Discovery Channel-Great Planes: Grumman F-14 Tomcat (1988)

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Released 23-Sep-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 44:52 (Case: 60)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor
Discovery Channel
Magna Home Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case Click
RPI $19.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    For many years, the pre-eminent fighter for the United States Navy was the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II. As the 1960s drew to a close though, the aircraft was losing its edge against the newer Soviet fighters, and plans were being made to replace the fighter in the fleet defence role. Now we have all seen the General Dynamics F-111C's of the Royal Australian Air Force haven't we? Big aircraft isn't it? Would you like to believe that the aircraft that was proposed to replace the superlative F-4 Phantom in United States Navy service was the F-111B? That was indeed the proposal and the programme here even features some exceedingly rare footage of the carrier trials of the F-111B. It does not take too much imagination to understand why the aircraft was simply unsuitable to the naval fighter role - size being the obvious one. It was simply too big and too heavy for deployment on aircraft carriers. The F-111B programme was naturally enough cancelled.

    The need for a new fleet defence fighter aircraft still existed and long time naval aircraft supplier Grumman Aerospace Corporation came up with an answer. It went by the unglamorous designation of Model 303. Without any formal backing from the United States Navy, Grumman went ahead and built a prototype now designated F-14. It first flew on 21st December, 1970, albeit for only a short time but without incident. Bad weather kept the 'plane on the ground for nine days and its next flight was on 30th December, 1970. This was not so uneventful a flight however, with the aircraft being destroyed in a crash. Not a very auspicious start for the new fighter. Despite the setback, Grumman pushed ahead with a further prototype Slowly but surely, the superlative nature of the new aircraft was demonstrated and on 8th June, 1972 the aircraft commenced carrier trials. It also happened to be doing so under the direct gaze of Congress, who were watching the trials at the same time as making a decision on the funding of the new fighter for the Navy. The go-ahead was given, and the aircraft shortly thereafter became operational with the naval squadrons VF-1 "Wolf Pack" and VF-2 "Bounty Hunters" aboard the USS Enterprise.

    Whilst the F-14A Tomcat is still a large aircraft, it was specifically designed for the role it was given. The price per aircraft was therefore very large (USD 38 million apiece at least), but looking at the 'plane's capabilities illustrates why the money was well spent. The fleet defence fighter role is very specific: to protect the aircraft carrier and its attendant ships from attack by enemy aircraft. At that time it was the then Soviet Union, and specifically the Tupolev Tu-20 Bear maritime bomber, capable of delivering air-to-surface missiles from well out of range of the other defences of the fleet. The fleet defence fighter was designed to take advantage of a new type of missile - the anti-missile missile, in this instance the new but large Hughes (Raytheon) AIM-54 Phoenix. Officially an air-to-air missile, the Phoenix has the ability to bring down just about anything. The fleet defence fighter was required to carry six of these missiles and be able to engage six different targets at the one time. In November 1973 this ability was demonstrated very clearly. Other weapons carried by the Tomcat include the standard, and very well known and proven, Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles as well as an internal cannon. These weapons gave the aircraft an almost unprecedented ability for a naval fighter.

    Despite production having ceased on the roll-out of the last of 712 F-14 aircraft on 20th July, 1992, the aircraft remains the United States Navy's main fleet defence fighter. It is scheduled to be replaced by the McDonnell-Douglas F-18 Super Hornet, with the last aircraft due to be phased out around 2010. Since the F-14 is the only aircraft carrying the AIM-54 Phoenix (itself already out of production), that missile will also be phased out at that time. In its time, the F-14 has been involved in some well-known combat missions, but none more so than the episode over the Gulf Of Sidra when two Sukhoi Su-22 fighters of the Libyan Air Force decided to engage two Tomcats from squadron VF-41 off the USS Nimitz. After being fired upon, the two Tomcats engaged and shot down the two attacking aircraft. The engagement lasted about 44 seconds but was the news of the world that day.

    Having spent some time with the F-14A Tomcat aboard the USS John F. Kennedy during visits by that ship to Fremantle, it is indeed a really impressive aircraft. It remains a superb weapons system and represents one of the trifecta of great fighters that entered service with the United States armed forces during the 1970's (the other two being the roughly contemporary McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon) and will continue in service to 2010 and beyond. A deserving aircraft for inclusion in the series but the programme could perhaps have been a lot better.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    With the programme having been made in 1988 and dealing with an aircraft that first flew in 1970, I was expecting something better in the way of presentation when compared to the earlier DVDs reviewed in the series. After all, this is of a more recent vintage aircraft. What we have here is somewhat disappointing in quality. This is a definite American programme, from the Wings series on Discovery Channel, with American narration. That is not so bad, but of the forty five minutes of the programme about twenty minutes are not so much devoted to the F-14 Tomcat but naval aviation in general and specifically aircraft carriers. Not a good start in my book, as it leaves too little time to look at the aircraft itself. However, the plusses are some great footage of the loss of the prototype on its second flight, the rare and very interesting footage of the F-111B, and an interview with Lieutenant Larry Muczynski. Who? Well, he was one of the aviators involved in the incident in the Gulf of Sidra...

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and it is not 16x9 enhanced.

    Footage from the 1970s and 1980s, just a few years old when the programme was made. Good quality throughout, right? Wrong! Terribly grainy at times, the transfer exhibits great variability in definition, ranging from soft to very sharp. The grain and the softness rob the video of detail at times, whilst clarity is somewhat diminished at times. There are exceptions: the interview material with Lieutenant Larry Muczynski is excellent quality and there are no problems whatsoever with it. Shadow detail is good throughout, and there was no evidence of low level noise. Really though, even allowing for the fact that this contains some de-classified military material, I would have expected the overall quality to be very much better than it is.

    Nearly all the material here is colour, even if it is not really impressive colour. Sadly lacking in tonal depth and saturation, the colours leave a decidedly underwhelming feeling to the presentation. Even the battleship grey colour of the aircraft carriers is woefully underdone and really gives the whole programme a disappointing look to it. If you have ever seen some of the vivid colouring applied by naval squadrons to their aircraft, you can appreciate it when I say that there is no evidence of that here. There is a definite need for some greater solidity to the blacks here too.

    MPEG artefacts did not seem to be an issue here, and there were only a few hints of aliasing here and there to indicate any film-to-video artefacts. Despite the relatively recent vintage of the source material at the time the programme was made, there are copious numbers of film artefacts here. At times they are very intrusive, made all the more so when the relatively pristine interview material is inserted into artefact-affected source material. Very disappointing and completely unexpected. I was not expecting pristine footage but certainly something way better than that generally presented here.

    This is a single sided, single layered DVD. There are no subtitle options to accompany the narration.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    The narration comes across very well and it is easy to understand.

    The musical accompaniment to the programme is not credited, which is a pity. I really would like to know who was responsible for this intrusive collection. I found it terribly irritating for two reasons: it is mixed too loud in the overall soundtrack and its themes just grate at times.

    Otherwise there is nothing really wrong with the soundtrack. The narration is carried well, the music too prevalent in the overall mix and there is a decent input from the aircraft themselves this time. Other than that, clear and clean enough.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The usual menu audio that is consistent in this series.

Menu

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It would appear that this DVD has not yet been released in Region 1 - although this is by no means certain.

Summary

    Great Planes: Grumman F-14 Tomcat is probably the weakest of the series I have yet reviewed. The quality is not up to what I was expecting and given the relative newness of the source material (and potential source material), in my view this should have been better. A very disappointing release in that respect. However, there is some reasonably interesting stuff here - the F-111B footage for instance - that would be of interest to aviation buffs and in that respect makes this at least worthy enough of checking out.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, July 18, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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