Author Topic: Aéronavale Vought F-14A Vagabond  (Read 1877 times)

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Offline Logan Hartke

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Aéronavale Vought F-14A Vagabond
« on: March 18, 2016, 09:46:00 pm »
As always, click on the image below to see the picture at 100% or view it at my DeviantArt page.



A great deal of myth surrounds the Aéronavale use of the Vought V-507 Vagabond, much of it the fault of the French Navy itself. The Aéronavale wasn’t confused about the aircraft's intended role, but they would often give misleading statements about the aircraft's roles and capabilities to press or politicians that may not have understood the need for the aircraft the same way the Marine Nationale did.

Probably the most common myth about the aircraft is that France originally ordered them for use on their aircraft carriers. Often, this is related in a humorous fashion to poke fun at France, suggesting that they ordered the aircraft only to find out after they were too big to fit in the aircraft carriers’ hangars. In fact, there is no evidence that the French Navy ever seriously investigated modifying either ship for their operation, either. The F-14 was always going to be too heavy to be launched or recovered from either the Clemenceau or Foch. The extent of modifications necessary would likely have made them impractical on an aircraft carrier of such a small tonnage. It doesn’t even seem as though much consideration was given to making the replacement aircraft carrier class capable of operating aircraft in the Vagabond’s weight class, either. There was a short time after the end of the Cold War where France briefly considered acquiring a Forrestal-class carrier from the United States, but the costs associated with refitting and operating carriers of that size quickly ruled this out.



Another misconception regarding the Vagabond is the claim that the French Navy intended to exchange their Vagabond squadrons for US Navy Hornet squadrons on its own carriers in the event of war. While the commonality of French and US carrier equipment meant that this was a theoretical possibility, neither country had a formal plan for such an exchange nor was there specific provision made for the operation of Hornets from the French carriers. In fact, the French Navy began evaluating the F-18 as early as 1976, before purchasing LTV’s V-507. Had the French Navy intended to swap aircraft with the United States, then it would seem logical to have merely purchased the Hornet at the outset instead of the Vagabond.



Other myths about the Aéronavale’s Vagabonds include those that fall into the category of the purchase being primarily motivated by some rivalry with the Armée de l'Air, the Royal Navy, or some other service. While politics always plays a factor in any large defense contract, the acquisition of the Vagabond was largely driven by external threats. A variation on this theme is that the V-507 was either a response to a failed attempt by Dassault to make a carrier fighter out of the Mirage G, or even that it was a stop gap for some projected Mirage G carrier fighter that never materialized. Neither of these seems to be the case, at least not as a direct influence. The kernel of truth to this myth is found in Dassault’s partnership with Ling-Temco-Vought during the early part of the V-507’s development. While this had a direct influence on major elements of the V-507 design, the technology exchange between Dassault and LTV was largely one directional. Dassault was not provided with any significant technical information by Vought on the V-507 until the aircraft had been ordered and Dassault partnered with Vought to be able to perform major overhauls and depot level maintenance on the Aéronavale’s Vagabonds.



Despite the misinformation surrounding it, the operational needs that drove the French Navy’s acquisition of the Vagabond are actually pretty clear and very similar to the US Navy’s original Fleet Air Defense (FAD) and later VFX programs. The threat the French carriers posed by Soviet Naval Aviation bombers armed with large anti-ship missiles had only been growing since the Clemenceau and Foch were launched, but it was the appearance of the Tu-22M ‘Backfire’ that truly rendered the F-8 Crusader completely incapable of defending their charges. An aircraft with a higher top speed, far longer range, better radar, and much more capable beyond visual range (BVR) missiles was needed as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the small size of French carriers also meant that there was no way that an aircraft with the necessary performance would ever be able to operate from the decks of the Clemenceau-class ships. The French Navy benefitted from operational factors that the US Navy did not, however.



US supercarriers had to be able to operate completely independently in the North Atlantic or Pacific in environments where the only land for hundreds of miles was likely to be hostile territory defended by enemy air cover. French carriers would typically be operating in the Mediterranean, a comparatively small body of water ringed by friendly air bases. The main aerial threat to the French Navy in the Mediterranean came from Soviet Naval Aviation (AVMF) long range bombers armed with anti-ship missiles. The over 500 nm combat radius of the F-14 would allow it to cover most of the Mediterranean from only a couple of NATO bases. This could also be extended through the use of Etendard buddy tankers once the F-14s rendezvoused with the carrier air group.



So, if the Aéronavale never intended to fly their new fighters from carriers, why was it even a requirement for the F-8 Crusader’s replacement to be carrier capable? Well, the answer to that question starts to get into the political considerations that led to all the confusion about the Vagabond’s role. The Marine Nationale was afraid that any attempt to acquire a purely land-based fighter like the F-15 Eagle would face considerable resistance from the Armée de l'Air, who would maintain that land-based air defense was their responsibility. Even if the Aéronavale could overcome that opposition, they would then have to respond to protests from Dassault. As France’s only manufacturer of modern fighter aircraft, they would insist the French Navy select a domestic aircraft design for the role, such as the Mirage F1, the new Mirage 2000, or even the Mirage 4000 then in development. By requiring the fighter to have performance superior to the F-8 Crusader and be carrier-capable, they could side-step both of these objections—even if they had no intention of ever actually taking advantage of that capability.



The Marine Nationale was savvy enough to realize that purchasing the aircraft was only half the battle, politically-speaking. Once they had them, they had to make sure nobody tried to come in and take them away again, especially when the aircraft entered service and did not start appearing on the decks of France’s carriers. The Aéronavale had a few strategies to deflect such criticism. The first was to emphasize the aircraft’s naval pedigree at every opportunity. The Aéronavale’s policy was to refer to the Vagabond as a “carrier fighter” in all documentation, interviews, and press releases. Similarly, Flottille 12F and 14F were maintained as carrier squadrons based at BAN Landivisiau after transitioning from the F-8 Crusader to the F-14 Vagabond. Vagabond pilots had to remain carrier-qualified while they were active. Typically, this was done using the Fouga CM-175 Zéphyr carrier-capable variant of the Magister jet trainer, but this was supplemented by temporary postings to Etendard squadrons and as exchange officers flying with the US Navy.



The French Navy also took advantage of opportunities to cross-deck on US carriers with the Vagabond, making sure to take plenty of photographs and film footage whenever they did so. Much of this was used in recruitment material that further reinforced the impression of the F-14 as a carrier fighter in the general public. Finally, the Marine Nationale maintained that the Vagabond could land on the Clemenceau or Foch in an emergency. This theoretical possibility was never trialed by the French Navy for fear that attempts to prove the capability had just as much of a chance of disproving it through a crash. Because of the risk that such a large, heavy aircraft attempting an emergency landing posed to the precious French carriers, Aéronavale F-14 pilots were actually trained to eject alongside the carrier or “plane guard” escort in the event they couldn’t safely reach a land base due to damage, technical malfunction, or lack of fuel.



Regardless of Aéronavale rhetoric, though, the Vought V-507 was almost exclusively operated from land bases, where it would fly far out over the sea to guard French ships from aerial threats. It was most certainly not an attempt by the French Navy to compete with the Armée de l'Air with its own naval “air force”. Rather, it was the result of a practical assessment of the operating environment and realistic capabilities of France's carrier air groups pitted against the threat of Soviet Naval Aviation. In that role, Aéronavale F-14 units would often migrate from NATO base to NATO base during a carrier’s Mediterranean cruise, truly living up to its name of “Vagabond”.

Cheers,

Logan

Offline Captain Canada

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Re: Aéronavale Vought F-14A Vagabond
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2016, 04:57:45 am »
Woah....what a great thread ! Love the pics, most of which I haven't seen yet !

 :drink:
CANADA KICKS arse !!!!

Long Live the Commonwealth !!!
Vive les Canadiens !
Where's my beer ?

Offline Logan Hartke

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Re: Aéronavale Vought F-14A Vagabond
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2016, 08:40:35 am »
Thanks! I ended up spending way too long writing this one, but I enjoyed the way it turned out!

Cheers,

Logan