Often in the world of military aviation we get wrapped up in technology. But while a superior weapon can make the difference between victory and defeat in the hands of a skilled operator, that weapon can be useless in hands of a novice. Here is one example where victory in the air comes down to pilot skill.
Gerry Gallop, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Tactical Air Support Inc., who previously served as an instructor at the US Navy’s elite TOPGUN School, flew both the F-14A Tomcat powered by the Pratt & Whitney TF30 and much more powerful F-14B powered by the General Electric F110.
When the F-14B (F-14A+ at the time) was first introduced to the fleet, Gallop was assigned to the VX-4 operational test and evaluation squadron based at NAS Point Mugu, California. “The F110 [version of the Tomcat], when we first got it, my very first flight in the airplane, it was the first time I had taken an airplane out and just run the power up, accelerated to the red line of the airplane, and had to throttle back,” he says. “We only had the stub pylons on, the thing was clean, it was brand new with these big motors and we didn’t have a whole lot we could do with it because we had some real restrictions on it.”
But one thing that VX-4 did do at the time was to essentially drag race their F-14A+ (aka F-14B) against a TF30 powered F-14A and a new McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet at 4000ft AGL, Gallop says. “It was awesome,” he says. “The Hornet is pretty quick, especially because we were flying Lot 11s (which were light and had a high thrust to weight ratio–Gallop notes)…The Hornet hung pretty well until we hit around 0.9 and then that show was over. The wings were back on the F-14 and we punched through the number and just ran it out to about 780 [knots] and it was still accelerating.”
Later, Gallop says he had an opportunity to take part in an interesting exercise when he was at TOPGUN flying F-14As and Bs. “I was flying at TOPGUN and we had the F-14As there at the time, and for one short period of time, we got a B-model,” he says. “So I went out with another F-14 guy for a one-versus-one. We took turns being the offensive or defensive player and I think I was in the A.”
“So we setup with the B offensive on the first one, and not unexpectedly, the offensive aircraft did well–lots of power,” Gallop says. “So I thought ‘Oh, well, it’s a huge difference the GE engines are pretty great. Then we swapped roles and we found that the end result was fairly similar except the TF30 airplane did better–he started as offensive and stayed there.”
The lesson that Gallop says that he took away was: “Really, all it comes down to is technique because the F-14, especially with that 64ft wingspan–it’s a very efficient wing–but it doesn’t matter how much thrust you have, you can still generate a lot more drag if you’re out there, depending on where you’re flying in the envelope, especially as the defensive guy you don’t have a whole lot of opportunity to unload the airplane and take advantage of the energy addition rate.”
There are huge advantages to having lots of extra thrust–such as improved time-to-climb, intercept ratios, and greater payloads, and just better overall aircraft performance, Gallop says, but “thrust is a tool and needs to be applied intelligently to take full advantage of it.”
“No matter what you do, it’s going to be how the airplane is flown,” Gallop says. “Whoever is getting the maximum performance out of their machine is going to be ultimately successful.”