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.
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.
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.
North American Rockwell’s Proposal:
McDonnell Douglas’ Proposal:
General Dynamic‘s Proposal:
The Winning Grumman Proposal – 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:
And the rest, as they say, was history…