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.