By lex, on March 15th, 2006
Even now, all these years later, it’s hard for me to say goodbye to the F-14. Not because I’ll miss it all that much – I think I’ve made my feelings clear on that score – but because momma always told me that if I couldn’t say anything nice, then I oughtn’t to say anything at all.
Now, many’s the occasional reader who will submit to you that that rule has been honored in these pages more often in the breach than in the observance, and I’ll concede the point up front.
Still, there are many out there who, when they think of naval aviation – if they think of it at all – think of the movie Top Gun, what with its homoerotic shower scenes between Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and the patent absurdity of aircraft in flat spins, simultaneously heading out to sea. A depressing number of my fellow citizens express shock to discover that the Navy actually flies airplanes.
“Airplanes?” they might cry, “The Navy flies airplanes?”
“Only too true,” I would regretfully reply, deeply sorry to shatter such fundamental and deeply held illusions: “Only think of the word ‘aircraft carrier,’ and let your imaginative associations run free…”
There’s no question that Tomcat crews loved their mount; thick, cross-grained and ungainly a brute as she might otherwise appear. Whether or not that love was somehow tied up in their own narcissism is something I’m unqualified to judge. But I will admit, at least, of the possibility.
She carried a lot of gas, to be sure, and would go like a striped-assed baboon when you put her to the spur, which are both advantages in the world of naval aviation on the one hand, and air combat on the other. The old F-14A engines were an unmitigated mess, and I’ve lost count of the fights I had to knock off for compressor stalls – suspiciously, they always seemed to come just before I’d closed to gun range. But once they got the big motors installed, the reliability issue went away, and she didn’t bleed airspeed like a hemophiliac with the Ebola virus in a turning fight, as she was once wont to do. And I’m man enough to admit that an F-14B or D with a LANTIRN pod and a couple of laser guided bombs could make a Hornet pilot’s most intensive labors look like child’s play in comparison.
But her cockpit combined the ruthless efficiency of the Italian bureaucracy with the user friendliness of a Parisian waiter, while in terms of reliability you might well be safer putting your life in the hands of a Tijuana policeman. A hundred mile missile was all to the good, but it was useless without a radar and there were a sufficient number of times a Tomcat somehow managed the consecutive miracles of struggling off the flight deck and making the briefed rendezvous on time, only to check in on my wing reporting “IFF only” to leave the top of my O2 mask caked with the salt of my tears. From the outside looking in, a Tomcat crew’s life was one of busy workarounds, pulled circuit breakers and crossed-fingers.
Oh, yes: And bolters. Many, many bolters. At least a first. Landing the airplane at night would be a challenge sufficient to break many a good man down, and it only now occurs to me that the affection some of the F-14 guys had for their bird was not unlike the tragic and affectionate gratitude of a spouse who’s happy that the beatings have finally stopped.
Still, in spite of (or maybe because of) their many trials and tribulations, the F-14 crews formed an unusually solid bond between themselves, threw great “happy to be alive” parties and were generally fun to be around, taken in small doses. They’re welcome to the Hornet ranks, so long as they pitch their voices civil, and don’t go around taking on airs, says I.
For a different perspective on all this, check Pinch *. Who, along with his friends, is getting all weepy and everything.
“If you could look behind the sunglasses of these pilots out here watching this, you’d see a lot of wet eyes, ” Cmdr. Mark Black said. “I know that’s why I wore sunglasses today.”
As far as his contention that the Tomcat is the best looking aircraft on the ground or in the air, well he’s at least half right. Depending, of course, on your point of view **.
* 07-12-2018 Link Gone; replacement found ) – Ed.
** 07-12-2018 Original link gone; no replacement found (I believe it was a Tomcat in Lex’s gunsight 😉 ) – Ed.