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Old 14th July 2015, 23:32   #1
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Default Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is among the most recognizable fighter aircraft of our times, reason being it was the real star of the movie Top Gun. If you're one of the born-in-the-1980s kids, there's little chance you haven't seen Top Gun and wanted to be a real life Maverick.

How it began :
The F-14 started with a very rocky, unpredictable beginning - as in, it almost didn't get designed. Fans of the Tomcat should be thankful to the then secretary of defense (American spelling) Robert McNamara, who thought that the military spent too much money on too many different programs.

Traditionally, the US Air Force (USAF) and US Navy (USN) have had independent equipment design and acquisition programs. The USAF rarely used the same type as the USN, and vice versa. That meant the US had dozens of different aircraft types in service - even the Navy alone did.

There was the A-5 Vigilante, the F-4 Phantom II, the A-7 Corsair II, the A-6 Intruder, the F-8 Crusader, the A-4 Skyhawk, the A-4D Skyray, the F9 Cougar, F9F Panther, F-11F Tiger , F2H Banshee, F3H Demon, F4J Fury.

Whew, that's a long list - and that is just the fighter-bomber planes from 1950s and 1960s, then in service.
So it does make sense to reduce the plethora of dedicated, single role , super-specialized planes, right ? That's what Robert McNamara thought.

And so, in his infinite wisdom, he ordered a common new fighter for the next generation that both the USAF and USN would use. Joint development would save money, and long production run would give economies of scale.

The TFX :
This one-jet-for-all was the TFX (Tactical Fighter eXperimental) program, which eventually became the F-111, the very first swing-wing - or more technically, variable geometry wing aircraft to enter service. The F-111 was also the first "fighter" to employ turbofan engines, that would allow greater range or endurance owing the better fuel efficiency of the turbofan over turbojets.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f111c.jpg
Sleek, powerful, fast - yet not suitable for the navy's job.

Designed to meet the diverse needs of both the Navy and Air Force, the F-111 turned out be a little too big, too heavy, to be a useful fighter. At around 63 ft long, it weighed 21 tons empty, and with fuel and ordnance, a weighty 37+ tons. It had to - in order to carry the long range airborne radar system called the AWG-9 and 4-6 long range air interception missiles, or a useful bombload , over a 1000 mile radius, it needed a large frame to carry all that and the fuel to lug it around.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-generaldynamicsf1113.png
The very first variable geometry winged combat aircraft to enter service, the F-111 was also first to use turbofans, compared the turbojets that were the norm. The turbofans brought much improved fuel efficiency per pound of thrust, but with a size and weight penalty, being bigger than turbojets of the same thrust. Improvements in metallurgy did a lot toward keeping size down.

But the AF wanted a bomber/strike jet which would be the F-111A, the USN wanted a fighter-interceptor which was designated F-111B.

82000lbs gross weight? For a carrier capable fighter? That was enough, said the US Navy. It's too big, too heavy to be operable off aircraft carriers, and said no, thanks. The USN then embarked on a new program to develop a lighter fighter, yet capable of the F-111s projected abilities for long range interception, to protect the Navy's ships from assault by Soviet bombers armed with long range anti-ship missiles. With an expected threat of hordes of bombers with missiles, the USN Navy wanted a jet that could fly fast and intercept the bombers and missiles as far out away from the ships, so the long range Phoenix was critical to be integrated with the new fighter.

Grumman aircraft corp, was already a favorite of the USN. They had made many USN fighters from the 1930s, all the *cat named ones - Bearcat, Hellcat, Cougar, Panther, Tiger. They knew what the Navy wanted, they could deliver just what a Navy fighter should be. Although there were competing designs from other manufacturers, Grumman was certain to win the contract , and it did. This was the VFX program - V denoting the Navy's designation for fixed-wing aircraft, and the FX being Fighter, eXperimental.

What the USN wanted, was a fighter of the wight class the F-4 Phantom II was in, with better agility , better speed , acceleration and climb, with a long range radar and 6 air-air missiles capable of shooting down Soviet bombers or cruise missiles from 100 miles away, all at once. It was a tall order - for sure. Needless to say, it had to be carrier-capable - that is, small and light enough to be able to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, with the carrier lifts capable of carrying it up/down to and fro, with the arresting cables and shock able to stop the jet safely.

Model 303G:
Several mock-up designs were shown and briefly wind tunnel tested. Some single tailed, but the single tail was too tall to fit inside the low hangar ceiling of an aircraft carrier. Some were with fixed wings, some with VG wings.

Some of the prototype model designs:
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Single finned:
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Fixed wing:
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Enter model 303G, the final design chosen, with two shorter tails. The brainchild chief designer Mike Pelehach, the F-14 was started on one of the most precarious new aircraft development programs.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-grummanf14tomcat11.jpg

Like the F-111, it was a variable geometry winged, twin engine jet. The variable geometry (VG) was needed to make its take off and landing speed low enough to land on the carrier and low speed combat, while the sweep positions allowed efficient high speed and supersonic performance. The target approach speed for the F-14 was 124 knots , or 230km/h.

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The two engines, the same Pratt & Whitney TF-30 turbofans from the F-111 were used to save development time and cost, with a promise of more modern, powerful engines following on once the design matured. Also carried over was the Air Weapons Group 9 or AWG-9 radar and fire control computers, from the naval variant of F-111 as also the AIM-54 Phoenix missile. The USN originally wanted a 55,000lb aircraft, the F-14 was nudging 66,000 , eventually going up to 75000lb max.

In order to fit all of that, the nose of the F-14 is huge, to house the radar that has a search range of ~300km. The Phoenix missile too is huge, and weighs almost 1000lb each, itself a remainder of the cancelled F-6D Missileer program , a planned jet to counter bombers and cruise missiles. To house them, the fuselage was kept wide and flat, with the engines now widely separated, which brought its own advantages and disadvantages.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-grummanf14tomcat10.gif

With the high demands on performance, it turned out that the F-14 itself was fairly large and heavy for a fighter jet, but by the late 1960s, cancelling the F-14 program would delay the F-4 replacement and the Navy, already reeling under the failure of the F-111, decided to persist with the F-14 despite the size and weight being fairly close to the F-111.

Around the same time, the USAF too embarked on another new fighter program, the FX - which was eventuall to become the F-15 Eagle. Again, McNamare insisted that the Navy and AF compromise and designe a common fighter, the F-15 being proposed to be navalized as the F-15N , with folding wings, heavier landing gear and the works.

Here, one might mention the importance of 3 Toms who were instrumental in getting the VFX program pass the red tape and get budget allocation. First was Vice Admiral Thomas "Tom" Connolly , Vice Admiral Thomas Moorer, both of whom took on the Defense Dept, and McNamara , defending the Navy's choice to develop the risky and expensive F-14 program. There was one more civilian Tom , working in the Capitol Hill who supported the F-14 program.

While Grumman aircraft are traditionally named after cats - Bearcat, Hellcat, Panther, Tiger , it's been suggested that the name Tomcat was suggested out of respect for these officers named "Tom" , as in Tom's cat.

The F-14 is also the first of the 'teen series' of US fighters that dominated the 1980s and 90s - the F-15 , F-16 and F/A-18 being the other 'teen series' jets.

The design:

The model 303G finally selected was a variable geometry winged, twin tail design with the engines spread wide apart, a large long nose to house the AWG-9 and two crew members, wedge style air intakes canted out and down to separate fuselage airflow from disturbing the intake flow, and a flat wide fuselage section between the engines to mount 4 of the 6 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-2640217771_7b763256ac_o.jpg
Here above you see the massive wedge-shaped air intakes, with the distinctive outward cant - the lower edge is a bit farther out than the upper, and the entire duct is rotated by some 9º outward from vertical. Also partly visible are the supersonic intake ramps that slow down supersonic air for the compressor to work - it can't compress supersonic air as it's incompressible, so the air must be slowed down. This is true for all supersonic aircraft.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14detailspeedbrake02xl.jpg
The tail fins are canted outward, with small, but long ventral fins under the engines added for directional stability.

Making its first flight on December 21, 1970 , the F-14 preceded the USAF's F-15 by almost 2 years. The 1970s were times of high inflation, so budgets had to be negotiated to allow for higher than planned for inflation, after which , the F-14 was one few programs that met time-lines planned, within the new inflation adjusted budget. Initial orders were for some 450 F-14s. Together with the F-14D, total production was 656 F-14s produced.

The wings sweep from 20º to 68º automatically, a dedicated computer with the Mach Sweep Program (MSP) monitoring the speed and attitude, to alter the wing sweep without pilot intervention. The pilot can choose to manually override the MSP, selecting from several pre-selected sweep angles from 20, 45, 60, 68 degrees. You might see the wing at 45º to 60º for medium speed flight and air combat, while 68º is the maximum sweep angle used in flight - from high subsonic to supersonic speeds.
There is a 75º oversweep for carrier stowage - only used on the ground for parking, to allow an even smaller area, as seen in below picture. The yellow bent line shows the over-sweep position that is only used on ground/deck for parking(stowage).

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14sweep.jpg
Also note the exhaust nozzle opening in the above two - the flying plane has the nozzles closed as is normal during flight in dry thrust. The plane below on the deck, is not flying, so the nozzles are fully opened to reduce exhaust pressure, and thus thrust when not needed, else the plane might move when not desired. In reheat/afterburner , the nozzles are always opened, but the degree (called throat area) may vary with engine type/design and may also vary with multi-stage afterburner - that is, if stage 1 or minimal afterburner, the nozzle may be slightly open from minimum area, progressively opening up for stage2 , stage3, stage4 and stage5 where it is again fully open. Most fighters have this feature. This is called a convergent-divergent nozzle, it varies pressure down the exhaust just enough to maximize thrust without choking the engine or causing turbine undue stress.

With the wing fully swept forward, the F-14 gains lift and agility. The full foward is 20º sweep, and used for take off, landing , low speed flying including dogfights.

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Wings have leading edge slats and trailing flaps for high lift devices, but no aileron function, instead, the wing gets smaller almost full span spoilers for roll , at lower speeds and wing sweep under 45º. Beyond that, the roll control is handled by the stabilators. The wing gloves also contain retracting winglets, that extend at supersonic speed to compensate for shift in centre of lift. These were later removed from late-model F-14s, found unnecessary.

The stabilators are all-moving, and the biggest among fighters yet. The stabilators also move differentially, allowing rolling control. Several other jets have the same feature - MiG-25/31, Su-27/30/35 too for example.

Though wing area is merely 565 sq ft, the large wide fuselage "tunnel" between the engines, acts like a lifting surface , effectively increasing wing area and lowering wing loading.
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The wing box area is constructed largely of titanium, and for the first time, electron beam welding technique used. The reported wing box is the toughest part of the F-14 airframe, as is designed to be for a carrier aircraft that takes a lot of punishment. This wing-box - the part where the wings are joined to the main fuselage , and where the sweep mechanism is housed, is the strongest part of the jet - so strong that crew in charge of dismantling and recycling old jets reported it was very hard to destroy even with industrial saws, so as to be unfit for use. Solid engineering there, Mr Pelehach !

Unlike land-based aircraft, carrier aircraft need to be tougher, to withstand harder landings - owing to lower approach speeds, the descent rate is higher, the glide slope is steeper and the final touchdown is done with no flare (raised nose to reduce touch-down speed). Carrier landings are literally controlled crashes, and takes a major toll on the airframe. The undercarriage needs to be stronger to take the forces, and the entire frame needs to be strong to withstand the sudden acceleration from the catapult and sudden stop from the arresting gear. Imagine the acceleration - going from 0 to 160 knots ( 280km/h) in 2 seconds, over 100 meters - that's a catapult launch. Imaging landing in about the same distance - pilots have to pick from 4-5 arresting cables in the landing deck - typically the 3rd is best as it means neither too slow for a hard landing, nor too fast for a risky 5th wire stop which has you stopping dead at nearly the end of the deck. And then there is the additional treatment to deal with the salty, corrosive marine environment. All that adds a lot of weight to naval aircraft, compared to air force land-only aircraft.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-us_navy_060112n8163b006_an_f14d_tomcat_land_nimitz.jpg
Can you see the cable snagged in the pic above, where the F-14 has just touched down? They are made of steel, and raised a few inches by flexible loops (circled in red, in the landing picture) so that the arrester hook on the jet can catch the cable easily.

The first thing a pilot does as soon as the wheels hit the deck is to go back into full military power (max power without afterburner) so as to have the thrust to take off again if he missed all the 4 or 5 arresting cables. Pilots aim to snag the 3rd wire, that gives the safest glide-slope. Too slow and you have a hard landing, catching the 1st or 2nd wire - or hitting the deck short and crashing if way too slow. Too fast and you catch the 4th or 5th wire, which also stresses the frame as it must decelerate rapidly from a higher speed. Catching the 5th wire, you stop almost at the end of landing deck, giving the impress you're about to fall overboard.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-040924n0295m035_1280.jpg
Here you can see the arrester hook extended, as it would for a carrier landing. Note the main landing gear struts, they are also fully extended, and will compress under the immense weight of this huge jet fighter. They are designed to be very sturdy.

The main wheels rotate during retraction, so that the wheel lies flat parallel to the ground, inside the wing glove root area. This is common among several fighters, like the MiG-29 and Su-27/30/35 series.

The twin wheel nose landing gear was borrowed from the A-6 Intruder, also retracting forward. The nose gear compresses for the catapult attachment, giving it a nose-low stance when hooking up with the catapult shuttle ( the part that pulls the jet down the deck for take off ).

The tail has an arrester hook between the engines, with a fuel jettison valve next to it and the airbrakes. The airbrakes are split - dorsal and ventral sections, extending hydraulically. The arrester hook in why the ventral brake is also divided into two halves.

Internal fuel capacity was 9029 litres, with 2 1011 litre drop tanks under the engine nacelles, with no ordnance ever mounted on these. Range without drop tanks is around 2960km, with drop tanks another ~600-700km.

The nose has a retractable in-flight refuelling probe.

The AWG-9 radar reportedly can detect targets as far as 315km, with a tracking range varying from 220km to 280km depending on target size. The big feature though, was its ability to track 24 targets, from 50' to over 50,000' altitude at a time, and target 6 of them with the AIM-54 Phoenix missile. The radar is reported very powerful and resistant to jamming, and the subsequent APG-71 of the F-14D even better. This was demonstrated in an live test, when an F-14 launched 6 Phoenix missiles in quick succession , each costing a million dollars (!) and shot down 5 of 6 target drones - sufficient to convince the politicians/Congress to continue funding the VFX program.

The F-14 also carries an optical/TV/IR sensor under the nose, in a pod. Earlier, it was just optical ( called TCS - television camera system) that could see in visible spectrum over several dozen kilometers). The F-14D added an IRST beside it. The rear crew member is called the RIO - Radar Intercept Officer, as oppose to the more common term WSO (Weapons Systems Officer), as on the F-4 and F-15E.

The fuselage can either accept 4 semi-recessed AIM-7 Sparrow missiles or 4 AIM-54s on pallets. The fixed part of the wing, call the wing glove area, has one additional pylon each, that can each accept either a pair of AIM-9 Sidewinder or 1 AIM-9+1 AIM-7 Sparror , or 1-AIM9+1 AIM-54 Phoenix.

Thus a max load could be :
4 AIM-9 Sidewinders + 4 AIM-7 Sparrows
4 AIM-9 Sidewinders + 4 AIM-54 Phoenix
2 AIM-9 Sidewinders + 6 AIM-7 Sparrows
2 AIM-9 Sidewinders + 6 AIM-54 Phoenix
2 AIM-9 Sidewinders + 2 AIM-54 Phoenix + 4 AIM-7 Sparrows
2 AIM-9 Sidewinders + 2 AIM-7 Sparrows + 4 AIM-54 Phoenix

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F-14 with 6 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. Each weight 975lb (443kg), has a maximum claimed range of 125miles/200km , but in practice only effective against bombers and cruise missiles. Top speed is said to be Mach 5.5.

The 6 Phoenix missile load was rarely carried on carrier-based flights, because the bring back limit ( the amount/weight limit of ordnance that can be brought back if unused, and safely land with it ) allowed no more than 4 Phoenix missiles. Any higher would require a high approach/landing speed. The Phoenix missile reportedly can go Mach 5+ and in typical long range intercept, it climbs high after launch, so that it can use gravity to maintain kinetic energy in final phase, attacking its target from top. This profile meant it was not so good for shooting down fighters, so rarely was the primary weapon - that was the AIM-7 Sparrow.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14_2.jpg

It's not a limitation of the F-14 alone, almost every aircraft in the world, has a landing weight restriction, including commercial liners, and if the weight is above this, standard operating procedure is to dump fuel aboard to reduce the weight below the safe landing weight limit. This is why you will see some aircraft with a stream of fuel trailing behind - this is only done in emergencies usually.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14a_vf1_from_below_with_aim7_and_aim9_1982.jpg
F-14 with 4 AIM-7 Sparrow missiles carried partly submerged in the fuselage , this lowers the drag - note the rear pair are not laterally placed like the AIM-54 but in tandem. Also note the rarely seen configuration of 2 AIM-9 Sidewinders on the wing glove pylons. Here is another pic of this rarely seen configuration.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-834b3de53055600hw7.jpg

The Tomcat also carries the standard gun fitment of the teen series jets - the M61A1 6-barrel rotary cannon with 20mm calibre, with 675 rounds. The gun is in the port side of the nose, behind the radar and below the cockpit, can fire at upto 6000 rounds/minute. The exhaust gases from the gun can be ingested into the port (left) side engine.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14-cannon-648.jpg
The F-14's gun, seen with covers removed.
Those two loops on top of the pilot/RIO's seat are the ejection seat handles, pull to eject. There are ejection levers in front of the seat, behind the joystick as well.

Maximum ordnance load is approx 6500kg. The wide fuselage tunnel proved to be versatile - it could be used to load large ordnance like AIM-54s or several bombs from 500mb Mk 82 to 2000lm Mk 84 and their derived laser guided bombs. The F-14 was also cleared for AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile, GBU (laser) and later JDAM (GPS guided) bombs.


The F-14A was powered by Pratt & Whitnet TF-30-P412 engines, lifted off the F-111. The plan was to fit more powerful engines later, the design being the GE-401 engine. This engine never materialized, and for most of it's career, the F-14 had to make do with the TF-30.

This was critical. The TF-30 engine was designed for the F-111 fighter-bomber, with the stress more on bomber/strike role as desired by the USAF. In the more manoueverable F-14, these engines proved to be limitation. The TF-30 was prone to compressor stalls and turbine surges, especially in the high speed, high alpha regime. A moving, manoevering fighter has rough airflow and the TF-30 could not handle this, resulting in many engine stops mid-flight. Engine problems were the #1 cause of F-14 accidents.

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The Pratt & Whitney TF-30 engine, identifiable from its distinct nozzle.

The GE F-110-GE400 engine, a derivative of the GE-F100-GE100 developed for the F-16 and F-15 as an alternative to the (then troublesome) Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW-200/220 series of engines, was selected to power the F-14. This re-engined F-14 was named the F-14A+ , later F-14B. The GE engine , although a late fix in the early 1990s, gave the F-14 better performance. The F-14B could take off without afterburner on the carrier.

You can tell an F-14A apart from an F-14B by its exhaust nozzle - the GE engine has bigger nozzle like the F-16, while the F-14A's nozzle was unique in itself. The later F-14D used the same GE F-110 engine, but incorporated newer APG-71 radar, newer jammer and warning receivers, while also going with digital fly by wire and ground attack capability, including JDAMs, LGBs.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14tomcat_felix.jpg
The General Electric F-110 engine - note the different nozzle, similar to some F-16s which also sport the F-110. The F-16s have the F-110-GE100 or F-110-GE129 or F-110-GE132 engine, the F-14 has a longer engine duct, and to balance the weight properly since the TF-30 engine was much longer, the F-110 engine gets a elongating plug installed down-stream of the turbines, in the afterburner stage to plug the gap. This modified F-110 version is the F-110-GE400 , only used on the F-14.

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Just to give an idea of the size of the jet engine
That's the TF-30 engine, you should be able to tell by the nozzle.

The TF-30 develops 20,700lb ( ~90kN ) thrust with afterburner. The F-110 engine, develops 27,000lb ( 105kN ) with afterburner, a significant boost, while also being more fuel efficient, and more critically , more reliable. This was the engine the F-14 should have originally got. With the TF-30, the pilot had to be careful with throttle and manoevering, so as not to get the engine into its turbulent airflow area. With the F-110, the pilot could stop worrying about the engine and fly the jet within its thrust and aerodynamic limits, the engine could cope with airflow disturbances and rapid throttle movement allowing carefree handling.

Remember I spoke of downsides to the widely spaced engines? The engines so widely spaced, increase polar mass, affecting the roll rate. The F-16 can roll at 360º per second, the F-14 is somewhere near 90º/sec. More importantly, airflow disturbances can stall the engine, and if one engine stalls, the asymmetric thrust can cause a sudden yaw, that can then enter a flat spin, which is hard to recover from. Remember "Top Gun", the scene were Goose dies ? That accident is a depiction the flat spin. Real USN pilots were warned not to execute any severe yaw ( left-right movement in X-Y plane), by rudder movement or asymmetric thrust, as this could cause a flat spin.

For some reason, the AIM-120 AMRAAM was never cleared for use on the F-14, so while the AIM-54 Phoenix was retired by 2003, the standard BVR missile remained the AIM-7 whereas the USAF ( F-16, F-15 ) had long transitioned to the AIM-120. Although the ground attack capability was added late in its life, the F-14 proved a formidable attack jet. It had a larger payload and range than the F/A-18, and was became the mainstay of the USN strike sorties once the A-6 strike variants were retired in the late 1990s - the Hornets could not deliver enough bombs over longer sorties. The Tomcat was nicknamed "Bombcat" in the late 1990s, serving as main strike asset for the USN in Bosnia (1999) and Afghanistan.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14_with_burner2.jpg
Spectacular sight, isn't it ? Those brighter bands/discs you see within the afterburner flame are called "shock diamonds". They're an interesting aerodynamic phenomenon in its own right.The hot exhaust flows out of the nozzle at great speed - where is expands , and meets the cold air outside. The cold air reacts and forces the hot air back in the imaginary "tube" , so the hot gas flow merges into a denser hot disc, expands again only to collide with cold outer air to bounce back in, creating another denser disc of glowing exhaust gas - this is the shock diamond , repeating for a few times until the temperature cools enough for the gas to stop glowing.

Now you know what a shock diamond is.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14_with_burner7.jpg

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14_with_burner8.jpg

Length : 62 ft 9 in ( 19.1 metre)
Wingspan : 64 ft (19.5m) at 20º sweep, 38 ft ( 11.3m) at 68º sweep
height : 4.88m / 16 ft
empty : 18900kg/41600 lb (F-14A), 19800kg/43700 lb (F-14D)
normal equipped : 29900kg/65000 lb
max take off : 34019kg/75000 lb
Wing area : 565 sq ft ( 54.5 sq metres)

Fuel capacity : 9029 litres internal, 2x 1011 litre drop tanks under engine nacelles

Max speed at sea level : Mach 1.24 , ~1500km/h
Max speed above 36000ft : Mach 2.35 , 2450km/h
Service ceiling : ~55,000ft
Max climb rate : 45,000ft/min or 230m/s
Min take off run : 400m
Min landing run : 600m
G-limits : +7.5G/-3G
Carrier landing speed : 124 knots, 230km/h

The F-14 is considered the least agile of the teen series, and it's mainly due to the engines not offering enough thrust. Aerodynamically, the lifting body allows great turn performance, but also lot of drag, which along with the weight for navy/carrier operations, means the F-14 requires more punchy engines to meet its potential. Even with the GE F-110, it was behind the F-15 in terms of thrust-to-weight ratio. Nevertheless, F-14 pilots have at times defeated seasoned F-15 pilots at times, utilizing the F-14s swing wing to dive and gain speed quickly to compensate for lower thrust. With better engines, I am confident the F-14 can be almost Su-27 like in terms of dogfighting ability. The F-14 has demostrated excellent high alpha controllability, and the large stabilators provide lot of authority. Even so, low speed handling has been criticised, with the F-14 derided by some as a "turkey" to land on carrier approaches, though that is in part due to the many control surfaces. The F-14 can stay in controlled flight to as high as 70º AoA, pretty remarkable though the MiG-29 and Su-27 are even more capable.

The very first squadron to induct F-14 into service was the VF-1 Wolfpack. Entering service in 1974, it was toward to end of Vietnam war, so the F-14 did not see any action then.
The F-14 saw action is the 1980s - Libya in 1982 and 1989, Persian Gulf in 1990-91 and through the 90s, 1999 in Bosnia, 2003 in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whereever the US has access to friendly/allied airfields, the USAF tends to get the bulk of the action , and when it comes to air-air engagements, the F-14 usually gets short changed in favor of the F-15. Nonetheless, the F-14 has reportedly seen lot of action, by IRIAF - the only other country to fly F-14s. Iran purchased 80 F-14s in 1976, just before the fall of the Shah of Iran who was friendly with the US. 79 out of 80 F-14s were delivered by 1979 when the Iranian revolution happened. The 80th jet stayed in the US, used to train the Iranian ground crew.

Reports from the Iran-Iraq war state that a 4-5 F-14s were shot down by Iraq, which Iran denies. Conversely, Iran claims the F-14 was never shot down but has some 30+ kills, another account states that once the Iraqis learnt of the F-14, whenever they detected the powerful radar of the F-14 in their RWR (radar warning receiver) , the Iraqi pilots chose to keep well away from the F-14s. US side accounts on the other hand, say they deliberately sabotaged the F-14s before leaving Iran , preventing the F-14s from being fully combat capable, particularly disabling the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. The AIM-54 itself was designed to shoot down bombers and cruise missiles, not agile fighters, as such it's real word combat is unknown since the US never used it, and Iran's claims are considered unreliable.

The USN used the F-14 more in strike role since 1991, where the Hornet's fuel+payload capability was often found short. However, the F-14 is high maintenance, requireing 60-80 man hours of maintenance per flight hour, compared to 10 man-hours maintenance per flight hour of the F/A-18 Hornet. This was partly due to age, older machines require more maintenance. Although Grumman often proposed ideas for future F-14 development, the USN has since shown no interest. Grumman offered advanced prototype/concepts like F-14 Super Tomcat, and Tomcat 21/Quickstrike with more advanced avionics, engines, etc but apparently the post-Cold War era bit down defense budgets, and the USN decided on cheaper alternatives - the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet instead. The F-14 remains the last of the Grumman designs, before it merged with Northrop to form Northrop-Grumman. The F-14 has since been retired by the USN from service, as of Feb 2006. The dies/moulds of F-14s parts have been ordered to be destroyed, so that no chance remains for any usable parts being smuggled to Iran. The F-14s themselves, stripped of vital components, now are parked in the Arizona desert at Davis-Monthan AF base, nicknamed the Bone-yard, formally called AMARG (Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group), which used to store aircraft until they are recalled - either as remote target drones, or refurbished for regular duty, while a handful of them adorn museums and naval bases as gate-guards.

The proposed but not funded future development - Super Tomcat 21.
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1. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/09/us...iral-dies.html
2. http://www.cradleofaviation.org/hist...mman_f-14.html
3. http://www.faqs.org/docs/air/avtomcat.html
4. http://web.bryant.edu/~ehu/h364proj/...tle/page2.html
5. http://www.anft.net/f-14/f14-history-f14a-interavia.htm
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumman

Last edited by Ricci : 26th July 2015 at 02:56.
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Old 26th July 2015, 02:06   #2
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Default re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Some more pictures and details since the earlier post maxed out its image count.

Here you can see a little more clearly, the flat wide fuselage of the F-14 between the engines, that acts as a lifting body by itself.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14_pancake.jpg

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Here you can see the nose landing gear, being hooked up to the catapult shuttle before launch. The nose wheel strut compresses fully for take off , giving the Tomcat a nose-low, crouching tiger sort of look. Other aircraft like the F-4 Phantom II or the A-4 Skyhawk, have the nose gear extend fully, giving a nose-up attitude instead.

Here is the F-14's retractable refuelling probe, just ahead and to the right of the cockpit/windscreen.
Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14_tomcat_preparing_to_refuel.jpg

The TCS - television camera system, as on F-14A. This could display zoomed in real time video image of what the sensor saw.
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Later F-14 development got an IR sensor beside the TCS.
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F-14s were first inducted into service in 1974 - closing stages of Vietnam war so it didn't see action. F-14s were retired from US Navy service in 2006. Iran continues to use whatever number of their 79 Tomcats remain flyable.

The US Navy is divided into 2 fleets - the Pacific fleet and the Atlantic fleet. Squadrons are deployed to aircraft carriers which may be part of either the Pacific or the Atlantic fleet. Typically, a carrier deployment lasts from 2-5 months and each carrier, depending on size and availability , has from 70-100 aircraft, of which 1 or 2 are/were F-14 squadrons.

The tail codes

Tails wear two-alphabet codes which denote which fleet and carrier. Nose numbers denote squadron and number within the wing (squadrons on that carrier). What do the tail codes and nose numbers mean?
Tail code can be one of :

The first alphabet represents the fleet
A = Atlantic fleet
N = Pacific fleet
The second alphabet represents the carrier - one of the 13 odd carriers the US Navy has. Every carrier has its code, and this changes with the deployment. So all squadrons deployed on say, USS Constellation to the Atlantic might get tail code AE. On redeployment to a Pacfic cruise, a squadron might wear NK.

The USS Enterprise was CVN-65 , C = carrier, V = fixed wing type , N = nuclear. CV-63 was USS Kitty Hawk which ran on diesel, hence not CVN-63.
CVN-75 is the USS Harry S Truman. Many recent arriers now are named after US presidents. You have Eisenhower, CVN-72 Abraham Lincoln, CVN-75 John C Stennis.

The squadrons too have a scheme. All fixed wing aircraft squadrons are Vxyz, be it fighters or AEW or tanker or cargo. In this context, the variable geometry wing is also referred to as fixed wing - the other type being rotary wing, which only helicopters and now the V-22 Osprey fit the designation.

V= fixed wing
F= fighter
A= attack
Q= electronic warfare
W= AEW or airborne early warning
R= logistics/support

VF = fixed with figher ( F-14 squadrons, later VFA when F-14s also undertook strike role)
VFA = fixed wing, figher, attack ( F/A-18 squadrons)
VAQ = fixed wing , attack and electronic warfare ( EA-6 Prowler )
VR = fixed wing support/cargo ( KA-6D tankers for example)

The nose numbers
The nose numbers are 3 digits 1xx or 2xx. The 1 and 2 in first position indicate the squadron number on the carrier (not the squadron number - VF-102 for example).
You may have 1xx and 2xx for F-14s, 3xx and 4xx for F/A-18s, 5xx for E-2 Hawkeye and 6xx for S-3 anti-submarine , and so on.

Within the 1xx and 2xx , the other two digits signify the sequential number of the aircraft within the wing. If there are 2 squadrons, each with 12 jets, then you'd get the nose numbers from 100-111 (12 jets), and 212 to 223 (12 jets). F/A-18s are different type, so start from zero - 300 to 311, 412-423. The commander gets dibs on x00 number. If you see a jet with the nose number 100, the 00 indicates it's the commander's ride - the senior-most officer in that wing (comprising all squadrons of 1 type).

The early F-14s had a bright white paint , with squadron colors/insignias also being brightly colored -red, yellow, blue often. The 1970s and 1980s saw many bright colored F-14s, each squadron applying its own insignia and patches on the jets. From the mid-1990s, the colorful schemes have been replaced with more sedate low-visibility grey colors, with squadron insignias being black instead. See the contrasting colors - bright white vs dull grey ?
Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14sontakeoffroll.jpg

Scroll through the images below, even the same squadron employed different livery at various stages.

The first F-14 squadron was the VF-1 Wolfpack, with VF-2 Bounty Hunters as its sister squadron.

One of the prettiest colors - from the VX-9 Vampires squadron :
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VX-4 and VX-9 are evaluation squadrons, for training and systems evaluation, not operational squadrons.

VF-1 Wolfpack - love the wolf emblem, also seen in Top Gun. Remember the first scene - "Talk to me, Goose" ?
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VF-14 Tophatters
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VF-21 Freelancers
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VF-31 Tomcatters:
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VF-32 Fighting Swordsmen
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VF-33 Starfighters
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VF-41 Black Aces
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VF-51 Screaming Eagles
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VF-84 Jolly Rogers ( later VF-103) featured in the movie "The Final Countdown" also.
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VF-102 Diamondbacks
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VF-111 Sundowners - yes, seen in Top Gun!
Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14photovf11105xl.jpg

VF-142 Ghost Riders
Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14atomcatvf142ghostridersdp16.jpg

VF-143 Puking Dogs
Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-vf143cagf14a-162692.jpg

VF-154 Black Knights
Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14a_vf154_1999.jpg

VF-114 Aardvarks , VF-124 Gunfighters, VF-211 Fighting Checkmates
Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14-sideviews1.jpg

The saddest part of the F-14 story : the Tomcats at "The Boneyard", or AMARG. After being stripped of all critical parts, they're stored or broken down to be rendered unfit for covert parts theft.

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-boneyard-7-grumman-f14s.jpg

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14amarc04.jpg

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14amarc23.jpg

Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f14amarc29.jpg

A few F-14s remain preserved in aviation museums and as gate-guards.
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And yes, the F-111 version for the US Navy, the F-111B , did make it to carrier trials stage. We were this close to not getting the F-14 started !
Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat-f111btouchdowncoralseacleanedweb.jpg

Last edited by Ricci : 26th July 2015 at 02:59.
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Old 27th July 2015, 12:09   #3
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!
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Old 27th July 2015, 12:39   #4
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Thanks for the great info Ricci.
Interesting to see all the complexities on this one.

I believe there still might be many countries flying the F14s.
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Old 27th July 2015, 17:48   #5
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Ricci, thank you for a detailed overview of the F-14 Tomcat and for the several photographs. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. The anecdote about the 'three Toms' was a new learning for me. McNamara sadly messed things up for the US Navy and the US Air Force and forced an unnecessary war on Vietnam.
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Old 27th July 2015, 19:07   #6
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Ahh ... nostalgia! Thanks for taking us down memory lane with the Top Gun Star! I remember programming the IBM PCs at the school computer lab to play the Top Gun anthem, note by note, by writing a BASIC program

An extremely detailed, well researched write up which doesn't get boring at all! Had just finished reading the complete A320 thread and with this one it seems Team-BHP is soaring in the stratosphere!
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Old 27th July 2015, 19:27   #7
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Amazing thread, rated 5 stars outright!!!

A roadies salute to Ricci sir, F-14 happens to be my favorite fighter-bomber (courtesy, of course, TOP GUN), it gave me immense joy, and some fantastic info, to go through this thread.

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Old 27th July 2015, 20:51   #8
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

A 21 gun salute to the article. Just amazing. This was an arrow straight to my heart.
The F14-TomCat is the best swing wing of all time. I remember making scale drawing of it and hanging it on my wall. My favorite cartoon series, Robotech had all their fighters based on the F-14.
This got my heart racing to find a Revell or Airfix F14 plastic model to build.
Thanks for such a great write up.
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Old 28th July 2015, 10:31   #9
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

A great read! Thanks!

The Phoenix was a marvel of engineering even today. Most other missiles are powered by a rocket motor that burns for just 2 - 3 seconds which boosts them to Mach 3/4 and follow a (relatively) straight path to the target. The Phoenix on the other hand uses its large rocket to climb to 70,000+ feet. Flying at the edge of the atmosphere reduces drag and the missile is able to maintain its top speed of Mach 5 for a longer duration. Finally, the terminal dive also reduces the options available to the target for evasion.

The Tomcat's story in Iran is also fascinating. The Shah of Iran wanted an interceptor to counter overflights by Soviet MiG-25 Foxbats (which were the subject of an earlier article on TBHP). Being a staunch US allay, he naturally turned to them and was offered the F-14 Tomcat and the F-15 Eagle (which weren't yet exported to any other countries). During a competitive fly-off, the Tomcat wowed the Shah and Iran purchased 80 aircraft.

The Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the fall of the Shah led to the Tomcats being grounded mainly due to ... 1) Sabotage by the Grumman techs on-site, 2) Lack of spares (all spares were imported) and 3) Many officers in the Air Force left the country and most of those who remained were removed from duty due to suspicions of their loyalty to the new regime.

The small number of flyable aircraft (less than 20 out of 79) proved their worth when Iraq attacked Iran. Their long range and powerful radars allowed them to provide defensive cover over key targets and to conduct offensive fighter strikes deep into Iraqi territory. As availability of the aircraft fell (due to a lack of spares), the Tomcats were reserved for defensive roles only.

It was the CIA of all people who came to the rescue of the Tomcat. The CIA wanted to support Nicaraguan rebels and needed to raise funding. They clandestinely sold spares for the Tomcat and other fighters to Iran, using the funds thus raised to support the Contra rebels. Whatever the ethics of the CIA (they were severely rapped on their knuckles by the US Congress & Senate when the matter came out), it extended the life of the Iranian Tomcats and avoided the need to cannibalize parts from their force to keep a limited number flying.

The Tomcat is still in service with the IRIAF and is still highly valued by them. Parts are still scarce - many parts are unique to the Tomcat, and since Iran was the only export customer it is relatively easy for the US to clamp down on sales. As a result, the current Tomcat force is again down to less than 20 aircraft which are now only externally similar to the US Navy version. They feature a mix of original parts, some reverse-engineered Iranian parts and some re-purposed parts (e.g. using parts from the F-4 Phantom II which the Iranians also operate). The Phoenix missiles all exceeded their end-of-life so uniquely, the Iranians have modified the MIM-24 Hawk surface-to-air missile (which shares some ancestry and looks with the AIM-54 Phoenix) for the long-range air-air role.
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Old 28th July 2015, 11:04   #10
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Thanks for this thread.
I remember the F-14 "TOMCAT" right from the days when we used to play the Trump cards (anyone remember these gems which covered lot of automobile genres like classic cards, super cars, japanese cars, super bikes etc?).

Thanks for allowing me to relive the memories!
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Old 28th July 2015, 11:07   #11
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Originally Posted by Ricci View Post
Some more pictures and details ..We were this close to not getting the F-14 started !
Your thread brings to mind a few lines from a poem by Don marquis.

He twists and crouches and capers
And bares his curved sharp claws,
And he sings to the stars of the jungle nights
Ere cities were, or laws.

Correct me if I am wrong, the F14s were replaced (at least by the USN) by the F18s and the F18s (E-F) will be replaced by the F35s (C).
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Old 28th July 2015, 12:58   #12
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Ricci mate you really made my day with this thread. The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is one of my favourite twin engine fighter jet. I was in awe of this jet when I watched it for the first time on TV as I was being used to seeing single engine fighter jets. It looked huge and intimidating and at the same time had that panache and class with those variable geometry wings and other host of features. Of course the movie Top Gun introduced many like me to this wonderful fighter plane. I have deep respect for Naval Aviators as they are a different breed. Landing on a moving platform(read Aircraft Carrier) requires some serious calculations and precision. I am also a sucker for dual purpose fighter planes and the fact that this fighter plane was used as a bomber as well as in close combat dog fight is fascinating. Thanks for sharing this mate.
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Old 28th July 2015, 13:21   #13
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Originally Posted by navin View Post
Correct me if I am wrong, the F14s were replaced (at least by the USN) by the F18s and the F18s (E-F) will be replaced by the F35s (C).
That's right. For a while the F-14s flew side by side with the F/A-18A until the F/A-18Es entered service in significant numbers. The early Hornets had very short legs and the Tomcats were upgraded to carry air-ground weaponry for long-range attack missions.
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Old 28th July 2015, 14:02   #14
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Originally Posted by vivtho View Post
The early Hornets had very short legs and the Tomcats were upgraded to carry air-ground weaponry for long-range attack missions.
Would that be sea to ground? For air to ground the USAF had the Warthog (A10 Thunderbolt) na?
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Old 28th July 2015, 15:42   #15
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Default Re: Defender of the fleet - The Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Originally Posted by navin View Post
Would that be sea to ground? For air to ground the USAF had the Warthog (A10 Thunderbolt) na?
Even if the aircraft take-off from a carrier, the ground-attack weapons are still air-ground

The Thunderbolt fulfills a different role - Close Air Support. They operate at much shorter ranges and directly support troops on the ground. The the Bombcat conversion was aimed at providing carriers longer reach to more strategic targets.
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