Monday Eye Candy: Tomcats and Sukhois. What!?


Here are some images I wasn’t expecting to see this century. It shows the Su-27s of the Russian Knights aerobatic team being escorted by Iranian F-14 Tomcats and F-4 Phantoms. Talk about bizarre. Two of America’s legendary Cold War fighters being flown by one of its biggest 21st Century adversaries alongside two Soviet-designed jets that were meant to shoot them down.

Click through the jump for more great pics.

Images via Alert5.

  • steve

    I think I;am gonna be sick…

    • Uranium238

      I know how you feel. These SOBs still have some of theirs flying and we scrapped ours to prevent them from getting parts?! UGH!

      I will be sad to see such a great plane get lost if we ever had an air engagement with Iran. I won’t feel sorry for the crazed jihadis flying them when an F-22 greets them with an D model AMRAAM at about 80 miles out.

      • Thunder350

        That’s if we use the F-22’s. The military seems reluctant to use them. Even when we were clearing the air space in Libya. Imagine the field day the press would have if one “crashes”.

        • Uranium238

          Holding back an aircraft designed for air superiority is not going to improve its lethality.

    • morty

      Sick about what ? So they have a few out dated U.S. aircraft. Iran has had them for years and nothing has happened. The F-22 and F-35 will kick there ass. We dont even know how old these pictures are.

    • IIAF Pilot

      Iranian F-14 Tomcat ace Jalil Zandi is credited with shooting down at least 11 Iraqi aircraft during Iran–Iraq War and to date he is the most successful F-14 Tomcat in the world.
      So I guess Iranians Know how to use their Tomcats. You should read how Iranians Tomcats brought down the mig 25’s which were the faster jets and clime higher than Tomcats.

  • RunningBear

    Odd that the Iranian “Tom Cats” are flying in the “wing forward position”. Are they not able to retract the wing in flight? I doubt the Su’s are flying that slow! :)

    • David

      That’s not uncommon or out of the ordinary at all. It’s just the standard flight configuration. Cruising speed for a fighter isn’t really all that much more than a standard jet airliner so there’s no need for the auto-sweep to kick in and reduce drag in order to go faster.

      However, if you look at the trail F-14 in the second picture, you’ll see his wings are slightly swept back, not full forward.

    • Greg

      Really? Why do you propose they have adjustable whings?

    • tiger

      You can’t fly faster than the photo plane.

    • Dirt

      All Tomcats had four wing positioning modes: Auto; Bomb; Manual and Emergency. The latter was used to place the wings in the Oversweep position (75 degrees) after flight. While in flight, the most common mode was to leave the wings in the Auto position and let the computer control the most efficient wing sweep angle for optimal flight configuration. The Manual mode was used mostly to place the wings all the way aft (68 degrees) to make the aircraft look really shit-hot. She was a dream to fly -a truly magical airplane!

      OBTW, I personally delivered two Tomcats to Iran in 1975-6. We flew them from the Grumman Plant in Long Island to Esfahan with a stop at Torrejon AFB in Madrid. Each leg was about 12 hours long. Flew back business class on Pan Am compliments of the Shah.

      • blight

        Did you ever fly Tomcats for the Navy? Curious on the difference between the Shah’s models and the Navy. I imagine the whole dust filter angle (like with the Kidds) would’ve been in play for aircraft as well, so there could have been some sort of modification to accomodate operations in Iran. However, the general consensus is that in terms of engines, electronics and weapons they were essentially identical to those flown by the Navy.

        • Dirt

          Yes, I have 2500 hours in F-14’s. Only Navy pilots ferried the the aircraft from the Grumman plant to Esfahan.

          The airframe and engines on the Iranian Tomcat were identical to those flown by the USN. The real magic of the Tomcat was in the software interface (called Tapes) with the weapons system. Iranian Tomcats got a “for export” tape which meant that it was vastly inferior to what we were using in the USN Toms. That meant their weapons, including the Phoenix missile, were also limited in their capability.

          • blight

            Ah. So hardware-wise they were the same coming out of the factory, but because of different software packages they were neutered/disabled?

            Do you think the Iranians could really have pulled off the claimed kill numbers with an export tape?

          • blight

            Also: So for the tapes, what kind of chain of custody is issued for the tapes? Might it have been possible for one to disappear into government inventory, and get picked up by an Iranian agent at a warehouse liquidation sale?

  • Riceball

    Wow, they’re really pulling out all of the stops by escorting the Russians with a couple of their precious few working Tomcats. I imagine that those Tomcat pilots must have been ecstatic to actually get an opportunity to actually get some flight time in them since with the shortage of parts I imagine that these Tomcats spend most of their time grounded.

    • coryatjohn

      More like sucking the seat cushions up their butts! Those planes are probably ready to fall out of the air.

  • Dfens

    This seems like a fitting photo to me as the Sukois are basically just a fixed wing copy of the Tomcat. Too bad we didn’t learn as much from the success of the F-14 design as the Russians did.

    • crackedlenses

      Dumb question, but could you elaborate on the successes of the F-14 design? From what I’ve read, both the F-14 and the F-111 had rather bumpy careers…..

      • Riceball

        The bumps in the F-14’s career was in large part due to weak engines for most of their career that gave them poor thrust to weight ratio and (iirc) often required full afterburners for take off which used up a lot of gas. Then later on as they got older they required a lot of maintenance and tended to require a lot of time in the shop between flights to keep them maintained and in flying condition. But as I understand it, when it was flying the Tomcat was a great bird and very maneuverable in spite of its size and then engine problem was eventually resolved with the F-14D program but that result in very many D model Tomcats before they were all retired.

        • crackedlenses


        • Dfens

          Riceball had a very good answer. There was a plan in the works to sharpen up the leading edge of the glove to give the airplane more vortex strake lift, which would make it easier to land and generally make it better able to operate at high angles of attack, along with giving it an up rated F-110 that would have been something to see if it had happened.

          The F-14’s advantage was that it had very low drag. As long as it was going fast, it had the upper hand in a an air-to-air engagement. Once it lost energy in a few turns, though, the too small engine made it hard to come out on top. A friend of mine who is an ex-F-15 driver said of the Tomcat, “once those wings came forward, it was all over.”

          Part of the low drag aspect of the F-14 was due to the location of the engines, which you see repeated in the Su-27 along with some other related features. Apparently the USAF was so spooked by Mavrick’s flat spin in the movie “Top Gun” that they’ve decided both engines need to be right next to one another in all their fighter airplanes forever more.

          • Nadnerbus

            Yeah, I had read comments from pilots about not really flying the plane, but flying the engines. Certain parts of the flight envelope were known to cause compressor stalls, even though the airframe was designed to surpass those areas. It was really sad that the Tomcat spent most of its time in service underpowered. We never really got to see it live up to its full potential as an interceptor and dog fighter.

            I actually am really happy to see some still in the air, looking beautiful up there, even if it is for the Iranian air force. Hopefully some day the Iranian people can ditch their nutty rulers and they can bring them to our air shows. That would be great to see on a lot of levels.

          • Dfens

            The engines were too small for the intakes. The only way they could stay lit was for the variable geometry intake to operate as an air flow limiter.

        • Crash

          Also F-14As were converted to A+ and then renumbered F-14B. These were A models with the D engine and ground attack capability. Nick named Bombcat. These upgrades eliminated the engine trouble, but alas those airframes had high times and lots of cycles.

    • pleuris

      Sukhoi was and is very capable doing their own designs, The fact that the teen fighters and the Sukhois and Migs look alike is because both sides were on par in aerodynamics. Both sides had is own approach on how to accomplish their specs that resulted in swing wing and fixed wing designs..

      • JRL

        ‘InventedintheUSfirst!’ers ought’a take a look at the MiG-25. Which was flying years before either the Tomcat or Eagle. Of course, there is the A-5 Vigilante, which other than having a single vertical tail, also broadly resembles the above aircraft. It first flew 3 yrs before the first Foxbat made it into the air.

        The real reason that MiGs and Sukhois , esp 3rd Gen jets like the MiG-19/21 and the Su-7/9/11, often looked very similar, was because the Soviets had an independent aerodynamic research institute that would come up with basic planforms, and then assign development and manufacture of jets based on those planforms to MiG and Sukhois. MiG specializing in smaller, lightweight models, and Sukhoi specializing in the larger, heavier ones.

        Both the Fulcrum and the Flanker familes have their origins in the Soviet era.

    • Alex

      Basically yes, but in other hand basically NO Su27 and F14 have just one thing which is connected them, Su 27 was make it like direct response to F14 and there start and end’s any others similarity.Jesus where is end of that all-around premise which is some how put in mind of “young” Americans, that all weapons which is good and made by Russian is direct copycat job from US of A.

  • cozine

    Both are beautiful planes and both will go down aviation history as hallmarks of aircraft design and engineering. Political hot heads - relax and enjoy this rare sight.

  • Fred Murre

    IIRC the Iranians were rumored to have given the Soviets an F-14 or two after the revolution in return for manufacture of reasonable spare parts.

    • TLAM Strike

      Actually the Iranians kept the Russians far away from their American gear. They consider the Russians a potential enemy.

      That rumor comes from how the Russians got some Iranian AIM-9s and a F-5. They got them from the Iraqis who got them from a defected Iranian pilot.

      The photos of a Tomcat in Russian colors that were circulating around the net a while ago where fake.

      • blight

        Agreed. The Russians were arming Saddam at the time, and only Israel was funneling arms to the Iranians. Giving the Russians F-14 parts would be shooting themselves in the back.

        • JRL

          You forgot one other arms supplier to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The USA.

          But don’t feel bad. After all, Lt Col Ollie North and Ronald Reagan didn’t remember that, either…

  • Taggert

    Surprised they didn’t try to put the RQ-170 up there as well.

  • TonyC

    The Iranian F-14’s probably can’t fire the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, but could still pose
    a serious threat to the US Navy F-18’s in a dog fight. The problem with selling military hardware to precarious allies is they can change sides in an instant. Now the
    Iranians have an adavnced airframe to use as a template for their own design.

    • cozine

      In fact these F-14s CAN fire AIM-54. 424 phoenix missiles were ordered along with the 80 tomcats. How many are there left operational is a different question; but if my memory serve me right, the Iranian did manage to modify the Tomcats so that they can fire Hawk SAMs.

      • TLAM Strike

        There is about 50 or some AIM-54s said to be left in Iran’s arsenal.

        • blight

          I’m surprised they had any left, considering they had to fight ten years of painful combat against the Iraqis.

      • blight…

    • mpower6428

      “precarious allies” you could have just said “dictatorships”, brutal ones. like saudi arabia.

      • blight

        True. In the early days, Israel might’ve been classified as a precarious ally. No love of the west after the British gave them a hazing, and certainly no love for the Soviets who mistreated Jews and armed the Arabs (though the initial fight of Arabs vs Jews was with British/West Euro hardware on both sides, as British troops from the Mideast returned home to national armies)

    • Matt

      No only are the Iranian F-14 air frames and avionics vastly out dated compared to USN Super Hornets, Iranian pilots also have much less air time and combat experience than their American counterparts.

      • Riceball

        Not to mention that they’re almost certainly not in first rate operating condition. Tomcats in US service were known as maintenance hogs requiring a lot of time being serviced, now imagine trying to keep a bunch of Tomcats flying without a steady supply of spares and no access to Northrop/Grumman engineers when something goes wrong and you don’t know what to do.

    • Anthony Kiggins

      After years flying both the U.S. Navy’s F-14 and FA-18, I can say without reservation that the Iranian F-14A’s would pose no threat the the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps FA-18’s.

  • cozine

    “Template of their own design” - you mean the twin tailfin F-5s?

  • Lance

    Makes me miss the Tomcat. The F-14D and proposed F-14F had got ride of all the problems of the old A models in engines troubles. The F-14 could kick a F-18s but most of the time. Too bad politics killed them.

    Hate to admit the F-14 looks awesome in Desert camo just as it did in the grey yellow and back of the old VF-84 Jolly Rogers squadron.

    • Ted_Kozikowski

      Lets go further back to the Phantom. When I was with VF-161, USS Midway, Yokosuka, Japan. There were a few time when our pilots went up against the Tomcat “and” held their own. Kind of brings tears to your eyes.

  • Nicky

    So this proves the point of so many Aces that this planet has, that no matter the type of plane, It all boils down to the skill of the Fighter pilot. You can have a very high tech fighter, but have a crappy pilot vs having a very crappy fighter and a very skilled pilot. It just boils down to how good is your fighter pilots. Judging by how the Iranians fly and fight in the air, I doubt they would not be a match for any western Fighter pilot, who is a graduate of Either Top Gun school or Red Flag or maple flag. Even though the Iranians have F-14’s, we have pilots that are experienced enough to take them down in one swipe.

    • TLAM Strike

      Doesn’t matter how good of pilot you have if your jet drops out of the sky because it was not maintained.

      Iran just lost a F-14 and two air crew last week.

      • Nicky

        That’s why it proves that not matter how well maintained or high tech your aircraft is, it all boils down to how good your pilot is and your Crew chief is.

        • Atomic Walrus

          The best crew chief in the world will have a hard time compensating for a worn-out airframe and a scarce parts supply. The F-14 was a complicated weapons system in its day, and is no less complex now that its technology has been surpassed. The difference is that there aren’t nearly so many people fluent in maintaining the old technology. Tried to get anybody to repair a floppy disk drive lately?

          • Nicky

            Just ask all the Air combat aces in the world who their Crew Chiefs are and I can bet, behind every Air combat Ace is a Crew Chief who kept his or her plane in top condition. It also boils down to how skilled your fighter pilots.

    • Lance

      Don’t underestimate some Iranian pilots they have combat experience against Iraq in the 80s and have decent weapons too. Never underestimate a opponent.

      • JRL

        That’s right. Combat experience against the Iraqi air force. And we all know how formidable they were during Desert Storm..

        What really hurts the effectiveness of the IRIAF is the distrust of the ayatollahs. The air force has always been the most secular and cosmopolitan of the Iranian combat arms, and because of this, more emphasis has been put on ensuring loyalty to the regime, than on increasing combat effectiveness.

      • Matt

        That’s 30 years ago. If the pilots were about 20 in that war (assuming Iranian pilots are college educated officers) theyd be 50yrs old now. America has young pilots w/experience as recent as Iraq in ’03 and Libya in ’11.

        • blight

          Fair enough. It’s probably like saying before WW2 the American military was battle-tested because of participation in WW1.

          They’re not ready for the next war that involves Iran. I mean, they won’t roll over, but it won’t end well for them on many levels.

        • JRL

          The revolution and initial purges were 30 yrs ago, but the suspicion and culture gap still remain. Not to mention that the people who make the policy and decisions concerning training methods and promotions are rarely people in their 20s and 30s. Even in Western air forces.

          It’s the 50+ guys who survived the purges who are now running the show. Under the close supervision of the religious types…

  • Matt Holzmann

    We’re talking aircraft that are at a minimum 25-30 years old at this point which have been poorly maintained. I would think hitting afterburner on either type would result in either one of those little farts we used to see in the cartoons or complete immolation.

    Flying them in combat is a great way to meet Allah and their 72 virgins. Poor maintenance, no parts, and limited flying time does not bode well for the IAF.

    • Joe Bruno

      Are you sure about the 72 Virgins. I thought it was 77 Virgins…

  • david h

    We’ll see F-15’s posing with Flankers before the next decade is over…

    • JRL

      F-15s have appeared at theRussian MAKS air shows for years. As has the B-1.

      Seeing those jets sitting on the ramp next to Flankers and Blackjacks, and right next door to Moscow must seem surreal to the old Cold Warriors. On both sides of the fence…

    • kirk Auston

      dont you know the su-27 are f-15’s whats sick is both countries are our enemies and yet they have american jets….what gives…its true that we are being killed by american war machines.stop selling american war equipment to foreign nations.

      • blight

        We sold the F-14’s in the ’70s when the Shah was our friend against the Soviets, who were avowedly coming after us. That said, I don’t think F-14s have killed any Americans. The only times Americans have been killed by Soviets in the air is by the VVS shooting down aircraft that went near or into Soviet airspace; and Mig-15’s with Soviet advisors in them, and presumably Soviets manning ground SAM batteries in Vietnam.

  • blight

    Quick Q:

    Are these F-14’s at Esfahan airport? (Khatami Air Base, built once the Shah received F-14’s),51.861111…

    • ABH1 (ret)

      Very close, but I dont think so, the shaow’s dont help with a good ID but something is off a little. wish the pic was a little clearer.

  • Sanem

    on IAF vs USN

    throwing outdated fighters at the world’s most powerful air force would be stupid beyond reason

    if Iran tries something they’ll probably round up Saudi hostages, put them in an airliner, and use it as a human shield
    - shoot, and you kill the hostages and anger Saudi Arabia
    - don’t shoot, and those outdated aircraft can launch all the missiles they want at stand off ranges, or even get close enough to the carriers

    this is the age of insurgent tactics, we better start adapting to it, rather than assume the enemy will try to fight a battle they know they’ll never win

    • Eagle eye

      Don’t give ’em any ideas.

  • blight

    It would have been interesting if the Iranians had gotten their hands on blackbirds. Considering the costs on our end maintaining them and all.

    We’d probably still have our Blackbirds if they still had weaponized ones, or we would have developed missiles fast enough to take down Iranian A-12’s. Nothing like the other guy having really fancy hardware to motivate weapons development.

    • Lance

      Guys Guys stop attacking each other. the fact is as a A-7 replacement the F-18 was fine but it is far far less capable than the F-14. The fact was it was cheaper to operate the F-14D for defense and Grumman proposed the F-14F which would have made a Strike Tomcat interdiction fighter like the F-15E is in the USAF. Thous would have been alot cheaper than the crappy F-18E Super Hornet in range payload and air to air capabilities. This was killed by then Sec of Defense Dick Cheney who got BIG kick backs from then McDonald Douglas to scrap all other planes for a all Hornet fleet. He forced his way and now the navy lacks air superiority fighters and heavy ground attack planes for a so called multirole fighter which can do the jobs marginally well instead of having a dedicated plane to do the job greatly.

      Iran could have replaced F-14s with new MiG-29s and SU-27s very easily over the last 20 years. Fact is there Tomcats out preform all US Navy planes and only the F-15 and F-22 can take one on in a even air to air fight and come ahead.

      I know you Hornet lover will hate me. But the F-18 is NOT the best plane in the field.

      • Nadnerbus

        The Hornet requires something like less than half the maintenance hours of the Tomcat. Personnel costs are king in the new Navy, and new Hornets were simply more efficient than even new built Tomcats would have been. They are clearly not as capable as the Tomcat, but then the Navy has not really replaced the payload and range of the A-6, or the anti-sub capability of the S-3 either.

        I just don’t think the evidence is there for an anti-Grumman/Tomcat conspiracy. The bean counters got together with the operations guys and they decided on the best compromise they could get for the money they were willing to spend. There is no way a Clinton era defense climate would have allowed a proper air superiority fighter program for the Navy to go through. A redesigned and updated Tomcat/bombcat would have been nice, but they got more bang for the buck with the Super Hornet.

        Hell, I give big props to the Navy for getting the Super Hornet designed and into service in such a short space of time. That was a major coupe in how they worked around the bloated and inefficient defense acquisition process to get what they needed quickly and on cost.

  • Benjamin

    It would be interesting to see how our tactics would be used in the bvr arena in regards to an AIM-54 launch from one of these Tomcats. More interesting if the Iranians were capable of doing any modifications without us knowing.

    In the end I still think it would be beat

  • mamba

    Raptor was there… sneakskie like.

  • Dave G

    Lots of pis here…

  • lilJonny

    here we come WW3…

  • Woody

    If the Military needs F-14’s we have still have hundreds of them, just go to Tucson and drive around the boneyard. Row upon row of mothballed F-14’s among hundreds of other outdated types of the older model F-18’s, F-111’s, A-6’s, F-4’s, F-15’s, A-10’s, B-52’s etc etc etc….just waiting for maybe China to do something stupid…

    • Crash

      Most of the F-14s have been destroyed, look at google earth only about a dozen left, the rest are in museums. Govt did not want spare parts getting to Iran so they were slated for disposal.

      • blight

        Iran got its hands on F-14 parts when the military liquidated its inventory in sales to free up warehouse space. Every once in a while, a part that could be used in a F-14 appeared.

        The F-14’s in the boneyard are safe from the evil Iranians.

        • Sgt. Squido

          “The F-14’s in the boneyard are safe from the evil Iranians”


    • USN GCI

      Aside from the museum planes the F14s were destroyed for this very reason

  • blight

    While looking for more information on the F-14’s, found something interesting, from a website about the Shah-era air force.….

    • blight


      Which suggests the F-14s might continue to fly for some time.

      • tiger

        How do you say “Maverick” & “Goose” in Persian? I guess “Iceman” & “Hollywood” are flying Number 2?

  • crackedlenses

    But if the Iranians are desperate enough……

  • tiger

    Hey how about those F-4’s? Who in St. Louis would have though the Phantom II would still be a combat plane in 2012 back in the day? The F-4 is like the B-52 of the fighter world. I know Japan, Israel, Greece & Iran have them. Any other users still?

    • blight

      Trying to decide if Germany is still using theirs.

    • Number_Six

      South Korea still flies F-4s.

    • blight

      Is Turkey still using their F-4’s?

  • Quicksaber

    All we have to do would just start flying missions near there air space and make them send up the planes and just have them chase us around for a while and place stress on the planes and crew and eat up the man power and spare parts. It will get to a point where they have to stop flying them just to keep them ready if we ever attack and by the time they figure out it is a real attack they will be sitting on the run way burning or they so far behind on the power curve we will be in and out before they are a threat. Just my 2 cents

  • Gringo Infidel

    Note that only 3 Iranian Tom’s and 2 Iranian Phantoms are shown - perhaps the extent of all they have left that are ‘flyable.’ Certainly less than full mission capable.

    Mostly Iran flies F-5’s and Ex-Sov designed hand-me-downs from China.

    Either way - all good missile bait.

    • PMI

      Why would they send up an entire squadron to escort the Russians?

  • TopgunGrad1986

    It doesnt take much to look up what Iran has in their inventory. Janes has pretty good estimates.
    25 of 44 F14s
    10 Mirage F1s (actually stolen from Iraq during Desert Storm)
    25 Mig29s
    65 F4s
    75 F5s
    5 Saeqehs (Iranian twin tail F5) with plans to build 24.
    The F4s are being phased out

  • warchild

    Ahhhhhh yesssss to see those war-birds is so surreal that I forgot that the F-4 was replaced by the F-14. Those Russian birds would leave them behind if they weren’t ordered to take it easy on those old veterans. And the Antronov cargo beast is beyond belief what a monster!

  • Davyd

    That really is an awesome sight. Especially since the US retired their Tomcats. I really believe that the F-14s that Iran owns are not as bad off as we are led to believe. Especially with modern espionage the way it is.

  • Wojo

    Thanks for the sanity!

  • aholt

    why are they escorting a russian airshow team?

    • blight_

      Don’t want Russian aircraft flying where-ever willy-nilly. Or god forbid, into restricted airspace where they are promptly blown away.

  • tiger

    Those Sukhoi SU -27’s are neat looking birds. I’m so tired of grey airplanes.