F-14 Tomcat's "Final" Flight

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It was perhaps an appropriate scenario to end a storied era in military aviation. The Navy, quite wisely as it turned out, had a spare airplane waiting in the wings for the ceremonial final flight of an F-14 Tomcat at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia last week. Sure enough, the first airplane failed to perform and it was a spare that took off to the cheers and applause of about 3,000 people attending the ceremony. In practical terms, most of the remaining F-14s have at least one more flight left as they get dispersed to air museums around the country but their days as Cold War air superiority fighters and, later, ground support aircraft are officially over. The F-14, a big fighter with variable sweep wings, was deployed in 1972 to defend aircraft carrier groups against Russian bombers carrying cruise missiles. When that threat collapsed, it was converted to a ground support aircraft covering troops in Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 1990s and, as late as last year, in Iraq. It's been replaced by the F/A-18 Super Hornet.