The Grumman F-14A Tomcat was built for one purpose, to protect the US Navy carriers and battle groups at sea from long range bombers armed with low level sea skimming missiles. Only the Tomcat had the capability to intercept and destroy the bomber threat before they got within targeting range of the battle groups ships. The aircraft TF-30 high thrust turbofans and swing wing design allowed the large fighter to operate from short carrier decks with the assistance of a steam catapult. Its ability to rapidly takeoff from the carrier, impressively climb to altitude, easily maneuver into targeting position, and accelerate to Mach 2+ intercept speed, made it a very deadly fleet defender. The Tomcat used its own radar as well as the far reaching radar of the E-2 Hawkeye to detect the enemy, and had the ability to engage six targets at once 150 km away.
The F-14A aircrew were the elite of the elite as they were charged with protecting a $15 Billion, 10- warship battle group with 10,000 sailors and more firepower then some nation’s entire armed forces. The pilot and the naval flight officer in the back seat had to function as a well co-ordinated team to execute precision flying and perform their missions to very exacting standards. The F-14 made its first kills in August 1981 when Tomcat pilots, Cdr Hank Kleeman and Lt Larry Muszynski from the VF-41 Black Aces squadron shot down two marauding Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters. Another incident that was similar in nature happened in 1989 when two F-14’s downed a pair of Mig-23s in the same area. The Tomcat has proven itself to be very combat capable as both an interceptor and defender of the fleet.
The key to the aircraft great success was its very powerful Hughes AN/AWG-9 radar which allowed it to detect enemy targets from very long range and even made it possible for the Tomcat to shoot down cruise missiles. The AIM Phoenix missile used by the tomcat would navigate itself toward the target and then use its own radar to home in and destroy the enemy. The F-14 also carried the AIM Sidewinder and AIM Sparrow. The Tomcat could increase it range or endurance by carrying external tanks or using in flight refueling. F-14 Tomcats could defend the airspace 650km from the carrier with the assistance of an E-2C Hawkeye and air to air refuelling. The fighters swing wing design allowed it to be very manoeuvrable at both low and high speeds. The Tomcat was officially retired from active service with the U.S. Navy Fleet on September 2006, having been replaced by the Boeing F/A-18/F Super Hornet. As of 2009, the F-14 was only in service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force having been exported to Iran in 1976 when the US had amicable diplomatic relations with the then government. The F-14 Tomcat was the warplane of choice for most U.S. Navy pilots as it was a tremendous fighting machine and truly one of the greatest superfighters to every take to the skies.