At least it's the end of the road for what is now called The Venerable F-14 Tomcat. I called it the baddest mamma-jamma of my 20-something years, and Tom Cruise road it to millions in 1986. But the last squadrons of Tomcats, Fighter Squadrons 31 and 213, flew over Hampton Roads this week. But man wasn't it a great ride?
Technically the aviators in VF-31 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach will continue to fly the Tomcats until September, when they will convert to the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The jet jocks in VF-213 will convert to the F/A-18s next month, but this week marked their return to port from the USS Theodore Roosevelt. And how many young men's dreams were attached to that plane?
I had always wanted to fly fighter planes, but bad eyesight (and size 15 feet) kept me out of the cockpit forever. The closest I came was Top Gun, the 1986 Tom Cruise film that actually upped the Navy's recruiting. I first saw that movie in - of all places - Virginia Beach 20 years ago. And to step out of the darkened movie house - the fantasy - into the summer night and see a real F-14 fly over my head in formation with his wingman was enough to make a young man drop all plans and sign up.
I mean come on, the movie was a little cheesy, but it had all the right elements for a young man of 23. Super hot aircraft, a smokin hot co-star in Kelly McGillis, and of course faceless bad guys in the black F-5s that we were supposed to believe were Mig 28s. But hey, you could suspend your disbelief for the ride.
And who can forget the blue-light bedroom scene with Tom and Kelly and Berlin singing "Take My Breath Away." Every time I hear that song I am 24 again and watching the Tomcats fly over Lynnhaven Mall.
Some of my favorite lines from the movie were:
Iceman: You're everyone's problem. That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous.
Maverick: That's right! Ice... man. I am dangerous.
Goose: The defense department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.
Maverick: I feel the need...
Maverick, Goose: ...the need for speed!
Charlie: Are you a good pilot?
Maverick: I can hold my own.
Charlie: Great, then I won't have to worry about you making your living as a singer.
Maverick: I'm going to need a beer to put these flames out. Yo! Great Mav, real slick
And of course when Charlie sidles up to our boy Maverick and says:
I was afraid that everyone in the tac trailer would see right through me, and I just don't want anyone to know that I've fallen for you.
But I'm not 24 anymore. The Tomcats are being retired and Maverick is now an apologist for the church of Scientology. But I did hear a couple of the old birds buzz over the beach this past week. And it was like saying good bye to an old friend, even if our relationship was never as intimate as I wanted it to be.