A Hellcat that Got Its Feet Wet

I recently heard about a Grumman Hellcat that is now a popular scuba wreck site in Indochina.  Not only is it a perfectly preserved plane that can be explored, it has a very interesting story to go along with it.

The F6-F Hellcat , like the Wildcat, was built by the U.S. firm Grumman.   Grumman produced 12,275 copies of the plane from 1942 to 1945. It was a  formidable fighter, 56% of all Japanese losses, more than 5,000 aircraft, were attributed to the Hellcat. The Hellcat had a wingspan of 13.05 m and a length of 10.2 m. It was powered by a 2,000 hp Pratt and Whitney R-2800-10, and could reach 605 km / h with a ceiling of 11,450 m. Its range was 1,755 km.

This copy was bought by France in 1950 had served in Indochina before being repatriated in Hyères in August 1954. The sunken wreck was discovered in 1999. The archives of the Navy mention a ditching following an engine failure during an exercise to fly landing configurations designed  to test the reactions of the plane at a reduced speed. But when Jean-Noël Duval, Patron of the CIP Lavandou and discoverer of the wreck, contacted the pilot Jack Langin in July 1999, he told him the real reason for the presence of the aircraft under the sea.

On May 14, 1956 young pilot, Jack Langin headed off for a training flight. Joined by another driver, they had fun doing low altitude passes above the sea, but a slight mistake caused him to touch the surface of the sea. The engine stalled and Jack no longer has as an option but than attempting a water landing, which he did. He left the cockpit and was recovered in his rescue dinghy. If he told the truth, his career would have been over before it even began!  This accident led to the invention of this story about an engine failure before the Commission of Inquiry by the Navy.

This is the ultimate aircraft wreckage.  The wreck lies at a depth of 57 m off of Cape Negro in Indochina and is reserved for experienced divers. It is located on the flat sandy bottom. During the descent,  the Hellcat feels like its going to take off again because it appears absolutely flawless even after more than 50 years spent under water. The landing of Jack Langin had to be perfect, the fuselage , tail , as well as the wings are intact. In addition the guns and the cockpit canopy are still attached.  At the front the engine is in good condition, however the propeller is missing.

Topgun Days by Dave “Bio” Baranek – The Truth Behind Topgun and Top Gun

I recently had the chance to read the book Topgun Days by Dave “Bio” Baranek.  As many readers of this blog know, Topgun is the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, created during the height of the Vietnam War.  The Navy had been concerned about the high number of US aircraft losses, and believed that the Ault Report (written by USN Captain Frank Ault) revealed an inadequacy in air combat maneuvering skills among Naval aviators (and Air Force too!).  From this report, Topgun was born, and it was later introduced to the general public through the movie Top Gun starring Tom Cruise.

Dave “Bio” Baranek does an excellent job providing a behind the scenes peek into the real Topgun experience.  While providing an overview of his days as a Grumman F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Bio highlights his initial training in the Topgun program, and then onto his role as an official Topgun instructor.  The story starts with Bio’s becoming a brand new Naval Flight Officer ensign fresh out of flight training, and a quick squadron tour and two deployments.  Bio suddenly finds himself shipped back state side so that he can enter the Topgun program, what many feel is the ultimate opportunity for a Navy Fighter Pilot/RIO.  What follows is an excellently told story of the real way that Topgun operated, the personalities of those involved, and the hard work required to succeed.

Shortly after graduating Topgun, Bio finds out that he was one those who’s name ended up on the “Wish List”, the list of student who performed so well that they were to be invited back as an instructors.  And as an instructor, Bio was fortunate to be at Topgun while the filming of Top Gun with Tom Cruise was also occurring. Bio provides great insight into all that went into making the movie from their perspective.  The impressive work that the Navy and Paramount did in filming the breath-taking scenes in the movie is described in detail.  And the author also shares a number of personal stories that provide an entertaining view into what it must have been like to live the Top Gun experience while also trying to share it with the rest of the work.

This book was written for a wide-ranging audience, military aviation history buffs will get something out of it, as will those who don’t know a F-14 from a F-15. Dave Baranek’s writing is straight-forward, told from the perspective of one who actually lived the experience, and entertaining enough to force you to keep turning the pages to see what happens next.  I recently had the opportunity to exchange some e-mails with the author, and he comes across as a nice guy with a typical high-energy military manner, excited about what he has done, and a true aviation fan.  I look forward to his future works…

If you click the link above, you can buy the book at Amazon, the perfect gift for a friend, family, or just for yourself!







Grumman F-14 Tomcat

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic, twin-engine, variable sweep wing, two-place strike fighter. The Tomcat’s primary missions are air superiority, fleet air defense and precision strike against ground targets. Recently phased out of active service, the F-14 has had a long and distinguished career. The person responsible for the F-14 project was Admiral Tom Conolly, Deputy Chief, Naval Operations for Air. The aircraft was dubbed “Tom’s Cat” long before it was officially named “Tomcat”. Naming their aircraft after ‘cats’ is a long held Grumman tradition.

The F-14 Tomcat had visual and all-weather attack capability to deliver Phoenix and Sparrow missiles as well as the M-61 gun and Sidewinder missiles for close in air-to-air combat. The F-14 also had the LANTIRN targeting system that allows delivery of various laser-guided bombs for precision strikes in air-to-ground combat missions. This enabled the Tomcat to acquire mensurated target coordinates that are accurate enough for GPS weapons, which was unique to the Tomcat. The F-14, equipped with Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) was the Navy’s only manned tactical reconnaissance platform.

The F-14 was designed in 1968 to take the place of the controversial F-111B, which was under development for the Navy’s carrier fighter inventory. The F-14A used the P&W TF30 engines and AWG-9 system and carried the six Phoenix missiles that had been intended for the F-111B. A completely new fighter system was designed around these with emphasis on close-in fighting “claws” along with standoff missile fighting. Grumman was announced as competition winner for the new carrier-based fighter for the U.S. Navy. Emphasis had been placed on producing a comparatively small, light weight, high performance aircraft with a significant advance over the then current F-4 Phantom II. The F-14 had three primary missions; the first was as a fighter / escort to clear contested air space of enemy fighters and protecting the strike force. The second mission was to defend the carrier task force with Combat Air Patrols (CAP) and interception operations. The third role was secondary attack on tactical ground targets.

From its first flight on 21 December 1970, the F-14A went through five years of development, evaluation, squadron training and initial carrier deployments to become the carrier air wings’ most potent fighter. Technical and financial problems that received a great deal of publicity were overcome in achieving this goal. Originally it was planned that the F-14B with the advanced P&W F401 would be the major production version. However, performance of the TF30-P-412 exceeded expectations while development of the F401 was delayed. One F-14B was flight tested, showing that an F401-powered Tomcat would be a potential future option.

The first operational ‘Tomcat’ squadrons with the U.S. Navy were VF-1 and VF-2. VF-2 flew the first operational sorties from the U.S.S. Enterprise in March 1974. The first ‘combat’ cruise of the Tomcat was in April 1975 when the Enterprise covered the withdrawal from Saigon, South Vietnam although no combat took place between American and North Vietnamese forces. In the 1980s, in what was known as the ‘Gulf of Sidra Incident’, a pair of VF-41 ‘Black Aces’ Tomcats from USS Nimitz shot down two Libyan Su-22 Fitters on 19 August 1981. A similar incident took place again on 4 January 1989 when a pair of VF-32 ‘Swordsmen’ Tomcats from USS John F. Kennedy shot down two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers.

Also, during the 1980s, Iranian F-14s (the only export customer for the F-14) were engaged in combat against the Iraqi Air Force during the Iran-Iraq War. Apart from functioning in its intended role, Iranian Tomcats were also used as mini-AWACS, using their superior radar system to direct other Iranian fighter planes (such as the F-4 and the F-5) against Iraqi aircraft. The final kill by the US Navy Tomcat is an Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter, shot down by an F-14 from VF-1 using a Sidewinder AAM on 7 February 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. These five kills are the only ones scored by the US Navy. The IRIAF Tomcats is much more successful, shooting down fairly large numbers of Iraqi warplanes using all the weapons systems available.

The Tomcat caps a long line of Grumman Cats. In the hands of Navy pilot/NFO teams, it provided the carrier task force with its first-line offense and defense against any enemy air threat in the tradition of its predecessors.  The F-14 became famous to the general public, as the star of the movie Top Gun, which also featured Tom Cruise.

The F-14 Tomcat performed superbly in Operation Allied Force and the strikes in Operation Southern Watch. While the Navy provided only eight percent of the total dedicated aircraft in Operation Allied Force, the Navy was credited with 30 percent of the validated kills against fielded forces in Kosovo as a result of the superb performance of the Tomcat in the Forward Air Controller (Airborne) (FAC(A)) role.

Function: Carrier-based multi-role strike fighter
Contractor: Grumman Aerospace Corporation
Unit Cost: $38 million
F-14A: Two Pratt & Whitney TF-30P-414A turbofan engine with afterburners
F-14B and F-14D: Two General Electric F110-GE-400 turbofan engines with afterburners
TF-30P-414A: 20,900 pounds (9,405 kg) static thrust per engine
F110-GE-400: 27,000 pounds (12,150 kg) static thrust per engine
Length: 61 feet 9 inches (18.6 meters)
Height: 16 feet (4.8 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 72,900 pounds (32,805 kg)
Wingspan: 64 feet (19 meters) unswept, 38 feet (11.4 meters) swept
Ceiling: Above 56,000 feet
Range: 1239 km 1994 km
Speed: Mach 2+
Crew: Two: pilot and radar intercept officer
Armament: Up to 13,000 pounds to include AIM-54 Phoenix missile, AIM-7 Sparrow missile, AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, air-to-ground precision strike ordnance, and one M61A1/A2 Vulcan 20mm cannon.
Date Deployed: First flight: December 1970

Grumman F-14 Tomcat