Why Are There 2 Pilots In An F-14 Tomcat?

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Why Are There 2 Pilots In An F-14 Tomcat?

NATOPS diagram F-14 Tomcat dimensions

This is an “interesting” question, because the truth of the matter is that there are NOT 2 pilots in an F-14 Tomcat.

In fact, there is only 1 pilot in the Tomcat, and that’s the person sitting in the front seat of the 2 seat cockpit (aka the pointy end!)

The person in the rear seat is actually termed a RIO, which stands for Radar Intercept Officer. In the classic 1986 Paramount movie “Top Gun” terms, this is where Goose sits, and Maverick is – of course – the pilot in the front seat.

The RIO manages the F-14’s radar system (the AWG-9), as well as the radios, weapon systems and navigation systems.

Plus the Radar Intercept Officer’s role is to drive the intercept in a combat situation.

Another common misconception about the F-14 Tomcat which ties in with the question about having 2 pilots in the jet is that the pilot’s controls are duplicated in the RIO’s cockpit.

In actual fact, there are NO pilot controls in the rear cockpit. No joystick, no rudder pedals, no throttles, etc.

Instead, the rear cockpit has the various display panels needed to operate the radar, including the Detail Data Display Panel (DDD) & the Tactical Information Display (TID), as well as the Hand Control Unit (HCU), which is the control stick used for the main radar & TCS (Television Camera Set).

The below photo shows the F-14A Tomcat TID in action.

Camera Operator: LT GERALD B. PARSONS. Source: USN

The below diagram shows the layout of an F-14B Tomcat (and comes from Heatblur Simulations, maker of the F-14 Tomcat for DCS – Digital Combat Simulator).

RIO Cockpit - Heatblur F-14 Tomcat

The various different areas of the RIO cockpit were:

  1. Left Side Console
  2. Left Vertical Console
  3. Left Instrument Panel
  4. Center Panel
  5. Center Console
  6. Left and Right Footwells
  7. Right Instrument Panel
  8. Right Knee Panel
  9. Right Vertical Console
  10. Right Side Console
  11. Canopy Control Handle

There’s also a cool video recorded by Graywolf, walking you through the RIO cockpit in the Heatblur F-14 module. This is for those of you who want a more visual explanation of what’s “in the back seat” if you’re curious! 🙂


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