Quick Facts

Grumman F-14 Tomcat

"I feel the need for speed"

On loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum 

Located in the Flight Innovation Center, Main Exhibit Hall (Sentinels at Sea)

Powered by twin 21,000-lb-thrust engines, the F-14 Tomcat could fly over twice the speed of sound. From 1974-2006, the U.S. Navy put the high-performing, supersonic, variable swept-wing aircraft to work. The two-seater strike fighter intercepted, engaged, and destroyed incoming enemy aircraft at a range of 500 miles from its carrier task force. The Tomcat’s drop tanks may look like missiles, but the tanks contain and provide fuel. The protruding piece on the Tomcat’s nose is not a pitot tube, but a device which protects the fiberglass nose-cone from cracking when the aircraft cuts through heavy rain at supersonic speeds. This device is just one piece that rendered the aircraft able in all weather conditions, for which the aircraft was built. The U.S. Navy produced four F-14 variants. Together, they provided air superiority, tactical reconnaissance, interception, and fleet defense for over three decades.   

The Air Zoo’s F-14 Tomcat 

A veteran of Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991), our F-14 Tomcat is on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida. Grumman constructed the aircraft as an F-14A-95-GR at their Bethpage, New York headquarters. On May 17, 1977, the U.S Navy took BuNo 160395 on Strength/Charge. That same month, the F-14 received markings AC, 203 upon transfer to Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-32), Naval Air Station in Oceana, Virginia. From December 1, 1977 to July 20, 1978, the aircraft operated with markings AJ,114 as part of Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-41). In 1986, the F-14 became a part of Fighter Squadron 84 (VF-84) and four years later, it served on the USS America as part of Fighter Squadron 33 (VF-33) with markings AB, 204.  
From December 28, 1990 to April 18, 1991, the U.S. Navy deployed our F-14 to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Following Desert Storm, the aircraft returned to its home base at Oceana, Virginia with Fighter Squadron 102 (VF-102). Marked AG-203, the F-14 operated as part of Fighter Squadron 142 (VF-142). The combat veteran spent time at the National Naval Aviation Museum before its flight to the Air Zoo on May 18, 1995.  

Coming Home to Kalamazoo 
When it touched down on the Air Zoo’s campus, the Tomcat completed the museum’s then complete collection of Grumman “Cats.” On that gala day, the Air Zoo’s F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat, and T-28 escorted the fighter as it made its descent into Kalamazoo. The plane escort trio featured John Austin flying the F6F Hellcat, John Amundson piloting the F8F Bearcat, and Alan Wright flying the T-28. 

Accomplished Individuals Associated with the Air Zoo’s F-14 
Two of the names featured on the airplane today honor those who brought the Tomcat safely home to the Air Zoo. Eastern Long Island, New York’s Captain Dale “Snort” Snodgrass USN (1949-) not only piloted the Tomcat to Kalamazoo, but also flew this very fighter over Bagdad during Gulf War combat. Dale is renowned for his Tomcat flight prowess and super low banana pass off the USS America. Known as the leading F-14 expert, Dale garnered over 4,900 flight hours and more than 1,200 carrier landings while piloting a Tomcat. As Desert Storm came to an end, the U.S. Navy promoted Dale to Navy Captain and appointed him commander over all F-14 Tomcats.  

Springfield, Illinois’ Lieutenant John Ellis, USN (1940-), also honored by name on the Tomcat, accompanied Dale on the Tomcat’s flight to the Air Zoo. Enshrined by the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame in 1996 for his aviation contributions, John flew over seven different kinds of naval planes during his military career and over 100 planes throughout the course of his pilot career. John established West Michigan’s Kal-Aero, Inc., served as an officer and director of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Warbirds and Air Zoo board member, and thrilled Air Zoo guests with his flyovers. F-14 Crew Chief AMSAM Paul Zimmerman of Kalamazoo is also noted on the aircraft. The Air Zoo tasked Paul with painting the F-14.  

The Jolly Skull and Cross Bones  
The VF-84 Jolly Roger squadron flew F-14As from 1975-1995. Following the 1995 retirement of the Sluggers, over 100 Tomcats became Jolly Rogers. 

A Movie and a Mathematician  
Air Zoo guests gathered before the Tomcat can often be heard saying, “I feel the need; the need for speed!” because the aircraft remains popularly linked to the major motion picture, Top Gun (1986) starring Tom Cruise (1962- ). Charlie, the film’s famous female Top Gun instructor, drew inspiration former Maritime Air Superiority specialist, Christine Fox (1955-). Unlike Charlie, aka “Legs,” Christine did not teach at Top Gun, but she put her physics and mathematics knowledge to good work in the development of aircraft carrier defense tactics. Despite the connection to a character named Legs, Christine remained well-respected and taken seriously at the Pentagon.  

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