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STATUS of NEXT WORKING SESSION: The next planned worksession is TBD.
The F-14 Tomcat was the Navy’s premiere fighter aircraft from the late 1970’s until its retirement in 2006. The aircraft featured a two man crew, a pilot and a Radar Intercept Officer who acted as a co-pilot as well as taking responsibility for operating the weapons and navigations systems and handling most communications as well. During the early 1980’s, I was fortunate enough to be a Radar Intercept Officer assigned to the aircraft, and at that time our mission was strictly air-to-air (which was fine by me).
Soon after I got my wings in August 1979, my introduction to the F-14 took place at VF-124, the West Coast Replacement Air Group squadron, located at NAS Miramar. In August 1980 when I completed my training, I was assigned to VF-51, the Screaming Eagles, also based at NAS Miramar when at home. They were assigned to Carrier Air Wing 15, which was attached to the USS Kitty Hawk in 1981 and then the USS Carl Vinson in 1983.
Each F-14 has attached to it what is essentially a serial number. In U.S Navy parlance, that is the bureau number. No matter what other designations are attached to an aircraft, the bureau number of the airplane doesn’t change, which is how you can establish traceability back to a particular airframe. For each flight an aviator makes, the bureau number is the animal that tells them what airplane they flew in when. That number is part of the log record for each flight, as well as the date of the flight, amount of flight time, the type of mission (in a general sense), IFR and night fight time, the takeoff and landing locations, and the numbers and type of landings.
The F-14 being displayed at Huntsville Alabama’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center is bureau number 160661. It is an F-14A my logs show I flew in it twice near the end of my stint in VF-124 and twenty-six more times in VF-51 after the airplane followed me over there in 1982. The aircraft deployed with us on the maiden, around-the-world cruise of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson in 1983. (See the picture above.) I also believe it participated as a “test target” during NASA test programs to improve the aircraft’s aileron-rudder interconnect system in August 1982. I flew as a backseater for two flights during that program. The first was with Lt. John Cayle and we launched from and landed at NAS Miramar on August 4, 1982 and was in this aircraft. The second was with Lt. Stan O’Connor and, while we launched from NAS Miramar, we landed at Edwards Air Force Base, attended the test flight briefing, took some personal photos by the NASA airplane, flew the mission, and had our picture taken in formation with the NASA/Navy test aircraft by a NASA photographer. (The picture is also available online in the NASA archives.)
My son, Chris, was the first family member to visit this aircraft and verify the bureau number was what we thought it was. The aircraft was painted in a VF-103 paint scheme; and though I didn’t know the airplane’s complete history; I suspected it had not been in that squadron. I wanted to see if it might be possible to somehow put the airplane in its original colors, so I contacted the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and inquired why the airplane was painted the way it was. The staff at the center put me in touch with the Director of Exhibits, Ed Stewart, and he and I began chatting about the airplane. I went back through my logs and records to find out what I could about my own personal history with the airplane, and as I shared that with him we began taking about the possibility of repainting the aircraft in a VF-51 scheme. My timing was perfect; the museum was looking to refurbish the airplane and often used volunteers to do so, especially if they were connected with the original maintenance of the aircraft.
For several years, I had been participating in two Facebook groups associated with VF-51; and in one of them, I posted a call for volunteers to refurbish the airplane in a VF-51 way. Several people volunteered their time and talents; and we are now marching forward in an effort to preserve the airplane’s true heritage as well as that if VF-51, which was disestablished in 1995. At the time of its disestablishment, VF-51 was the oldest squadron in the Pacific Fleet. It deserves to be remembered.
While we have a blog that I will use to document our progress, not every bit of technical information the team needs can be easily hosted from it. The tool I am using to host photos from the blog requires the display device run Adobe Flash, and that immediately puts iPads and iPhones out of the loop. So this website is intended to be the depository for documenting both the technical information the team may need to complete the project and allow folks using something other than Apple devices to share in what we are doing. (NOTE: The blog got wiped out accidenly; I will restore it at some point as I get time. Contact me for any information.)