Fighters For The Missile Era
New Tomcat production ended on July 10, 1992, with 712 delivered: 636 as F-14As, one early F-14B prototype, 38 F-14Bs, and 37 F-14Ds. Although all Tomcats could lift four 2,000-pound Mk 84 or 16 500-pound Mk 82 bombs, emphasis on air-to-air tactics delayed the first combat drop of two Mk 84s to a September 5, 1995, sortie in Bosnia.
LANTIRN, a Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night system, was introduced to F-14s when VF-103 sailed aboard Enterprise in June 1996. This capability was added to 81 Tomcats in fiscal 1998-2000. A Digital Flight Control System (DFCS) introduced to the fleet in June 1998 enhanced flight safety and maneuverability.
At the century’s end, the Navy inventory included 52 F-14A, 72 F-14B, and 46 F-14D Tomcats. They were outnumbered by 785 F/A-18 Hornets as strike fighters took a larger Navy role.
Air Force concern about Soviet fighter progress was reflected in the request for design proposals sent to seven companies on August 11, 1967. Appearance of the variable-sweep MiG-23 and the very fast MiG-25 threatened the F-4 Phantom’s superiority, and indicated that the traditional Soviet point interceptor would be replaced by more versatile types.
The Air Force awarded Concept Formulation Study contracts in December 1967 to General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas*, and on September 30, 1968, began the Contract Definition phase with another Request For Proposals. This document specified one-man operation with 360-degree cockpit visibility and head-up displays, a Mach 2.5 maximum capability with a wing optimized for Mach .9 buffet-free performance and maneuverability at 30,000 feet, high thrust-to-weight ratio, long-range Pulse Doppler radar with look-down capability, low development risk components and systems, and a gross weight in the 40,000-pound class.
Contracts for this phase were awarded in December to Fairchild Hiller (Republic), North American, and McDonnell Douglas, and these companies worked to produce the winning concept until July 1969, when the Air Force began its evaluation of the rival designs, announcing McDonnell the winner on December 23, 1969, and a contract for the first seven developmental aircraft was signed by December 31. This account indicates the lengthy process involved before the St. Louis factory could build the first F-15A and ship it to Edwards AFB for the July 17, 1972, maiden flight by Irving Burrows.
Comparison with the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat is natural, the most apparent being that the F-l5A Eagle was a single-place 45-degree sweep fixed-wing fighter without the Phoenix missile system, and therefore a much lighter and less expensive aircraft. When the Navy asked in 1971 for an F-15N version for carrier landings, the weight estimate was increased 2,300 pounds, degrading design performance and increasing costs to an unacceptable point.