Paying Tribute to the People Who Took Aviation
from the Flight Deck of a Navy Carrier to Man's First Steps on the Moon
Aviation history books will need to add a new but final chapter on the story of the legendary F-14 Tomcat.
Future historians will note than on 11:40 a.m., on the morning of October 4, 2006, F-14D BuNo. 164603, the next to last Tomcat manufactured by Grumman, touched down at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York, ending an era in naval aviation that began in 1970.
Felix 101, the squadron commander’s assigned aircraft, taxied to the American Airpower Museum at Republic and idled its engines until exhausted of fuel. LCDR Chris "Limp" Richard, pilot, and LCDR "Fitz" Gentry, RIO climbed down from the cockpit of their F-14 for the last time, draping an American flag over the cockpit. On hand to welcome them were Joe Wilkers and Bob Klein of Northrop Grumman, Barbara Nilson, President of the Grumman Retiree Club, along with the officers and men of VF-31 "Tomcatters", to which the jet was assigned and who drove to Long Island from Virginia on their own. Welcoming them were the many volunteer personnel of the American Airpower Museum.
The aforementioned dignitaries, along with Mike Geiger, Republic Airport Director, and Mr. Pat Foye, President and CEO of United Way Long Island and a trustee of the American Airpower Museum, made welcoming remarks as many in the audience stifled heart felt emotions. At the conclusion of the formal ceremony, the aircraft was signed for by Barbara Nilson on behalf of the Grumman Retiree Club, to whom the jet is officially on loan to. The F-14 will remain in the care of the American Airpower Museum until early next year when a site has been prepared in Bethpage for a permanent display. Before leaving for a presentation at Northrop Grumman’s Long Island headquarters in Bethpage, CDR Howe and all the other members of VF-31 signed their names to the aircraft.
In fact, before departing NAS Oceana earlier that morning other members of the squadron signed their names to the inside wheel wells of the Tomcat. With the ceremonies over, and the crowd beginning to leave, the sad task known as demilitarization began. This involved the removal of the ejection seats, instruments from the cockpit, both F110 engines, avionics and the Gatling gun. Some of the items such as the ejection seats and cockpit displays scopes are used in other aircraft and will be turned in to the supply system. Anything else uniquely "Tomcat" will be secured by the Navy to prevent falling into the hands of Iran, the only other user of the F-14.
What also deserves mentioning here is that Grumman fighters have gone full-circle. In 1933, Grumman’s presence in Farmingdale was with a factory located along nearby Conklin Street. What we know today as Republic Airport was once known as the Fairchild Flying Field – all grass, no concrete. Grumman’s first production fighter, the FF-1 was delivered to the Navy from that very field on April 24, 1933. Seventy-three years later Grumman’s last production fighter landed practically on the very same spot.
Perhaps the most poignant comment from the entire ceremony came from CDR Howe, a sentiment that has been felt by every Naval aviator since the days of the Grumman F4F Wildcat: