Paying Tribute to the People Who Took Aviation
from the Flight Deck of a Navy Carrier to Man's First Steps on the Moon
F-14D Tomcat, BuNo. 161159 from the "Blacklions" of VF-213 engages the arresting wire on the flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Roosevelt and embarked Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) are currently underway on a regularly scheduled deployment conducting maritime security operations. They are due back in Norfolk around mid-March, 2006.
February 8, 2006 marked the end of F-14 Tomcats role in combat with the US Navy. Aboard the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) an F-14 from VF-213 "Blacklions" made the last combat "trap" (landing on a carrier).
Piloted by Capt. William G. Sizemore II, USN, commander, Carrier Air Wing Eight, "Lion 204" was recovered at 12:35 a.m. "It’s the end of an era and it just kind of worked out that I was the last trap," commented Capt. Sizemore. "This is one of the best airplanes ever built, and it’s sad to see it go away. It’s just a beautiful airplane. It’s powerful, it has presence, and it just looks like the ultimate fighter."
Lt. Bill Frank, USN, of sister squadron VF-31 "Tomcatters" also took part in the last mission, and is credited with being the last Tomcat pilot to drop a bomb from an F-14. "We were called on to drop, and that’s what we did," said Lt. Frank. "It’s special and it’s something I can say I did, but what’s more important is the work of the Sailors who made it possible. They have worked so hard during this cruise to make every Tomcat operational."
"I don’t think there is anything better than a Tomcat, but it’s probably a good time for it to go away," said Senior Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate (AW) Gene Casterlin, VF-31. "The Navy is getting smaller and more efficient, and it will only get harder to maintain the Tomcat. But no matter what, the Tomcat is the sexiest airplane in the sky."
During their final deployment aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt, VF-31 and 213 collectively completed 1,163 combat sorties totaling 6,876 flight hours, and dropped 9,500 pounds of ordnance during reconnaissance, surveillance, and close air support missions in support of OIF.
"As we near the end of the Tomcat’s last deployment, we are proud of our legacy and take solace in the fact that the Tomcat is going out at the top of its game, but also regret saying farewell to an old, revered and trusted friend," said CDR. Richard LaBranche, USN, VF-31 commanding officer.
"From its inception, the Tomcat has been the icon of Naval Aviation with its striking appearance, speed, formidable lethality and versatility," said CDR. LaBranche. "It is more capable today than at any other time during its existence because of the innovation, dedication, and tenacity of every maintainer and pilot who has ever been associated with it."
VF-213 will be making the transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet in April. VF-31 will remain last and only official Tomcat squadron in the Navy until September 2006. They, too, will transition to the Super Hornet a month later marking the Tomcat’s end of a thirty-six year association with the US Navy.