Monday, March 13, 2006

Tomcats return

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The famous F-14 Tomcats ended their final mission last Friday flying into Oceana Naval Air Station.
I have a good friend working on a construction project on the base, and he must have called and e-mailed me twenty times reminding me to watch the flight in that day. He sent me the photo above, and I decided the story of the F-14s was worth sharing. I was able to catch them flying in on my way to lunch, and it was pretty amazing.


From the Virginian-Pilot:

They ended their final mission with wings swept back, 22 abreast, at 300 mph in about as perfect a formation as anyone had seen the Tomcats make in their 36 years of flying.
Screaming above a crowd of 1,000 people who turned out to cheer and cry, the returning F-14s ended an era Friday.
"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."
Black is a former F-14 pilot, with 3,500 flight hours, and now skipper of the "Red Rippers" of Strike Fighter Squadron 11, an F/A-18 Super Hornet Squadron at Oceana Naval Air Station here.
He and scores of other Tomcat aviators and supporters, including 78 foreign photojournalists, were drawn to Friday's flyover, which signaled the return of Carrier Air Wing Eight from a six-month deployment aboard the carrier Theodore Roosevelt. It returns today to Norfolk Naval Station.
The spectators will never again see such a formation of F-14s.
It is likely, as well, that the 44 aviators in the Tomcats never saw the admiring crowd below them, Black said.
"You are working ," he said. "You are not looking outside seeing the crowd."
The 22 planes that returned are all that remain of 712 F-14s built by Northrop Grumman. Eleven each made up Fighter Squadrons 31 and 213.
Those in VF- 213 will be retired next month while squadron members transition to the F/A-18 Super Hornets.
The aircraft in VF-31 will fly through the summer, retiring in mid-
September when that squadron also will convert to Super Hornets.
The crowd included old warriors such as retired Cmdr. Bruce "Dog" Doyle, who flew one of the first F-14s in 1973 out of Miramar, Calif.
His was the ninth plane built.
"The first plane was delivered in the fall of 1972 and John Warner, who was then Navy secretary, flew in the back seat from Point Mugu to Miramar," Doyle said of the current U.S. senator.
"When he got out, I think he was green."
Doyle was one of the few to earn "green ink" in his F-14 log book over Vietnam aboard the carrier Enterprise in 1974. Green ink is used to signify combat.
"That was our first cruise, and we lost three planes in VF-1," he said.
The planes sustained mechanical failures. No one was killed.
The Tomcats took some anti-aircraft fire, but none was hit, he said. It was the waning days of the war, and they patrolled overhead as Saigon was being evacuated.
Retired F-14 pilot Roy "Flash" Gordon, commanding officer of Fighter Squadron 31 from 1991-92, has an extended view of the F-14 through the eyes of his son, Roy "Rip" Gordon, 25, an F-14 aviator who is a member of the same squadron.
"I spent six years in that squadron and have a soft spot in my heart for that plane," the elder Gordon said.
"I flew (F-4) Phantoms , too , and saw those go away," he added. "It's all for the better, but the Tomcat is still very, very valuable with all the upgrades. We could take it into combat tomorrow."
His son, who will transition to the Super Hornet, was able to get 500 flight hours, 100 arrested cable landings and 75 combat hours in the Tomcat.
Griff Williams was an 18-year-old aviation electrician when he first worked on an F-14 at Oceana in 1975. "The plane was brand new and we were the new kids on the block," he said. "Then the 'Top Gun ' movie came and everybody came out of the woodwork wanting to fly it. Boy, were they jealous of us."
Actor Tom Cruise starred in the 1986 movie that featured the aircraft. It was so successful that it noticeably raised Navy recruiting rates.
Williams spent nearly 30 years with the plane, retiring in 2004 as a maintenance master chief.
Now a civilian contractor working on the V-22 tilt rotor plane in California City, Calif., he came back for the fly-in.
"Today is bittersweet, but I feel like I am a part of that still. I am part of that," he said.
While the Tomcats' arrival overshadowed the return of Strike Fighter Squadrons 15 and 87, both F/A-18 units which arrived back at Oceana as well, even those families seemed willing to share the limelight.
Aging airframes, high maintenance costs and 30-year-old technology in the Tomcats caused the Navy to replace it with the family of Hornets, which use digital computers, cost less to maintain and can be used in a variety of roles, including fighters, attack mode, electronic jammers and tankers.

dena at 11:37 AM

6comments

6 Comments

at 4:00 PM Blogger TNChick said...

I love air shows!

I miss living in San Diego where I am near all that. But, we're no longer a Navy family and no longer in CA. I really don't even know if they have air shows 'round here. I imagine they may up naer Ft Campbell or somewhere.

 
at 10:57 PM Anonymous Ficklechick said...

Air shows are so impressive! I haven't seen one in years. You're lucky you get a free view!

 
at 2:24 AM Anonymous Mayberry said...

"Requesting permission for flyby."

"That's a negative ghostrider, the pattern is full. "

Damn I loved that movie.

 
at 6:15 AM Blogger The Mistress of the Dark said...

When I first saw the post title I thought this was going to be about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Thank god it wasn't!

Andrea

 
at 4:37 PM Anonymous deana said...

Those are some bad mother f*****S, no doubt about it!!!

I am not surprised Top Gun increased recruits....though I think Tom is nuts now, that was one hell of a movie!

Sad everything always has to change.

 
at 4:37 PM Blogger soapbox.SUPERSTAR said...

Mayberry - your killing me!!! But I won't lose "that loving feeling - wo-oh, that loving feeling!"

 

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