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So Much Tomcat! The Very Last Fighter Fling, Starring The F-14 Tomcat And Its Crews


An era came to a close on July 28th 2006 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) when pilot Lieutenant Blake Coleman and radar intercept officer (RIO) Lieutenant Commander Dave Lauderbaugh were launched off catapult three at 1642. They were flying F-14D Tomcat BuNo 163417. The VF-31 Tomcatters aircraft Coleman and Lauderbaugh were flying that afternoon over the Atlantic Ocean was the last, the final, F-14 ever catapulted off an aircraft carrier.

F-14D Tomcat BuNo 163417, VF-31 side number 112, is launched from catapult 3 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).

Tomcats joined the fleet in 1973. Born from experience and lessons learned in the skies over Vietnam and tasked with defending the largest of American naval assets (and the biggest targets), Tomcats were capable of so much more than the previous Navy fleet defenders like the F-8 Crusader and the F-4 Phantom II. Both were great jets, but the Tomcat and its Phoenix missile system were built for cold war fleet defense by shooting down large numbers of attackers beyond the horizon. A high compliment can be paid to the Tomcat; it never had to do the job for which it and its missiles system were primarily designed. One of the most complicated and sophisticated aircraft ever deployed aboard aircraft carriers, the Tomcat was flown by the very best of the naval aviators coming out of Naval Air Training Command, which was fitting because the Tomcat demanded the very best of her crews.

Felix 112 rides the shuttle down the deck for the last time.

 

Later in its service life the Tomcat took up bombing as a way to pay some of the bills. Equipped with the Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) pod, the “Bombcat” became a very accurate bomber without letting itself go as a fighter. When the Tomcat was retired many Tomcat pilots were able to transition to its replacement, the McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets. Although the F/A-18F primarily took over the fleet defense role, both F/A-18 Super Hornet variants are considered dual-role, fighter and attack, aircraft.

VF-31 performing a “bat” turn for the crew of the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).

We plan to do a more in-depth article about the Tomcat the next time a significant Tomcat anniversary rolls around. Our video selection is related to the end of the Tomcat era. It’s a bittersweet look at the state of Naval Aviation at the time when F-14 squadrons were in the process of transitioning to Super Hornets. There are some veiled digs at Hornets and Hornet types and some that aren’t veiled even a little bit. Plenty of great flying footage and some great music made the final edit too. You’re definitely good for several LOL moments (even if you weren’t a fighter guy) and maybe even a sigh or a sniffle. It was a tough time for the VF community, but the producers, in this writer’s opinion anyway, nailed it. We hope you enjoy this, the not quite completely 100% PC (call it PC-ish) last Fighter Fling video ever produced: Fighter Fling 2004.

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.