The United States Navy received the first Grummer F-14 Tomcat off the production line in 1972 and by October of that year, two squadrons began official flight operations. The aircraft was named for Admiral Tom Conolly, who was the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air at that time and the person responsible for bringing the project to fruition. Most civilians recognize this plane as the one piloted by Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun.
The variable geometry wings allows them to be set in a full forward sweep position or a swept-back position as needed for greater stability and speed under various flying conditions. In the forward position, the wings provide superior lift during slow speed flight. This is especially important when landing on an aircraft carrier. With the wings swept back, the aircraft is ready for super-sonic flight.
The purpose for the aircraft was to carry the AIM-54 Phoenix, a million dollar long-range missile designed to take out Soviet bombers. The Navy used the fighter to establish air superiority and as a naval interceptor. Much of the design, including the variable geometry wings represented an improvement on the air combat performance of the old F-4 Phantom.
Twin Pratt & Whitney TF30 engines provided the power for the original design but the military needed something more robust to accommodate the extra weight needed for deployment deployment. The TF30 was prone to failure and had a tendency to break fan blades. This sent shrapnel flying through the engine and rejected in severe damage. The F110-GE-400 featured more stress and replaced the TF30 in 1984. It offered the added bonus of using less fuel.
The cockpit seats two pilots, one in front of the other. The bubble canopy is equipped with four mirrors for 360-degree visibility. Navigational data is visible via head-up display technology. The onboard flight control system consists of Garrett AiResearch's Central Air Data Computer. The aircraft is able to track two dozen targets simultaneously.
The Navy began replacing the F-4 Phantom II with the F-14 in late 1974 with two squadrons assigned to the USS Enterprise. Their first mission involved support during the United State's withdrawal from Saigon. The first kills came during the summer of 1981 when a pair of Tomcats shot down a pair of Libyan Su-22 Fitters over the Gulf of Sidra. Many military aviation experts regard the Grummer F-14 Tomcat as the United States Navy's most important aircraft during the 1970s.