The year was 1977, and the Canadian Department of National Defence had just kicked off their New Fighter Aircraft program to replace their aging fleet of CF-101 Voodoos, CF-116 (CF-5) Freedom Fighters and CF-104 Starfighters. As the rest of the world entered the fourth generation of fighter aviation, Canada was lagging behind and DND officials recognized that, and sought to solve the problem. The Canadian government accordingly sent out a series of “Request For Proposals” to a number of major aerospace/defense contractors, including all of the big names in the United States. As it would be extremely costly for Canada to pay for the development of a clean sheet aircraft, they were focused on buying airframes that suited their requirements with room for modification should the need arise. Grumman, one of those contractors, immediately seized the opportunity to offer Canada the F-14A Tomcat as its next frontline fighter. As one might expect, interest rapidly developed in the swing-wing twin-engined jet. I mean, how can you not love the Tomcat?!
Soon, Canadian representatives from the Department of National Defence and Air Command (what we call today the Royal Canadian Air Force) were flown down to the primary Grumman manufacturing facility on Long Island, NY to have an up-close and personal view of the big jet. They loved what they saw. Air Command pilots were given briefings and check-rides, and the response to the Turkey was warm. However, by 1978, Canada denied Grumman the contract for the F-14, and so, Grumman was eliminated from the competition. Their reason for dropping the Tomcat from consideration was that there would be incredibly difficult costs involved in the procurement and fielding of such an aircraft. Many, however, speculated that it wasn’t the price tag of the jets but rather internal politics that played the biggest part in removing the Tomcat from contention. But, that wasn’t the end of Canada’s short love affair with the Turkey.
Elsewhere in the world, a revolution was brewing in Iran, marked by the seizing of the US Embassy in Tehran the following year. In the years before the revolution, the United States maintained a friendly relationship with the Iran, ruled over by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Wanting to curtail Soviet MiG-25 overflights in Iranian airspace, the Shah asked then-President Richard Nixon, during Nixon’s visit to Iran in 1972, for an American aircraft that would be capable of intercepting Foxbats and taking them down if the need arose. Both Grumman’s F-14 and McDonnell Douglas’ F-15 Eagle were offered, among other aircraft. In 1974, the Shah purchased a total of 80 Tomcats, along with 700+ AIM-54 Phoenix missiles and enough replacement parts (including engines) to last the IIAF up to ten years after delivery. The Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of the Shah threw a wrench into the gears, and it consequently led many to believe that the F-14s of the former Imperial Iranian Air Force would fall into disuse, mostly due to the US government’s decision to cut ties with Iran in all areas, including logistics and technical/mechanical support for the fighters the previous Iranian government had only recently bought. Canadian officials saw a chance to procure the mighty Tomcat after all, only for a fraction of the original price. This proved that there were indeed underlying issues in removing Grumman from the NFA competition.
Canadian foreign ministry officials were instructed to convince the new interim Iranian government that a lack of parts for the relatively new Tomcats would keep them grounded and unusable. It would be too costly to reverse-engineer the large jet, and without any external support, upgrading them would be a completely hopeless venture. After successfully convincing the Iranians of this, they set to the task of chipping away at the price the Iranians were expected to offer for their fleet of Tomcats (including parts and the arsenal of Phoenixes themselves). Once again, the Canadian officials were thoroughly successful and managed to haggle down the price of the aircraft to below the original unit cost. The purchase seemed to be almost certain. Then disaster struck. Word soon broke out that Canadian diplomats were responsible for assisting US embassy personnel in escaping the country during the 1979 Hostage Crisis (i.e. the legendary “Canadian Caper”, subject of the movie Argo). The Iranian government immediately cut off talks with Canada and nixed the nearly-inked agreement. Thus ended any chance of the RCAF/Canadian Forces Air Command ever flying the mighty Tomcat.