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A Few Notable NAVAIR Aircraft and Weapons

Superlatives and success stories

 

After the Navy determined the F-111B wouldn’t meet its fleet defense fighter needs, NAVAIR issued a request for proposals for the Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX) program in 1968. VFX called for a tandem two-seat, twin-engined air-to-air fighter with a maximum speed of Mach 2.2. Grumman was awarded the VFX contract in 1969, and the Tomcat first flew on Dec. 21, 1970, just 22 months after Grumman was awarded the contract.

The original design airframe life for the F-14 was 6,000 hours, but was later extended to 7,200 hours. Until its 2006 retirement, it continued to be the Navy’s “Harley,” fast and furious.

It reached IOC in 1973 after a challenging test program at Grumman’s Calverton, Long Island facility that saw numerous compressor stalls of its TF30 engines and ejections. Further testing at Patuxent River and China Lake featured broad evaluation, dissimilar air combat maneuvering, and weapons tests. Upon its introduction, the F-14 was the largest and heaviest American fighter to fly from an aircraft carrier.

More than 700 F-14s would ultimately be produced, with approximately 79 delivered to Iran prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. NAVAIR oversaw development of the F-14 A-Plus (later F-14B) and F-14D Super Tomcat in the 1980s. Late in its career, the F-14 took on the strike role after NAVAIR adapted the Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) targeting system to allow the Tomcat to deliver laser-guided bombs. It was subsequently nicknamed the “Bombcat.”

x-32-pilots

The Boeing X-32 (left) and Lockheed Martin X-35 (right) with service test pilots. JSF Program Office photo

The original design airframe life for the F-14 was 6,000 hours, but was later extended to 7,200 hours. Until its 2006 retirement, it continued to be the Navy’s “Harley,” fast and furious.

 

X-35/X-32

“X-planes” have always been a high-profile part of NAVAIR activity. Some have been highly successful, others have yielded lessons from failure, and still others have led to aircraft whose value has yet to be determined. Each of these themes spun out of the Joint Strike Fighter competition for which NAVAIR provided a crucial stage.

f-14b

A “Jolly Rogers” F-14B of Fighter Squadron One Zero Three (VF-103) test fires a Phoenix air-to-air missile during Exercise Mediterranean Shark. The Phoenix missile gave the Navy Tomcat the greatest standoff capability of any fighter for decades. U.S. navy photo

The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program began in 1996, arising out of the early 1990s Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter and Joint Advanced Strike Technology projects. JSF called for the Navy, Marines, and Air Force to use a single, stealthy airframe capable of conventional, STOVL, and carrier-borne operations.

A JSF competition in 2001 pitted Boeing’s X-32 and Lockheed Martin’s X-35 demonstrator aircraft against each other in a fly-off at several facilities including NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

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Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...