Squadron Homecoming Marks End of Era for Tomcats
Squadron Homecoming Marks End of Era for Tomcats
By Journalist 1st Class Stefanie
Holzeisen-Mullen, Fleet Public Affairs Center Atlantic
Virginia Beach, Virginia -- (NNS)
March 10, 2006 -- The “Tomcatters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VF) 31 and the
“Black Lions” of VF-213 arrived at Naval Air Station Oceana March 10, ending
their six-month deployment with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 embarked on the
aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), and closing the book on the
Tomcat as an asset in the Navy’s war fighting arsenal.
F-14D Tomcats from
Fighter Squadron Two One Three (VF-213) and VF-31 conduct a flyover of Naval Air
Station Oceana airfield. VF-213 and VF-31 are completing their final deployment
flying the F-14 Tomcat. For the past 30 years, the F-14 Tomcat has assured U.S.
air superiority, playing a key role in ensuring victory and preserving peace
around the world. The F-14 Tomcat will be removed from service and officially
stricken from the inventory in September of 2006.
U.S. Navy photo by
Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Christopher J. Garcia
VF-31 and 213’s “fly-off” marked the last operational
flight of the F-14D Tomcat and the begining of the squadrons’ transition to
the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. VF-213 pilots will begin F/A-18F training in
April and VF-31 pilots, who are transitioning to the F/A-18E, will remain
operational until September when they will fly the last Tomcat in the Navy’s
inventory from Oceana.
“Everyone has worked very hard, pulled together, and with
purpose, to ensure we retire this naval aviation icon appropriately and
commensurate with its long and proud legacy,” said Cmdr. Richard LaBranche,
VF-31 commanding officer.
The Navy decided to decommission the Tomcat and move to the Super Hornet to
lighten the workload on its people after recognizing the excessive amount of
maintenance needed to keep them operational.
“It takes about three to four times more maintenance man-hours per flight hour
to maintain than the newer Hornet,” said LaBranche. “Retiring the extremely
relevant but maintenance intensive Tomcat was a way to save the exhaustive
efforts of our people and better spend their labors.”
For the pilots who fly them and the crews who keep them operational, the loss of
the Tomcat hits close to home.
“I will miss flying the Tomcat very much,” said LaBranche. “Saying goodbye to
the Tomcat will be like saying good-bye to an old friend, but in the best
interest of our people, it must be done.”
Throughout its 32-year service to the fleet, the Tomcat has
been synonymous with excellence. Since the first aircraft entered operational
service in September 1974, the Grumman Aerospace Corporation-built F-14 has
seen numerous upgrades and modifications to meet the demands of the Navy as
the premier carrier-based multi-role strike fighter.
“It is one of the greatest fighter planes in history,” said
Lt. Chris Rattigan, a pilot with VF-31. “When you think of naval aviation, you
think of the Tomcat.”
The Tomcat saw its first major improvements to the initial design with the
F-14B, introduced in November 1987, which incorporated new General Electric
F-110 engines. In 1995, an upgrade program brought the Tomcat new digital
avionics and weapon system improvements.
“The F-14 may be old, but with all the upgrades (over the years), there isn’t
anything out there tougher and more capable than the Tomcat,” said Aviation
Structural Mechanic 2nd Class(AW) Michael Houlihan, of VF-31.
Improving on the already technologically advanced aircraft, the F-14D, flown by
VF-31 and 213, delivered in 1990, was a major upgrade with F-110 engines, new
APG-71 radar system, Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), Joint Tactical
Information Distribution System (JTIDS) and Infrared Search and Track (IRST).
Additionally, all F-14 variants were given precision strike capability using the
LANTIRN targeting system, night vision compatibility, new defensive
countermeasures systems and a new digital flight control system.
“The F-14 isn’t getting chased out because it can’t keep up with the current
fighters of the world,” said Rattigan. “The reason is that our maintainers have
to work two or three times as hard to get the jets ready to fly compared with
“During this deployment we’ve flown more sorties, with the highest sortie
completion rate than any other Tomcat squadron in recent history,” said
With a more than 99 percent sortie completion rate and a 100 percent on-target
rate when ordnance was expended during this, their final deployment, VF-31 is
confident they sent the Tomcat out on a high note.
“Our successes on this deployment have been huge,” said Houlihan. “We
accomplished more than we had set out to do. I honestly think that VF-31 has
proved that these aircraft, despite the amount of maintenance required to
maintain it, have a lot of life left in them,” said Houlihan.
While deployed, VF-31 provided invaluable close air support to the troops on the
ground, and together with VF-213, completed 1,163 combat sorties totaling 6,876
flight hours and dropped 9,500 pounds of ordnance.
“Our entire crew is acutely aware of the historic nature of being the very last
Tomcat squadron,” said LaBranche, noting the attention VF-31 is facing as they
return from this final deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
“To see the Sailors of this command perform so magnificently throughout five
months of arduous combat operations has been inspirational for me,” said
LaBranche. “Team ‘FELIX’ has met every challenge head-on, succeeded in every
endeavor and left a legacy befitting our new slogan as ‘The Last Cat Standing.’”