For many years, the author of this book wished to publish a work on this mythical fighter plane, synonymous with the US Navy’s naval aviation for more than thirty years.
The F-14 Tomcat is more than just a naval plane. It goes beyond the merely formal, it has marked an era in the same way that previously did aircraft like the F-4 Phantom II, the different models of the mythical Mirage, the F-86 Sabre, the P-51 Mustang, the Spitfire, etc. The uniqueness of its mission and having a single user (in addition to Iran) were not an obstacle for this exceptional fighter to gain respect and a reputation that few fighter planes have had throughout the twentieth century.
Grumman F-14 Tomcat’s career has been long and always in the elite, on the frontline and with a success that very few fighter planes can boast. In service only in the US Navy, if we exclude units sold to Iran during Shah, the F-14 has always been part of the forces that have first reached the most important conflicts on the planet. To this is added the permanent surveillance mission in all the oceans carried out by the US Navy, always near the hottest points, in which the conflict is always about to explode, and there were the Tomcat, providing protection against air attacks on the fleet, with the invaluable help of the E-2 Hawkeye.
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Genesis of a thoroughbred
One of the constant concerns of the US Navy has been the defense of its capital ships, such as aircraft carriers and battle groups, considered very vulnerable since the advent of long-range Russian anti-ship missiles, installed aboard bombers of Long range of action.
After the Second World War, the Russians were demonstrating amazing advances in propulsion and guidance systems and had also begun testing with thermonuclear weapons.
Already since 1950, the US Navy began searching for an interceptor defined as “Fleet Defender” to destroy those threats to its ships at a safe distance.
The US Navy decided that what it needed was a aircraft capable of facing several targets simultaneously and at distances that exceeded the range of the air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles of the moment. The concept that seemed to offer better prospects was to put a large part of the interception features on the missile, rather than on the carrier aircraft.
The search eventually led to the creation of the F-14, but initially the US Navy was set at the beginning of 1960, in a proposal by Douglas, the XF6D-1, nicknamed Missileer, with full ownership.
In 1957, the US Navy issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a fighter dedicated to fleet defense (FADF) and its associated missile and fire control systems. In 1959 the Navy announced that Douglas Aircraft Company, not yet merged with McDonnell, was the winner, associated with Bendix / Grumman for the development of the air-to-air missile and with Hughes for the development of the advanced firing control system.
The XF6D-1 (with designation of the constructor D-766), was a subsonic aircraft similar to the previous model of the company F3D-1 Skyknight, but somewhat enlarged. It was designed optimized to protect ships using up to 8 bulky XAAM-M-10 Eagle two-stage air-to-air missiles (hence the name of the aircraft) and equipped with a radar with tracking capability while searching and facing several targets simultaneously.
This missile, designed by Bendix, measured 4.87 meters and weighed 581 kg. (1,284 pounds) each. Powered by a solid fuel engine, it had to fly to Mach 4 with a support engine to give it a range of 110 nautical miles.
The crew of the aircraft, with almost rectangular high wing, was composed of two men sitting side by side, and should be propelled by two Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-2 engines without post combustion, installed in the fuselage, which gave it a speed quite modest, limited to Mach 0.8.
A very interesting aspect of the design was its weapon system, capable of guiding multiple missiles against independent targets simultaneously, of which a high-power radar of the Hughes pulse-doppler type was part, with extensive anti-return and sweeping down capabilities. The radar was based on the AN / ASG-1 originally designed for another model of the canceled air force, the North American Aviation XF-108 Rapier. A modified version was used the AN / ASG-1B, it was installed in the Lockheed YF-12A that never went into production, but provided an excellent background of radar information.
Armed with three missiles under each wing, (some official schemes show two more under the fuselage), the Missileer would probably have been a good platform for the specific mission to intercept enemy bombers, but would have been unable to maneuver in combat properly, especially against the MiG, since it was a true “missile truck”.
Additionally, there were development problems with the missile and as a result, the Eagle never entered service. In December 1960, the XF6D-1 Missileer was canceled with all discretion.
The economic climate of the 60 saw a new awareness of the economy emerge among the members of Congress and the Department of Defense. According to this new policy, greater versatility began to be practiced in terms of capacity that began to affect decisions related to contracts. One of the first to fall under detailed scrutiny was precisely the Douglas Missileer program.
In December 1960 and after months of analysis, the contract with Douglas was canceled by the current Secretary of Defense, Thomas Gates, mainly on the grounds that the overall capabilities of the project were too limited. This was highlighted by the fact that the Missileer was considered unacceptable to escort attack aircraft (it was very slow) and was unable to defend itself, once it had launched its missiles, since it had no cannon and its maneuverability was limited However, the US Navy still needed a FADF.
The McNamara effect
The idea that the USAF and the US Navy use the same type of aerial platforms, weapons and systems is not new. In view of the astronomical costs demanded by the design of specific models for each service, the US Secretaries of Defense and Congressmen have long pursued that goal.
On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy took over the presidency of the United States. As a member of his government, he took charge of the Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, who brought a new word; commonality
This idea had been around the Department of Defense for a good number of years, but its application in practice had always been difficult. The idea applied to the acquisition of aircraft, involved the design of an aircraft capable of performing many tasks with the same ease for the air force as for the navy. At that time there were two major defense requirements for the impending future.
The first was the SOR-183 specification of the USAF, aimed at replacing the F-105 Thunderchief. Issued in June 1960, it requested a tactical attack fighter, which was later named Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX). The specifications were demanding, including a low-speed speed of 1.2 Mach, a speed at altitude and 2.5 Mach, a radius of action with internally transported weapons of 1,475 km. (800 nautical miles). Good landing characteristics were also requested in short fields and a ferry flight range, enough to cross the Atlantic without refueling. This last requirement was clearly applicable to a fighter, an FADF type aircraft, which could fill the gap left by the Missileer’s cancellation.
Meanwhile, the National Administration for Aeronautics and Space (NASA) had been conducting studies on the variation of the arrow angle of the aircraft, a configuration that would be coined with the term “variable geometry” and had reached quite interesting conclusions. These were materialized in a theoretical fighter model, based on tunnel experimentation, which was called LFAX-4. This incorporated characteristics clearly evident in the final F-14. The truth is that variable geometry was one of those suggestive aeronautical concepts that got into public opinion and became fashionable.
In mid-1959, NASA technicians offered a conference to a group of senior US Navy officers about the progress made in the knowledge of the phenomena associated with the variable arrow and its application to a hypothetical design of the same weight as the Missileer that He had proposed. A performance potential was demonstrated that could overcome any project under consideration at that time. NASA repeated the call with the staff of the USAF Tactical Air Command. In this case, the comparison was made with the requirements still partially formulated SOR-183. Impressed, both the USAF and the US Navy granted individual contracts to the industrial sector to conduct studies in this regard.
It was at this time when the innovative McNamara became Secretary of Defense, who thought that both of the requirements had much in common. The cargo capacity of the TFX could match the need for FADF missile loading, while the long TFX ferry could match the extended patrol capacity of the naval aircraft. Both needed high speed at altitude and had a similar requirement to use short tracks. Probably what McNamara did not perceive is that SOR-183 requested an attack aircraft.
Possibly, with his professional past at Ford Motors in mind and convinced that a single type of tactical aircraft could take on both missions, McNamara issued a formal recommendation on February 14, 1961, instructing the USAF and the US Navy to merge into a only document SOR-183 and FADF, under the nomenclature TFX. The claim was to save the taxpayer several hundred million dollars in development costs, with a minimum operational impact for both versions of the aircraft. The savings should come from the concept called “communality”, whereby both versions would share the same cell and engines, but would have different avionics to fulfill their respective missions. As with many innovative ideas, “commonality” was an outstanding theory, but impossible to materialize with the state of the art of technology and methodologies of the moment.
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