The last of the US Navy’s Tomcat fighters — the plane of Top Gun fame — made its final flight more than a decade ago. However, Tomcats continue to soldier on in one other military: the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. Given its strained relation with the US, it may seem strange for Iran to have some of these iconic jets, but it is due to a quirk of history. Prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, Mohammad Reza Shah ruled Iran. His rule became increasingly autocratic over time, but he was pro-Western and eager to modernize his country and its military. Iran was also a useful buffer between the Soviet Union and the other oil-rich states surrounding the Persian Gulf, so the US was willing to sell the Shah 80 Tomcats, as well as hundreds of long-range AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles. My latest LEGO model represents one of these Persian Tomcats.
After the 1979 revolution, relations between the US and Iran soured. Subsequently, the US suspended weapons and spare parts deliveries. The serviceability of the Iranian Tomcat fleet dwindled, but their Tomcats had some successes in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Details are murky, but according to Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop, the Iranian planes shot down dozens of Iraqi fighter aircraft. Forty years later, thanks to illicit parts acquisitions and reverse-engineering, some survivors are still flying, and I finally built one.