Maverick's Favorite Fighter Jet Is Getting Its Own Monument

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F-14B Tomcat onboard USS Harry S. Truman
Off the waist catapults, launches an F-14B Tomcat assigned to Fighter Squadron THREE TWO (VF-32), (Swordsmen,) during flight operations onboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), on Dec. 26, 2004. (Philip V. Morrill/U.S. Navy)

A new monument dedicated to the U.S. Navy's F-14 Tomcat fighter, made famous by the movie "Top Gun," will be unveiled in Pensacola, Florida, on Wednesday.

The F-14 Tomcat Monument Association will debut a paneled monument at the National Naval Aviation Museum, dedicated to 68 service members who died flying the famed aircraft, according to a news release. The monument, which features laser-etched storyboard panels displaying the Tomcat in action, also honors the maintenance crews who kept the F-14 flying for more than 30 years.

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"This new monument will enhance the display of what is not only an iconic aircraft in the history of naval aviation, but an iconic spot on our campus," said Sterling Gilliam, the museum director and a retired Navy captain, in the release. The presentation comes just a few weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of the F-14's maiden flight on Dec. 21, 1970.

The F-14 monument is one of three the association has created. In June, the nonprofit group dedicated the first obelisk-shaped memorial in Virginia Beach's Naval Aviation Monument Park. The third is planned for San Diego, home of the Navy's "Top Gun" Fighter Weapons School.

The Pensacola monument joins the last Grumman-made F-14 to fly a combat mission, which was dedicated at the museum shortly after its final flight over Iraq in 2006 -- the same year the Navy retired the airframe.

F-14 Tomcat Monument

The featured jet -- converted from an A to D model in the early 1990s -- flew its first combat missions over Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and its last 224 combat sorties over Iraq before Strike Fighter Squadron 213 of Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia, turned it over to the museum, according to a museum factsheet.

While the F-14 was manufactured to fill a gap created by the Navy's ill-fated F-111B program, a carrier-based offshoot of the Air Force's F-111A Aardvark, it soon became the face of naval aviation. It was an all-weather, variable swept-wing, twin-engine fighter with a strike range of up to 100 miles from its target -- thanks to its AIM-54 Phoenix long-range, air-to-air missiles.

"At peak employment, 30 Navy squadrons operated F-14s," according to the museum. The Tomcat also briefly flew security patrols over Vietnam.

The F-14 gained public prominence in 1986, when actor Tom Cruise portrayed Lt. Pete Mitchell, call sign "Maverick," piloting the aircraft in nail-biting aerial dogfights on the silver screen in "Top Gun."

The F-14 association, which has worked on the monument project for more than two years, is made up of former aircrew, maintainers, civil servants, contractors, and those who "just plain love the F-14 aircraft," according to its website.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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