PCAM History – The First Thirty Years (Chapter 5)

June 1, 2019

By Lynn Hunt

F-14A Tomcat on the ramp at the Wings Over Wine Country Air Show, viewed from low down and from front right.
The F-14A Tomcat as it appears today.

The arrival of our F-14 Tomcat in 1995 was not without great fanfare, jubilation and even some controversy. The fanfare and jubilation was to be expected. The controversy was not. After the aircraft touched down in Santa Rosa, a team of Navy personnel began the process of “demilling” the aircraft or rendering it safe to be left in the care of the untrained general public. There were fluids to be drained, accumulators to empty, a list of avionics to remove, and above all, ejection seats and the system that triggered them needed to be rendered safe. With the seats themselves, it was simply a matter of removing the explosive charges and rocket canisters installed within.

The aircraft system that triggered the seat ejection process along with several other events was more difficult. This system also relied upon explosives to function and was installed in the aircraft during the manufacturing process. Being similar to air bags in a car they can’t really be tested without actually deploying them. In addition to making the aircraft safe, firing off this explosive would also give the aircraft manufacturer good feedback on the system reliability.

A team of technicians was dispatched to PCAM to prepare to test and evaluate the initiator system by firing it. When all instruments were ready a simulated ejection sequence was triggered. The initiator system failed to respond! One of the techs immediately asked to use our phone. The significance and magnitude of what had just happened was not fully appreciated until next morning when the Press Democrat front page headlines read “F-14 FLEET GROUNDED”. This order remained in effect until the Navy was able to determine where in the manufacturing process our F-14 was manufactured and the probability of other failures. After a couple of weeks the order was lifted. Ultimately we were glad that she made her way to PCAM without incident.

Be sure to tune in next month for the continuing story of PCAM History: The First Thirty Years.


There’s always something great going on at the Pacific Coast Air Museum. We have Open Cockpit weekends once a month,  special events throughout the year, and regular hot dog lunches. We host school field trips, special group tours, birthday parties, and family get-togethers, all among our collection of historic aircraft and educational exhibits.