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U.S. to shred F-14s, deny Iran any parts

Published: Tuesday, July 3 2007 12:57 a.m. MDT

The Tomcat was a strike fighter with a striking price tag: roughly $38 million. By the 1980s it was a movie star with a leading role in the Tom Cruise classic "Top Gun." But as the planes are mangled into metal chunks, the jets with a 38-foot wingspan appear small and vulnerable.

The shearing machine, which uses pincers to rip apart the planes, weighs 100,000 pounds. The shredder is 120,000 pounds. An F-14 weighs about 40,000 pounds.

As powerful as the grinding machinery is, not all of the F-14 can be shredded. The landing gear — built to withstand the force of slamming onto an aircraft carrier's deck — must be cut by hand with a demolition torch. It's made from steel with parts of titanium, so the shears can't cut it and the shredder can't chew it.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., considers the F-14 demolitions a good effort, but wants to go further and outlaw the sale of Tomcat parts to anyone except museums. Wyden sponsored legislation that also would ban export licenses for F-14 components, which he believes will be more effective than Pentagon policies that he said have changed over time.

"I don't think internal rules — these internal initiatives — based on the track record of the Department of Defense, are sufficient," Wyden said.

The House passed similar legislation in June; a Senate vote is expected later this summer. The White House hasn't said whether Bush backs it.

F-14 preservationists said the Pentagon is handling the Tomcats they obtain differently.

As a Navy pilot, retired Capt. Dale Snodgrass delivered an F-14 to Iran — flying nonstop from the United States with roughly No. 68 of about 80 planes that Iran ordered.

Snodgrass said only key computers were taken out and ejection systems disabled on planes delivered to museums in past years. This year, when an F-14 went on display at a Miami museum, virtually everything was removed, leaving only a shell, said Snodgrass, now of St. Augustine, Fla.

Snodgrass is part of F-14 history. He flew Tomcats for nearly 25 years and amassed the most flight time in them of anyone: more than 4,800 hours. He was named Navy pilot of the year around the time "Top Gun" hit theaters.

Snodgrass said he understands the decision to destroy F-14s, but added that it would be nice to see some preserved.

"It was the biggest, the fastest, the coolest," he said. "It had presence."

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