The carrier air wing wrecking crew circa 1975
Here we see what the Navy’s attack team looked like for a hot minute around the mid-1970s before the Hornet made it to the fleet, stacked up for a group photo at NAS Oceana. The new and exotic swing-wing Grumman F-14 Tomcat is up front while the Vietnam holy trinity of the A-6 Intruder, F-4 Phantom, and A-4 Skyhawk bringing up the rear.
The F-14 entered fleet service starting in September 1974 with squadrons VF-1 “Wolfpack” and VF-2 “Bounty Hunters” aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and participated in the American withdrawal from Saigon. At the same time, A-4Fs from VA-164 “Ghostriders” were still deploying on the WWII-era Essex-class carrier USS Hancock (CV-19) but would soon be transitioned to training and adversary duties which they would perform admirably for another decade and change. Hancock, as luck would have it, had landed her air wing for Saigon as the new F-14s from Enterprise had her back and embarked 25 Marine helicopters to help with the evacuation.
-F-4s continued to deploy as late as 1983 with the “Jolly Rogers” of VF-103 while the last Marine Phantom, an F-4S, was retired by VMFA-112’s “Cowboys” in 1992.
-The hearty A-6 was last flown by ATKRON 75, the “Sunday Punchers,” in February 1997– ironically they were also the first operational fleet squadron to be assigned the Intruder, in 1963.
-TARPS-equipped F-14Ds remained in combat with VF-31 and VF-213 dropping ordnance over Iraq as late as 2006 before they were sent to the crushers, by that time the old men of the fleet.
End of the line:
Above is BuNo 161159: One of the few (19) surviving F-14Ds “Bombcats” this one at National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. She completed the last combat flight and the last combat carrier arrested landing (trap) by a U.S. Navy F-14 when she trapped on the deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) on 8 February 2006 as part of the “Black Lions” of Fighter Squadron (VF) 213. Originally accepted by the Navy as an F-14A in December 1980– likely just five years after the above picture was taken– she was converted to the F-14D configuration in September 1991 and flew 224 combat sorties.
The ultimate replacement for all of the above? The F/A-18, absent from the class photo as she was in the class of 1978.