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This Is the Last American F-14 Tomcat To Fly, Awaits a Full Restoration in This Hangar
Thanks in part to its 50th anniversary and in part to a starring role in Top Gun: Maverick, the F-14 Tomcat is once again the most famous fighter jet in the western zeitgeist. This is all despite not having flown since domestically 2006.

This Is the Last American F-14 Tomcat To Fly, Awaits a Full Restoration in This Hangar

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Seeing this gorgeous airplane in the flesh is a treat not many people outside a few select places in the U.S. have the privilege of. But one museum not far from where the Tomcat was built now has the enviable bounty of having two whole F-14 airframes in their midst. One inside its museum space and another recent arrival.

It's only fitting that the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York, would be the benefactor to the privilege of having two F-14 Tomcats in their collection. The museum was founded as a means to display airplanes from the Long Island, New York region's storied history with aviation, of which Grumman was a stalwart, after all. The museum also houses some of the older models in a line of Navy "Cat" fighters like the F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat.

We first heard word that the very last F-14D Tomcat ever to fly was moving from its location on display outside Grumman's old headquarters in nearby Bethpage, New York, to its new home at the Cradle back in June of this year. Well, friends, we're happy to announce the old bird got reached its destination safe and sound. But civilians won't have their first in-the-flesh encounters with this F-14D Tomcat just yet.

For now, it sits in the museum's restoration hangar, located two buildings down from the CoA's main museum space. For reasons that should be self-explanatory, regular old civilians are not allowed in this hangar. But with a formal request and much-appreciated approval from Joshua Stoff, the Head Curator of the Cradle of Aviation Museum, we were granted exclusive access to see what America's final serving Tomcat looks like pre-restoration.

All the hangars that make up the famous "Museum Row" in Garden City, which consists of the Nassau County Firefighter's Museum, Long Island Children's Museum, and the Cradle of Aviation, come from the days when this plot of land was home to Mitchell Field Air Force Base. Safe to say, the largely unrestored restoration hangar wears the decades they've spent housing airplanes on its face.

The considerable Ivy covering most of the hangar is the biggest signifier of this. At first, glance appears as if the building might be completely empty. But venturing inside the hangar through the museum staff-only entrance is like stepping through Narnia's wardrobe if the book was about famous military planes. The first item of note that meets your eyes peeking over the entryway wall in the hangar is not an F-14 but the unmistakable radar dome of an E-2C Hawkeye AWACS, another of Grumman's more successful achievements.

It's in the hangar for a complete paint job restoration, and the smell of fresh paint permeated the building as a result. Walking past the full-scale Grumman X-29 forward-swept-wing prototype replica and a nearly fully restored Republic F-105D Thunderchief reveals what we all came here to see. A Grumman F-14D Tomcat, serial number 164603. But those who know it well know it as Felix 101. Named so after the Felix the Cat mascot famous for its appearance on the insignia for the historic VF-31 fighter squadron.

With this latest acquisition of the second to last F-14D ever made and the last to see service, the Cradle of Aviation now possesses both the genesis of the program in the form of the Prototype No. 3 demonstrational testbed, and its official book-end. This Tomcat last flew on October 4th, 2006, the final Navy sanctioned flight of the F-14 type and, so far as we're aware, the final flight of any kind for the Tomcat outside of the Iranian Air Force, who acquired them in the late 70s and still fly them to this day.

After spending a year on display at the American Airpower Museum in nearby Farmingdale, New York, the plane spent the next 15 years on a plinth outside Grumman's former Bethpage HQ, since purchased by the Cablevision company. Years of display exposed to the brutally cold New York winters and equally sweltering and humid summers have left the old bird looking a bit worse for wear. It's as if every body panel, every nut and bolt, and every exposed surface on the airframe bore the brunt of the elements over the years.

From the landing gear tires to the wings, from the cockpit to the engine nacelles, it's as if every square inch of this airframe is in desperate need of a pressure washer and some hardcore tender loving care. Even so, being so up-close and personal with one of if not the most famous Naval fighter ever built is an enormous thrill, even if it's a little dirty. Granted, it sure is more than just a little dirty.

From such a close vantage point, you can marvel at the intricate inner workings of a Tomcat in a way you simply can't from even a few yards away. It's a treat we won't soon forget here at autoevolution. But remember, do not try and enter the restoration hangar unauthorized.

If you do, you're liable to spend the night in a Nassau Country precinct covered in lacquer paint and self-regret. You've been warned. Check out the gallery above if you want to see all the beauty shots. Rest assured, this Tomcat looks good from any angle. Even if it's covered in a thin layer of dust like a barn find.. 

We can't wait to show you more from our trip to the Cradle of Aviation Museum. So stick around if you want to see more.

Editor's note: Article contains entirely self-taken photos. This article was not sponsored or supported by a third-party.

 
 
 
 
 

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