The F-14 Tomcat is, in fact, the only plane that can carry and fire the AIM-54C Phoenix AAM (Air-to-Air Missile). This missile, and in fact the design of the F-14 itself, are derived directly from the mission of these aircraft.

(Useless aside: The F-14 is the aircraft flown by Maverick, Tom Cruise's character in Top Gun, a thinly-disguised Navy recruiting propaganda film disguised as a Hollywood release in the mid-'80s.)

The F-14 is tasked, according to the Navy, with 'air superiority', 'fleet air defense' and 'strike' duties (see the Navy fact file at http://www.navy.mil). When the F-4 Phantom II neared the end of its useful service life in the late 1970s, a replacement was sought that would better embody the lessons learned and the tactical doctrine practiced as a result for a war at sea. Specifically, the Vietnam war had taught the U.S. Navy that interceptors could not just be extremely fast missile trucks with low maneuverablility. In fact, although speed was critical, the ability to engage in a 'turn and burn knife fight in a phone booth' with enemy aircraft was also needed.

On the other side of the coin, however, was the recognition that the Soviet air force and navy had a definite air-warfare plan for dealing with U.S. Carrier Battle Groups. The main thrust of this plan involved saturating the battle group air defenses with salvos of cruise missiles fired from land-based bombers such as the Ilyushin-28 Beagle and Tupolev Backfire and Blackjack (NATO's code names for them). In order to defend against such a threat, the Navy planned to employ 'layered' defenses. One was a dispersed ring of surface escorts designed to offer early warning of such an attack as well as offer some AAW capability vs. the cruise missile horde. However, ideally, the outermost layer would consist of fleet air defense interceptors guided by both surface and airborne control radars (such as those carried by Aegis ships and the E-2C Hawkeye). These interceptors would need to be able to:

  • Swiftly launch and reach high supersonic speed so as to engage the bombers at maximum distance from the carrier in order to prevent their launching cruise missiles
  • ...and therefore be able to carry fuel and weapons appropriate for the job, including...
  • ...the AIM-54C Phoenix AAM. This weapon has a range of 'in excess of 100NM' and travels at supersonic speeds.

The AIM-54 is a very big missile. Its size is driven by its large rocket motors, as well as a large payload in the form of an explosive and likely expanding-rod warhead, and finally by the need to carry larger onboard sensors due to its long range. In an ideal engagement, F-14's, scrambled by early warning, would vector directly towards the incoming threat and launch salvos of AIM-54's at perhaps 150 nautical miles range. The missiles would follow a high-arc ballistic trajectory for maximum speed, and (hopefully) destroy the incoming bombers while they were still farther from the carrier than their cruise missiles could reach.

In order to carry this out, the F-14 needed a very powerful (i.e. large) radar system. The resultant size of its onboard sensors, which were designed expressly to support the AIM-54, meant that the airframe of the F-14 would be correspondingly beefy. The complexity of the systems meant that there would need to be an additional crew member (known as a RIO or Radar Intercept Officer) to run the offensive and defensive systems of the aircraft while the pilot concentrated on making the intercept and keeping them both alive.

Early versions of the F-14 (the F-14A) suffered from being slightly underpowered. They used two Pratt & Whitney TF-30P-414A turbofan engines with afterburners. These engines each produce 20,900 lbs of static thrust per engine. However, the aircraft was heavy enough that in order to takeoff from a short carrier deck, the use of afterburners was required. This not only raised the maintenance cycle time of the aircraft, but also meant a smaller 'safety cushion' of available power in case of emergency, and less fuel available on the aircraft once it got airborne. In fact, several F-14A aircraft have been lost during high-stress maneuvering due to what is suspected to be either engine flameout or the aircraft entering a flight profile from which it did not have enough thrust to recover.

The F-14B and -D use Two General Electric F110-GE-400 turbofans, with afterburners. Besides having better maintenance characteristics, these engines each produce 27,000 pounds of static thrust, offering adequate power reserves for emergencies and the ability to take off and cruise at lower power settings.

In addition to the AIM-54, the F-14 can carry a variety of other weapons, including but not limited to the AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile, the AIM-9 Sidewinder series of missiles, and an M61A2 Vulcan 20mm cannon. In addition, the F-14D can carry various ground-attack ordnance.

No longer in bulk production, the F-14 cost approximately $38 million US to produce. Those are unadjusted dollars from the production years. For its time, it was an extremely expensive fighter. It first flew in December, 1970.

Here is a load of information on the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. This is purely for enthusiasts, others will find it extremely tedious.

Dimensions:

Length: 62 ft 8 in (19.10m)

Wingspan: spread 64 ft 1 in (19.54m)-swept 38 ft 2 in (11.65m)

Height: 16 ft (4.88m)

Weights:

Empty: 41 780 lbs (18 951 kg)

Max T/O: 74 349 lbs (33 724 kg)

Performance:

Max speed: Mach 1.88

Range: 1600 nm (2965 km)

Powerplant: Two General Electric F110-GE-400 turbofans

Thrust: 32 176 lbs (143.12 kN)-54 000 lbs (240.2 kN) with afterburner

Armament:

One 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon; four AIM-7 Sparrow or four AIM-54 Phoenix under fuselage; four AIM-9 Sidewinder or two AIM-9 and two AIM-7/AIM-54 on wing pylons.

Variants:

F-14A - basic TF30-engined fleet fighter; F-14B - F110 engines by retrofit(originally designated F-14A Plus); F-14D - new-build and retrofit with upgraded engines, dual undernose TCS/IRST fairings and strike capability.

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The F-14 program can trace its roots back to the Douglass F-6 Missiler - an airplane that was designed but never built. The Missler looked like anything but a fighter - it had straight wings, a stubby nose and was subsonic. Its sole purpose was to protect the aircraft carrier and its battlegroup from enemy missile attack by virtue of the fact that it was equipped to carry six long range "Eagle" missiles under its wings and seemed to reflect the design philosophy that the manned fighter was becoming obsolete and that missiles would be relied upon exclusively in the future.

When Robert Macnamara became Secretary of Defense, he became infatuated with the idea of a single plane that could be used for all branches of the millitary. Thus the F-111 program was born. Two versions of the F-111 were initially designed, the F-111A for the USAF to be built by General Dynamics and the F-111B for the Navy to be built by the Grumman Corporation.

The F-111 was the world's first non-experimental plane to use swing wings (variable geometry wings - later copied by the Russians in the Mig-23 and Mig-27). The sweep of the aircraft's wings could be adjusted in flight such that the sweep angle was optimal for the current flight parameters (airspeed, angle of attack etc.) The F-111 was fitted with two Pratt & Whittney TF30 afterburning turbofans. The F-111B for the Navy was to be fitted with Hughes AWG-9 pulse doppler radar and equipped with six Hughes AIM-54 Phoenix missiles (so named because the Eagle missle program was cancelled and the new missle arose from the ashes of its predecessor) under six rotating pylons under the wing (the pylons rotated so that as the wing sweep was changed, the pylons would continue to point straight ahead). Unfortunately, in the quest to make a single basic (read: compromise) design that could be used for both the Navy and the Air Force, too many aspects required to make a good carrier fighter design were compromised away. As a result, the F-111B was cancelled. The F-111A, in the meantime, was fitted with a terrain following radar and had a rather inauspicious combat debut in Vietnam, losing five planes in very short order as the terrain following radar proved to be a beacon for enemy defenders.

Following the cancellation of the F-111B, the Navy still had not met its need for an interceptor that could protect a carrier battlegroup from missle attack. A new fighter acquisition program was begun and Grumman was selected. Following several design revisions, Grumman proceeded with its Model 303. Although in order to meet the plane's primary mission as a cruise missile interceptor the AWG-9 / Phoenix missile combination would be used, Grumman's design philosophy was to design an excellent dogfighter armed with the AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder, and M61 Vulcan Cannon, and then (in the words of one of the designers) "figure out a way to bolt six Phoenix missiles onto it".

In fact, while the F-14 can carry up to six of the vaunted Phoenix missiles, it is very rarely flown in this configuration as the aircraft's weight when carrying the six missiles exceeds its maximum carrier landing weight. So, more often, only four Phoenixes are carried.

The F-14 design is a large departure from that of the F-111B. While still employing variable geometry wings and the TF30 engines, Grumman's designers opted to widely separate the engines from one another. While this created a larger moment of intertia while rolling the aircraft vs. the F-111's arrangement of placing the engines in tandem, the wide seperation meant that debris from one failed engine was much less likely to damage its neighbor. Other design considerations included the use of two verticle stabilizers rather than a single stabilizer as in the F-111, to better accomodate the limitted height of the aircraft carrier hangar while still providing adequate stability, and the mounting of all external weapons under the fuselage in the "tunnel" between the air intakes, or on fixed pylons under the wing "roots" (the non-pivoting portion of the wing), thus eliminating the need for the F-111's more complicated swiveling pylons.

The F-14 was also designed such that the fuselage acts as a large lifting area, and was one of the first fighters to take advantage of an aerodynamic phenomenan known as vortex lift to help increase manueverability.

As a result, Grumman had created a very large but very manueverable fighter for its size. The F-14 was also very expensive, costing roughly four times the price of the Navy's current front-line carrier fighter, the F-4 Phantom. However, as proponents of the F-14 pointed out, it was not possible to carry four times as many F-4's on an aircraft carrier as F-14's.

One of the F-14's more unique features was that a television camera was carried in a chin pod under the nose. The television camera could be slaved to the AWG-9 radar and used to obtain a magnified image of the target, thus greatly aiding in positive target identification at long ranges.

The F-14 was viewed by many as the resurrection of Gruman's WWII "Cat" series of fighters, which included the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat and F8F Bearcat. Admiral Tom Conally was initially in charge of the F-14 program for the Navy, and the fighter was initially given the unofficial nickname of "Tom's Cat", which eventually evolved into the official nickname, "Tomcat".

Over the course of its life, newer versions of the F-14 have been designed and some employed in service. Originally, the troublesome TF30 engines in the F-14A (which were prone to compressor stalls) were to be replaced in the F-14B with the F404 engine. However, this version of the F-14B (dubbed the "Super Tomcat") never went into production. Later, the TF-30 engines were replaced with the F101DFE (later renamed F110) engine, an afterburning turbofan derived from the F101 engine used in the B-1 Lancer in the F-14A+, F-14B and F-14D models. The F-14A+ was merely a re-engined F-14A, while the B model enhanced the avionics and the D model featured a major avionics overhaul, including the replacement of the analogue AWG-9 radar with the digital APG-70 radar, which featured LPI (low probability of intercept, meaning that the radar employs technologies to make it much more difficult for adversaries to detect the radar's emissions) technology.

In addition to its service with the United States Navy, the F-14 has also had an illustrious career in an unlikely place: Axis of Evil anchor Iran. Mind you, it's a long story.

If history isn't your strong point, then we should begin with a startling revelation... Iran used to be a member in good standing of the Free World. The United States happily sold Iran a wide range of hardware, including F-4 Phantoms and F-5 Freedom Fighters, to counter the oh-so-close Soviet Menace. We can trace Iran's F-14 fleet back to 1972, when Richard Nixon visited Iran and was met by pleas from the Shah for help in defending against Soviet MiG-25 Foxbats. Nixon agreed to supply the Shah with new fighters. All was well.

The Iranians chose the F-14 over the F-15 Eagle, and inked an order for eighty planes in 1974. 79 made it to Iran, along with 284 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. Iran had ordered more missiles, but not all of them arrived in time for the Iranian Revolution, when Jimmy Carter cut off arms shipments.

Anyway, what happened then is still not certain, except that the fleet began to decay. There is some evidence that the fleet's firing systems were sabotaged to make it impossible to use their Phoenixes. Many of Iran's trained pilots and mechanics were purged by the Ayatollah, and, of course, the embargo meant that spare parts were hard to come by. Some accounts suggest that Iran procured spares through Israel, while others say that spares were exchanged for hostages in the Iran-Contra affair. Several individuals have been found smuggling parts through Singapore.

The current size of the Iranian F-14 fleet is also in dispute. At least ten were lost in the war with Iraq, but Iran had at least 25 working Tomcats in 1985, when they staged a huge flyby in Tehran. The fate of Iran's Phoenix stock is also uncertain, as the planes have recently been carrying AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. Current estimates place the fleet at around 50 planes, of which about half are operational at any time.

It appears that Iran exported at least one F-14 to the Soviet Union in the late 1980's, which was used in the development of the MiG-31 Foxhound. Russian engineers have recently been refitting Iran's F-14's with new avionics and engines, and the Iranian press has reported that several are being tested as attack aircraft with anti-surface missiles.

Today I would like to talk to you about naval aviation. I am an expert on this topic because I have broadband Internet, and that is why. The F-14 Tomcat is a naval interceptor aircraft that is rapidly passing into museums and memory. It has gone sproing off the deck of an aircraft carrier for the last time. The whys and wherefores are well covered by the informative, technical writeups above mine. I shall write about the F-14 as well, but I shall do so in my own special way.

But first I would like to talk about art. I do not care for the art in art galleries. Art is the domain of the good-looking and the well-spoken and the well-dressed. It is a meniscus on the surface of high society, a membrane that exists to please people I do not like. It is an artificial missile to the future, a broken sperm fired into the womb of tomorrow. It does not connect with the real world and has no impact on everyday life. It exists to inspire other artists and it is inbred and it cannot swim. It is twisted and wrong and the world would be no poorer if it was destroyed and all artists burned with it. If you want to see a man-made object that inspires passion and emotion within my soul, that encapsulates an art, and a time and place, that says something about the world in which it was born, then I give you the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. It was designed by engineers, not artists. It was designed by practical people, men with big strong hands. Grumman did not select its engineers because they were good-looking or well-spoken. It selected them because they had big strong hands. Hands that held new-born lambs, babies, Winchester rifles and women's breasts. And men's breasts, because there were women engineers as well, even in the 1960s.

The F-14 was designed and built by several committees. It is the work of many people. It is a functioning aircraft, designed for a purpose - to kill - and it is also a large metal object. It is beautiful, unintentionally beautiful. It has inspired children and adults, and designers and stylists and model-makers. Japanese animation and the Japanese toy industry would be poorer if the F-14 had never been built. Tom Cruise would be poorer too. Even though it does not look like a woman, it is a sexual object. Every day, men on aircraft carriers act out a complex lovemaking ritual with F-14s, inserting tubes into it and polishing it and sitting in it. I do not know what women feel in their loins when they contemplate the F-14, perhaps it is jealousy. When I contemplate the F-14 I imagine the Internet porn star Vanessa Blue sitting on my face. And that pleases me. My mind tells me that the F-14 is an aircraft. It looks like an albino crow, or an umbrella, with its wings furled up. But my loins and nipples tell me that it is a woman. Not a real-life woman, but a woman like the women on television or in a film, or on the Internet; a fantasy of a woman, better than the reality.

Art is preserved and given artificial prominence. The modern art of galleries today has no interface with real life, but in the future people will think that it did, because it is preserved and given an artificial prominence that it has not deserved. The people of 2085 will look back at 1985 and assume that Howard Hodgkin was our leader. He was not our leader in 1985 and he is not our leader today and I would like you to repeat that phrase. Howard Hodgkin is not my leader. He is not your leader. I would like you to write that phrase on your clothes and on walls. Art is a means of shaping the future incorrectly. To quote Martin Keller, art is "an audio nightmare cartoon gross-out of the skull", albeit that he was reviewing The Brak Album for Amazon.ca whereas I am destroying the art world with naval aviation.

The F-14 is a fantastic toy. It is the reason why people join the US Navy, or become President of the United States. The President owns all the F-14s, just as the Queen of England owns all the mute swans. I cannot tell you who designed the shape of the F-14. Modern military aircraft are designed by large teams of people. The wings and fuselage and tailplanes and cockpit area and jet intakes and outlets and electronics are designed by different teams of people, by teams of teams. If you want a picture of a modern military aircraft, imagine a giant pyramid of human beings, except that the pyramid is upside-down, and it is coated with metal and it can fly.

The F-14 was a happy accident, and I must warn you at this point that many of the sentences in this article will begin with the words "The F-14 is/was a something". A man called Robert McNamara wanted the US Navy to use another aircraft instead, the General Dynamics F-111. The F-111 was a low-level strike aircraft whereas the F-14 was a dogfighting interceptor, but in the 1960s it was felt that aircraft were just delivery platforms for long-range missiles and the ability to dogfight was unimportant. In the late 1950s the US Navy had toyed with an aircraft called the Douglas F6D Missileer, a machine that was designed purely and simply to raise missiles into the air, carry them for several hours, and if need be point them in the direction of the enemy and launch them off. It resembled a WW2 fighter plane with jet engines and it was an intriguing concept that did not catch on. Robert McNamara had nothing to do with the Missileer. His big idea was that all branches of the US military should use the same aircraft, which meant that the US Navy should fly a navalised version of the F-111 called the F-111B, which would be armed with super-long-range missiles and a big radar. Robert McNamara is the old man in the Errol Morris documentary "The Fog of War". He was alive in the 1960s and he is still alive as I write these words, unless he has died in his sleep in the morning and the news media has not been alerted.

The F-111 looked like a bat. And very few people loved it. It was conceptually similar to the F-14, with two engines and swing-wings. The original F-14 design even had a single-piece tailplane, like the F-111, but it was decided that two short tailplanes would be more practical in an aircraft carrier than one tall tailplane. But the F-111 did not have the oomph, the little spark of beauty that glowed within the F-14. It was ugly. And the US Navy did not want an ugly aircraft. Grumman had gained some experience of modern-day carrier operations whilst helping General Dynamics with the F-111B, and the F-14 design was rushed in as a replacement and everybody liked it. It was the Audrey Hepburn of carrier-based aircraft, the Katarina Witt of carrier-based aircraft, the Mr Rogers of carrier-based aircraft. Can you see how we all have a will to beauty, an impulse to protect and nurture the good-looking and the well-spoken and the cute? The graceful and the swan-like? But how to explain the John Prescotts of this world, the Lyndon Johnsons of this world, the Golda Meirs?

The F-14's design is recognisably of a certain era. It is a reflection of design trends that were current in the late 1950s and 1960s, and it is cut from the same cloth as the North American A-5 Vigilante, Russia's MiG-25, and McDonnell Douglas' F-15 Eagle. It has twin tailplanes, two engines - at the time this was a must for carrier designs, in case one engine failed - angular air intakes that are mounted at the side of the fuselage, tricycle undercarriage, a pointy nose, a seat for the pilot, brakes, etc. Throughout the 1970s, the F-14 gradually replaced the McDonnell Phantom II as the US Navy's premier top-notch first-class-passenger killer air toy. The Phantom was as clumsy as it was ugly. It was fast and it had a lengthy career, it sold well abroad, including to the RAF and Royal Navy, but it was not a dogfighter. It was not Top Gun. Tom Cruise would never have become famous flying a Phantom. Comic book heroes did not fly Phantoms. There are oodles of WW2 combat flight simulations, and there are quite a few games in which you can fly modern combat jets, but there is no significant market for simulations of the Phantom. Take off, accelerate to Mach 2, fly in a straight line towards the target, fire, turn around, fly back.

Perhaps I am being unfair to the Phantom. The F-14 was designed with much the same mission profile in mind. Its AIM-54 Phoenix missiles had an exceptionally long range of over 100 nautical miles, five times the range of its most obvious modern-day equivalent, the AIM-120. And it is true to say that there is no significant market for simulations of the F-14 either, because for most of its life its sole mission was the aerial defence of aircraft carriers, a mission which involved flying over featureless ocean for hours. The F-14 is the only aircraft that can carry the AIM-54 Phoenix and I imagine that, when the very last F-14 leaves service for the last time, the pilots will fire off all the remaining AIM-54s and then go to the bar and drink themselves into a stupor.

-

I would like you to imagine that it is 1988 again. Imagine you have come into some money and you want to set up a software development company. What are you going to call it? You are going to call it Variable Geometry, because it is 1988 and the words "variable geometry" seduce you with their high-tech allure. Variable geometry was a popular phrase in the aviation world in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It is a more formal way of saying "swing-wing". Numerous swing-wing aircraft designs entered service all over the world in the 1960s and 1970s, and most of them subsequently left service in the 1980s and 1990s, and now only a very few remain.

It is quite hard to design an effective carrier-based aircraft, and I should know because all of my designs have been rejected by the Royal Navy and also by the navy of Chile. I do not know whether Chile has a Royal Navy or whether it is just a Navy. I know very little about Chile. A carrier-based aircraft has to perform as well as a land-based aircraft, but it also has to be strong enough to withstand carrier landings and it has to be rust-proof and it has to be small enough to fit into an aircraft carrier's hangar decks and its lifts etc. Naval aircraft often have folding wings so that they can be made even smaller.

It is a very hard thing, to land an aircraft on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and I should know because I have never landed an aircraft on the deck of an aircraft carrier. It is only possible if the aircraft can approach the carrier at dead slow speed, and if the pilot can see the deck whilst he is doing so. If the aircraft cannot fly at a slow speed it will smash its undercarriage on the deck, and rip out its landing hook. If the pilot has to approach the carrier with his aircraft tilted at a steep angle, he will be unable to see the deck and will miss and crash into the sea and be eaten by sharks. The US Navy's leading carrier-based interceptor of the 1950s, the Vought F-8 Crusader, solved this problem with a novel tilting wing, whereby the entire wing could tilt so that its leading edge rose above the fuselage, thus giving it a high angle of attack whilst keeping the fuselage level. Both Britain's Buccaneer and the US Navy's Phantom II used a technique called Boundary Layer Control, whereby some of the engine exhaust was redirected in order to increase airflow over the wings. Russia's Yak-38 Forger could even take off vertically, like the British Harrier (which was at the time of the Yak's introduction a purely ground-based aircraft).

Vought is a lovely name. It sounds manly, but not boorish. I picture a blue-eyed cowboy with stubble on his strong, manly jaw. A strong, sensitive man whose hands have held a new-born lamb, a Winchester rifle, and a woman's breast. The real Vought was a man called Chauncey Milton Vought, a man who was given to pronounce that growth has its seasons, and that as long as the roots are not severed, all is well in the garden. He died in 1930 and did not get to see what happened to the company that bore his name. As of writing, Vought is now owned by the Carlyle Group and makes parts for other aircraft. During its long history it has been bought and sold and part-bought and part-sold, and all because of the name. Vought. It sounds manly, but not boorish. I picture a blue-eyed cowboy with stubble on his strong, manly jaw.

The F-14 was not made by Vought, it was made by a company called Grumman which is now called Northrop Grumman, although by the time it became Northrop Grumman the F-14 was old news. The F-14's wings did not tilt. Instead, they swung backwards and forwards. By a physical process that is simple to understand but very, very hard to explain, this allowed the F-14 to travel very, very quickly and also very, very slowly, but not at the same time. With the wings swept back, it could exceed the speed of light and thus travel backwards in time to the Big Bang. With the wings swept forwards, it could travel slower than the speed of absolute zero degrees Kelvin and thus create a cube of diamond-hard super-ice. The F-14 had a further trick up its sleeve, in that the fuselage also generated a certain amount of lift. Furthermore, the F-14 was generally painted white and latterly grey, which is pleasant.

The F-14 was not the first aircraft to use variable geometry wings. The United States was actually beaten by the Soviet Union, several times, on the soles of the feet, with the Sukhoi Su-17 and the MiG-23 amongst others. The F-14 was considerably more attractive than either of those designs, however, and it remains by far the most attractive swing-wing aircraft of all time, and one of the most attractive aircraft period, and that is what matters. In common with most aircraft of its generation, the F-14 had a melancholic military career - the war it was designed to fight did not happen - and all that remains is photographs and film footage, as the F-14 was scrapped from US service in 2006. The Iranians still fly the F-14, and perhaps the dry desert air has kept them in good condition, but they cannot fly for much longer.

Variable geometry was a wave that passed through the aviation world and passed through and away and it is now gone. Britain's Royal Air Force still flies the swing-wing Panavia Tornado, and some third world nations fly the MiG-23 and other old Russian designs, but there have been no new swing-wing aircraft for decades. The technique never caught on in the civilian world, and the weight and complexity of swing-wing machinery is a critical limitation in modern military forces. I am unclear as to what kind of trick modern military aircraft use to land on an aircraft carrier. Perhaps the engines are better nowadays, or the wings are designed with better computers and can thus operate at greater extremes of speed. Perhaps the aircraft are hollow, or filled with cork. The modern age.

The F-14 is on the way out. The United States is well on the way to scrapping the last few F-14s, and Iran's aircraft are kept in service presumably to show off. The US replaced its F-14s with the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and that has provoked a lot of controversy on the Internet. The US Navy does not care what people on the Internet say. No other nation used the F-14 and very few nations have aircraft carriers. The Royal Navy did not replace its modified Phantom IIs with a direct equivalent, instead choosing the subsonic Sea Harrier, which has recently been scrapped and replaced with helicopters because helicopters are better. The navies of India, Thailand, Italy and Spain also use naval versions of the Harrier. The French Navy uses a navalised version of the Dassault Rafale, and indeed it is the only navy in the world apart from the US to have a supersonic carrier-based interceptor aircraft. However, the world's navies are going through a major ship-building programme, and in a decade or so this could all change, albeit that swing-wing aircraft are as unlikely to be in service as aircraft with forward-swept wings, i.e. there is perhaps a minuscule chance. I love the word "minuscule", and I love the way that I know how to spell it without having to look it up.

Undermine your world.

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