Paying Tribute to the People Who Took Aviation
from the Flight Deck of a Navy Carrier to Man's First Steps on the Moon
After thirty-six years of loyal and faithful service, the United States Navy officially retired the Grumman F-14 Tomcat on Friday, September 22, 2006. The Ceremonial Last Flight of the Tomcat was held at Naval Air Station Oceana located in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Two F-14D’s were present to represent their brother Tomcats. BuNo. 164350 (Shop No. 625) AJ103 was repainted in a retro paint scheme to reflect the way Tomcats first appeared in the fleet in 1972. BuNo. 163904 (Shop No. 614) AJ102 was poised away from the crowd in preparation for performing the Ceremonial Last Flight.
Beginning with the posting of colors and an invocation by a Navy Chaplain at 1000 hours, we were welcomed by Captain John McCandish, USN. The Honorable Meyera Oberndorf, Mayor of Virginia Beach, and Mr. Scott Seymour, Corporate Vice President and President of Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems also made remarks. Closing the ceremony Admiral John Nathman, Commander US Fleet Forces Command involved the crowd of spectators in giving the Tomcat three "hip-hip hooray" cheers. The F-14 was now officially retired.
At 1045 hours attention then focused to the F-14D undergoing pre-flight by VF-31’s excellent maintainers. Poised in the cockpit were LCDR David Faehnle, pilot, and LCDR Robert Gentry, RIO. Engines were started and AJ102 proceeded to the taxiway for its trip to the end of the runway for takeoff. However, AJ102 experienced a generator failure while enroute and could not perform the ceremonial final flight. Waiting just out of sight of the spectators was AJ107 BuNo 163902 (Shop No. 612) standing by as backup. Pressed into immediate service, "Felix 107", crewed by LCDR Chris Richard, pilot, and LT Mike Petronis, RIO, took off and made a long right hand turn to line up with the runway for the final pass. The F-14D banked slightly to the right and performed a slow pass over the crowd, leveled off and climbed into the sky and into Naval Aviation history.
A luncheon was provided immediately following this event where many folks had the chance to reunite with old friends and make new ones. All in all, the underlining theme for the Tomcat-Sunset held true – Last Time Baby!