All 22 Tomcats of fighter squadrons VF-213 and VF-31 arrived in style, flying together in a wedge formation over Oceana Naval Air Station as hundreds of sailors and their family and friends cheered. Some wore T-shirts reading "Tomcats Forever" and a banner proclaimed, "Last Fly-In, Baby!"
"We're putting the premier fighter to sleep," said pilot Lt. Jon Jeck, 32, as he held his 3-year-old son Collin. "It's a staple of Americana."
The Navy plans to replace the F-14, a two-seat fighter with moveable swept-back wings, with the F/A-18 Super Hornets.
The F-14 entered service in the early 1970s to defend aircraft carriers from Soviet bombers carrying long-range cruise missiles.
"If you want to think about airplanes that have defined the air age, this would have to be on the short list," military analyst John Pike said.
After the Cold War, the Navy became less concerned about defending carrier groups and transformed the F-14 into a bomb-dropping fighter jet, said Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria research center on security issues.
"But it was not designed as a bomb hauler," Pike said. "They would rather have a new plane ... than try to teach an old cat new tricks."
The F-14 squadrons that returned Friday were from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which has been on a six-month deployment for the Iraq war. The Roosevelt was to return Saturday to nearby Norfolk Naval Station.
On the Net:
F-14 information: http://www.anft.net/f-14
Oceana Naval Air Station: http://www.nasoceana.navy.mil/
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