Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The F-14: a bad bird?

"That crash over El Cajon just had a total hydraulics failure."

The F-14 Tomcat prototype crashed on its maiden flight December 21, 1970, and ever since then questions about safety have dogged the Navy’s frontline fighter/interceptor. Five F-14s, four of them based at Miramar, crashed in a single month last September. The crash of a Miramar-based F-14 in Arizona on January 27 of this year, which killed the pilot and RIO, destroyed the 102nd Tomcat of the 576 built since Grumman started producing the plane in 1971.

After Congressman Jim Bates called for congressional hearings last fall to examine the crashes, he received a letter from H. Lawrence Garrett, undersecretary of the Navy, ostensibly defending the F-14’s safety record. “Since fleet introduction in 1973, the F-14 crash rate is 8.87 destroyed or lost aircraft per 100,000 flying hours,” Garrett wrote on October 6. “By comparison, 1988’s F-14 safety record has been excellent. Thus far this year, we have a rate of 5.65, a more than one-third improvement over the historical rate.” In other words, the Navy did well in 1988 because it only lost five instead of the usual six or eight F-14s.

Commander Bob Willard, the executive officer of VF-51 who has spent some 2400 hours flying the plane, believes the perception of the F-14 as accident prone is inaccurate. He says that compared to other high performance military jets, “we’re not losing an inordinate number of aircraft. There are periods of time when our accident rate has been excessive, and we may have to fall back and regroup and determine the reasons why. But historically, the F-14 is on a continually improving trend in terms of accident rates.”

So far, no pattern has been identified linking the six most recent crashes. In response to a question about the causes of the mishaps, Lieutenant Commander Bill Clausen replied, “The planes are getting old. A couple of the crashes involved system failures the crew wasn’t aware of. That one over El Cajon (last September 12) just had a total hydraulics failure, which hasn’t happened before. And a couple of the crashes resulted from just plain stupidity.”

The F-14, for all its advancements in avionics and weaponry, is still essentially 1980s technology. It’s considered a difficult plane to look good in because it is probably the last and most powerful fighter that will ever be built with an old-style mechanical system. Newer jets, such as the F-16, and the F/A-18, utilize a “fly-by-wire” system that connects the pilot’s controls to the aircraft control surfaces electronically, rather than mechanically. The newer jets have computerized override systems that won’t allow the pilot to push the plane far outside its flight “envelope.” The F-16’s joystick isn’t even between the pilot’s knees; it’s on the right side of the cockpit and looks very much like the joystick of a video game. Some aviation experts believe a “smart” system like this could save some F-14s and the men who fly them.

“First of all, the F-14 is a great airplane,” remarks Cdr. Willard, who will take over as commanding officer of the VF-51 this summer. “It performs well without a fly-by-wire system. But there are some arguments that it would be a safer airplane to employ at extremes within the envelope were it to have a smart system retrofitted into it. And there’s probably a pretty good argument for that happening. It would be expensive, though.” Interestingly, when the Soviet Union unveiled its newest fighter, the MiG-29, at the 1988 Farnborough Air Show in Great Britain, aviation authorities were surprised to discover that the jet did not employ a fly-by-wire system.

VF-51 will take delivery of the next generation Tomcat, the F-14D, within the next two years. The plane will have 21st-century avionics and more powerful, fuel-efficient engines, enabling it to take off from aircraft carrier catapults without the use of afterburners. In the meantime, while the squadron is between deployments, its jets are being modified. A part that has been cracking on the landing gear is being replaced, as is a turbine that helps pressurize the cockpit. And the planes are getting the “tough wing” modification by installation of stronger tubing connecting flaps and slats in the wings, which will increase the jet’s maneuvering capabilities.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

San Diego inside sports

El Cajon Speedway, dark side of NFL, pick-up b-ball, Lakeside's Jarrod Boswell, start of Padres, SDSU football scandal

The F-14 Tomcat prototype crashed on its maiden flight December 21, 1970, and ever since then questions about safety have dogged the Navy’s frontline fighter/interceptor. Five F-14s, four of them based at Miramar, crashed in a single month last September. The crash of a Miramar-based F-14 in Arizona on January 27 of this year, which killed the pilot and RIO, destroyed the 102nd Tomcat of the 576 built since Grumman started producing the plane in 1971.

After Congressman Jim Bates called for congressional hearings last fall to examine the crashes, he received a letter from H. Lawrence Garrett, undersecretary of the Navy, ostensibly defending the F-14’s safety record. “Since fleet introduction in 1973, the F-14 crash rate is 8.87 destroyed or lost aircraft per 100,000 flying hours,” Garrett wrote on October 6. “By comparison, 1988’s F-14 safety record has been excellent. Thus far this year, we have a rate of 5.65, a more than one-third improvement over the historical rate.” In other words, the Navy did well in 1988 because it only lost five instead of the usual six or eight F-14s.

Commander Bob Willard, the executive officer of VF-51 who has spent some 2400 hours flying the plane, believes the perception of the F-14 as accident prone is inaccurate. He says that compared to other high performance military jets, “we’re not losing an inordinate number of aircraft. There are periods of time when our accident rate has been excessive, and we may have to fall back and regroup and determine the reasons why. But historically, the F-14 is on a continually improving trend in terms of accident rates.”

So far, no pattern has been identified linking the six most recent crashes. In response to a question about the causes of the mishaps, Lieutenant Commander Bill Clausen replied, “The planes are getting old. A couple of the crashes involved system failures the crew wasn’t aware of. That one over El Cajon (last September 12) just had a total hydraulics failure, which hasn’t happened before. And a couple of the crashes resulted from just plain stupidity.”

The F-14, for all its advancements in avionics and weaponry, is still essentially 1980s technology. It’s considered a difficult plane to look good in because it is probably the last and most powerful fighter that will ever be built with an old-style mechanical system. Newer jets, such as the F-16, and the F/A-18, utilize a “fly-by-wire” system that connects the pilot’s controls to the aircraft control surfaces electronically, rather than mechanically. The newer jets have computerized override systems that won’t allow the pilot to push the plane far outside its flight “envelope.” The F-16’s joystick isn’t even between the pilot’s knees; it’s on the right side of the cockpit and looks very much like the joystick of a video game. Some aviation experts believe a “smart” system like this could save some F-14s and the men who fly them.

“First of all, the F-14 is a great airplane,” remarks Cdr. Willard, who will take over as commanding officer of the VF-51 this summer. “It performs well without a fly-by-wire system. But there are some arguments that it would be a safer airplane to employ at extremes within the envelope were it to have a smart system retrofitted into it. And there’s probably a pretty good argument for that happening. It would be expensive, though.” Interestingly, when the Soviet Union unveiled its newest fighter, the MiG-29, at the 1988 Farnborough Air Show in Great Britain, aviation authorities were surprised to discover that the jet did not employ a fly-by-wire system.

VF-51 will take delivery of the next generation Tomcat, the F-14D, within the next two years. The plane will have 21st-century avionics and more powerful, fuel-efficient engines, enabling it to take off from aircraft carrier catapults without the use of afterburners. In the meantime, while the squadron is between deployments, its jets are being modified. A part that has been cracking on the landing gear is being replaced, as is a turbine that helps pressurize the cockpit. And the planes are getting the “tough wing” modification by installation of stronger tubing connecting flaps and slats in the wings, which will increase the jet’s maneuvering capabilities.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Gordon Parks’ Batman and Robin crimebusters

The old guard doesn’t cotton to being upstaged by a pair of rookies
Next Article

Loco Lopez takes brunch over the top

Cheese-wrapped burrito and donut grilled cheese at OB pop-up
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close