Flightdeck Friday: TFX – A Time for Turkeys (Part III)

F-111B Collosal Weight Improvement Proposal

Part I

Part II

Here was a case where McNamara, I think, expected me to keep the admirals in line. The more I looked into it, the more I became convinced that the matter had reached such an emotional state that even if the F-111B, the Navy version, turned out to be an excellent airplane, and it wasn’t all that good, but even if it did, the Navy still wouldn’t want it.

So I went to McNamara and said, “You may not like it, but it seems to me we have got to face reality here. Congress is turning against this. The Navy doesn’t want it.” When I say “the Navy” I am talking about the aviators in the Navy. — Paul Ignatius, SECNAV, 1967-69

Senator, there isn’t enough power in all of Christendom to make that airplane what we want.  — VADM Tom Connolly testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee (1968)

So now TFX was well and truly dead – the Navy had what it wanted, sort of.  It still, however, was faced with the need for a future fighter to replace the F-4, meeting the Fleet Air Superiority needs as originally specified for the F-111B, but also a maneuverable fighter whose requirements were emerging from the lessons-learned by a variety of Navy, Marine and Air Force fighters and crews in the skies over Vietnam.  The first of these requirements was the OFR or “Other Fighter Requirements”, generated when it first appeared that the F-111B would not be killed and it would have to be accepted for up to one squadron per air wing for a FAD-only mission, leaving a gapped requirement for fighter-escort, close-air support, etc. to be filled by a new aircraft.  This was the genesis of the first competition or VFAX for a replacement for the F-111B and successor to the F-4.  VFAX by definition would be about the size of the F-4 (in that same weight class) and employ a variable sweep wing, while matching the capability of the F-4 as a fighter and the A-7 as an attack plane.  Assuming that the procurement of the F-111B would continue, a CVW would be composed of either 2 + 2 or 1 + 3 (F-111B and VFAX).  Not much came of the VFAX although as George Spangenberg noted:

“…the later VFAX was marginal at best, being somewhat less than the A-7 in its attack capability and really no better than an F-4 as a fighter. In the cost effectiveness studies that were done it was rated below an F-4 because the later VFAX was a single-place airplane, while the original was a two-place airplane.

Vought VFAX proposal

Grumman Design 303-60 Grumman Design 303-60

Grumman Design 303-60 (VFX-1)

During the period 1966-67 while trying to trim (although carve would be more appropriate) weight from the F-111B, the Navy was also providing funding to Grumman to look into advanced fighter studies.  By 1967 this had led Grumman to suggest taking the VFAX airframe and wrapping it around the F-111B engines and AWG-9/Phoenix weapons system.  The extensive use of titanium would be one way of lightening up the airframe and moving awa from the weight issues that beset the F-111B, and the new airframe would meet the air superiority requirements that were emerging from the future fighter studies.  Liking what they saw, the Navy funded another round of studies, Navy Fighter Study II, between Feb-Mar 1968.  During this study they compared, on paper, a proposed VFX (Grumman design 303-60) vs the F-111B and without question, the F-111B was smoked. The VFX would out accelerate, climb and turn the F-111B and the F-4 by significant margins.

Grumman Design 303-60 (VFX-1)

A month after the F-111B was cancelled, OSD issued an RFP in June 1968 for the VFX, as it was being called.  The five primary manufacturers who had been participating, Grumman, LTV, North American Rockwell, McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics were all paid by OSD to submit proposals. 

LTV’s Proposal:

Vought V505 Vought V507J Vought V507J Vought V507J

North American Rockwell’s Proposal:

North American Rockwell  NR VFX  NR VFX

McDonnell Douglas’ Proposal:


 General Dynamic‘s Proposal:


Grumman’s Proposal:

    The Neck-down:

Design 303C  303C  Design 303D  303D

303F Grumman Design 303F  303G  Grumman 303/VFX Design Series  Fixed wing variant study

    The Winning Grumman Proposal – Design 303E:

Grumman Design 303E  Grumman Design 303E

The RFP requirements, in brief, called for the following:

  • Two-man crew (tandem seating)
  • Two-engines (Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-412 to be utilized)
  • Incorporate the AWG-9/Phoenix weapons system
  • Carry up to (6) Phoenix or (6) Sparrow or (4) Sidewinder missiles plus one internal M-61A gun
  • Be designed to endure high fighter loads exceeding those of the F4J loaded with Sparrow and Phoenix missiles
  • Carrier suitability: landing strength for six Phoenix missiles and 4,000lb of fuel.  Landing speeds and weights of VFX are suitable for operations from the Hancock class CVAs.

All, except for North American, submitted designs based on swing-wing concepts.  The Navy disagreed with North American’s performance claims and was supported on that basis by NASA’s review.  Reviewing the remaining proposals led to downselection to McDonnell Douglass and Grumman.  In January 1969, Grumman was selected to produce the VFX, designated the F-14, and singed the F-14A contract on 3 February 1969….First flight was 21 Dec 1970:

First flight

  And the rest, as they say, was history…


  1. Maybe I’m just an airplane nut, but I find it interesting when you can see family (or not so family) resemblances between different designs…just look at the above proposals. I see some of the A-5s lines in the LTV one, while the North American Rockwell looks a bit like an F-16. General Dynamics’ looks an awful lot like a F4D, especially the front end. Of course, the McDonnell Douglas job looks like an F-15.

    Granted, only one of those resembles an airplane that was built by the same manufacturer, but I still found it interesting.

  2. JoeC

    The politics behind any weapon systems purchase is fascinating, both from the pure political side and from the military infighting side. Since I was in the F14 deployment era (1972-1978) this kind of history lesson is one I relate to. One curious thing that seems to always be missing from any selection process history is the support requirements. (In my naval afterlife I did support planning for awhile for a computer manufacturer). The behind the scenes effort to keep an airframe where it belongs, in the air, is not what most people want to see or hear….just the people involved I guess.

    I was in AIMD (comm-nav and VAST) and applied to Grumman when I was discharged (among others) and never heard from them. Too bad, I’d like to have continued to work on what I though looked like a real fighter jet (I still watch TOP GUN from time to time. It still gets my blood pumping. Even though prettier faces in the F22 and F35 have come along, the F14 I thought was a real “man’s” plane of that era.)

    Do you know when a complex weapons system like the F14 is retired to then boneyard if the support systems go with them? Grumman developed one heck of a computerized test set for that beast and I wonder if they were preserved along with the aircraft in storage.

    Well thanks SJS for making me spend yet another afternoon down nostalgia lane when I should be working……


  3. Thomas Barton

    :mrgreen: The MacD entry looks like the design team had a few drinks with the crew from Mikoyan who came up with the MiG-23. Just add canards and twin vertical stabilizers for that Sant Looey flair and voila, the MacD Boys have a bird in the hand. SJS, thanks for all the great illustrations. Also, did anyone in the late 50’s to 1970 ever submit a fighter or attack proposal that used the GE J-93 that powered the scorching and ill-fated Valkyrie ? Talk about some straight-line performance potential… Tom Barton SuperCrusaderSuperFan !!

  4. Steeljawscribe

    Checkout the XF-108 Rapier also by NAA. It was intended to share the same engines with the XB-70.
    – SJS

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