The Tomcat's official introduction to the fleet occurred on October 14,1972, with the commissioning of the first two F-14 Squadrons, VF-1 and VF-2. Actually, neither one of these squadrons was "new" in the strictest sense of the word.
In fact, they are among the oldest in the Navy.
VF-1 was originally established on July 1, 1922, and operated as such until it's redesignation to VB-2 in 1934. A year later the second VF-1 was established and served for two years, when it was redesignated VF-6. The third VF-1 was commissioned May 1, 1943, and served throughout the balance of World War 11, compiling a 20 to 1 kill ratio against the Japanese. It was disestablished in October, 1945. The current VF-1 is the fourth to carry the designation, but the first "Wolfpack" .
VF-2 was established at the same time as the original VF-1 and served until 1927. It was the first squadron to operate from the Navy's first carrier, the USS Langley . The supplying of pilots constituted a heavy drain on the Officer Personnel of the Navy during the early days of Naval Aviation, and Congress decided that 30% of Naval Aviators should be enlisted men. The Navy promptly decided to form an all-enlisted fighter squadron, and VF-2 was reformed as such in January, 1927, with the original VF-2 being redesignated VF-6.
VF-2 enjoyed a varied number of assignments in the between-the-wars period, flying from NAS San Diego, various battleships, USS Langley, USS Saratoga, and USS Lexington. When WW II broke out, most of VF-2's enlisted pilots were reassigned as instructors. The squadron fought aboard USS Lexington until she was sunk in the battle of the Coral Sea.
VF-2 was disestablished on July 1, 1942. It was reformed on June 1, 1943, and compiled an enviable record against the Japanese during the march across the Pacific in 1944. The squadron was once again reformed in late 1944, and ended the war doing aerial search for POW camps in Japan. It was disestablished in November, 1945.
While the first two F-14 Squadrons were going through training with VF-124, in preparation for their first deployment, the world was introduced to the Tomcat at the Paris Air Show, in June, 1973. The professional aviation community was well aware of the controversial and turbulent developmental history of the F-14 to that date, but they were not prepared for the show that the F-14 put on at Paris.
In eight minutes of flying, a production F-14, flown by a fleet aircrew, (Cdr.Jim Taylor and Lt. Kurt Strauss, of VF-124) showed the world that the U.S. Aerospace Industry was still the world's leader in producing new generation fighter aircraft.
Production F-14 Tomcat flew at Paris AirShow (1973)
The flight demonstration began with a half Cuban Eight at takeoff, going through the top at 2,500 to 3,000 feet with 200 to 250 knots airspeed, followed by a slow roll, with the wings sweeping fore and aft during the maneuver. Then came a knife-edge pass at 350 to 400 knots, with a 6 G 360 degree steep turn, performed within a 2,000 foot radius at 500 feet, followed by a tuck-under break to slow to landing speed. Gear and flaps were lowered and the Tomcat performed a "wing-walking"
maneuver at 105 knots down the runway, with a near vertical climb in afterburner to pattern altitude, followed by normal approach and landing.
The Paris Air Show is world-renowned for its hairy flying, with national pride on the line. Quite often, its flying demonstrations end in disaster. The Tomcat's demonstration, impressive as it was, was flown daily, and on time. The F-14's crew repeatedly stressed the fact they were not approaching the limits of the Tomcat's performance envelope, and in fact were just a fleet aircrew, flying a fleet airplane. For their performance, Cdr. Taylor and Lt.Strauss were nominated for the Harmon Trophy, which is given for outstanding aeronautical contribution in a non-combatant category. During the same show, the Russian Supersonic Transport, the TU-144, broke up in midair, crashed and burned, while attempting maneuvers outside of its performance envelope.
Russian TU-144 "Charger"
The F-14 went to sea for the first time, in an operational deployment, on the USS Enterprise, September 17, 1974. Ironically, it was the eighth Grumman Cat, sailing aboard the eighth ship of the line to bear the name Enterprise. It was the first Grumman fighter to be deployed since the F-11 F Tiger completed it's last tour of duty in March, 1961. It was perhaps symbolic that the F-14 would, on this deployment, fly cover for the Withdraw from Vietnam in 1975....an event that was the culmination of one period in American military history, was being witnesse by a new generation of American fighter aircraft.