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How did we love the Tomcat? On the 20th anniversary of Top Gun, we count the ways.

SURE, THERE WERE OTHER POINTY JETS out there, but the F-14 Tomcat was the one with a gift for show business. Its breakout performance was, of course, in Top Gun. In exchange for script approval, the U.S. Navy let the filmmakers use carriers, pilots, and F-14s to create extraordinarily realistic flying scenes. (Years later, some of the footage was used to jazz up “JAG,” a TV series about a Tomcat-pilot-turned-Navy-lawyer.)

Though Top Gun made the F-14 a star, it wasn’t the Tomcat’s first movie appearance. Six years before, F-14s had been used in The Final Countdown, but in that time-travel story, the Tomcats had to share camera time and airspace with World War II Japanese Zeros.

Beyond visual glamour, the Tomcat had complexity, making it fun to write about and read about. After flying F-14s, James Huston went on to write thrillers like Flash Point that were fat with scenes of Tomcat combat. Likewise, ex-Navy pilot Stephen Coonts packed his novel Final Flight with all sorts of expert-level Tomcat trivia.

More fanciful were the Japanese anime (animation) TV shows and movies that made use of the F-14. Some depictions took liberties. The Macross series’ “VF-1 Valkyrie” was a Tomcat with sensible features added, like wings that swept back 90 degrees for storage.

Perhaps the most uninhibited F-14 fantasy in popular culture was a 1995 installment of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip, in which little Calvin envisions a Tyrannosaurus rex flying a Tomcat in a hunt for herbivores. Bill Watterson’s brilliant drawings say it all: Flying an F-14, even a dinosaur looks sharp.

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