plane captain seemed excited. I got out and post flighted the airplane. The whole rear end of the airplane was scorched. Got in to debrief and rechecked the air temp at 45K and metro had screwed up. At the temp that we actually flew at, we must have exceeded Mach 2 considerably since the epoxy paint on the airplane was designed to withstand temperatures up to 2.4M.’

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Photo credit: Dave “Bio” Baranek

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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