Saturday, March 11, 2006

F-14 Tomcat retires from service

It’s hard to believe that it was 20 years ago that I and my college friends, accompanied by our dates (and I by the future Mrs. HoodaThunk) sat in a movie theater and watched Tom Cruise light up the sky in what has become the most recognizable of America’s fighter jets, the F-14 Tomcat. Fast, agile, powerful and sexy, the Tomcat was the plane in our arsenal. That movie, “Top Gun”, was one of the few action flicks that was also a great date movie. The cast, the sound track, everything about the movie was enjoyable and memorable and the F-14 was the chariot that carried not only Cruise and company into victorious battle, it carried us all into the sky like many of us will never see in person.

As with any movie star you grew up with, it’s always something of a shock to read about their passing. So it is today as I read that the US Navy has retired the last 2 active squadrons of F-14 Tomcats.

There will be no more dogfights for the Tomcat.

The last two squadrons of the sleek, Cold War fighter jet returned home from their final deployment Friday, two decades after the warplanes were glamorized in the 1986 Tom Cruise movie "Top Gun."

All 22 Tomcats of fighter squadrons VF-213 and VF-31 arrived in style, flying together in a wedge formation over Oceana Naval Air Station as hundreds of sailors and their family and friends cheered. Some wore T-shirts reading "Tomcats Forever" and a banner proclaimed, "Last Fly-In, Baby!"

"We're putting the premier fighter to sleep," said pilot Lt. Jon Jeck, 32, as he held his 3-year-old son Collin. "It's a staple of Americana."

The Navy plans to replace the F-14, a two-seat fighter with moveable swept-back wings, with the F/A-18 Super Hornets.

The Tomcat was, indeed, a premier fighter. Closely analgous to the F-15 in the Air Force inventory, the F-14 kept our fleets safe and provided a massive air patrol umbrella to operate within. Combined with the AIM-54 Phoenix missile (retired, itself, in 2004), the Tomcat could engage targets well over the horizon from the fleet. While they were in the air, no airborne threat ever approached our carriers with hostile intent and survived the attempt.

She’s been a good warrior and a valiant symbol of America’s readiness in combat for a good portion of my life, and I will miss her.

(Open link by Mudville Gazette. Thanks, Greyhawks!)