The F-14 Tomcat is considered by many to be the most beautiful and lethal carrier-based aircraft ever flown by the U.S. military. It entered active service in 1974 and served as the U.S. Navy’s primary maritime air superiority fighter, fleet defense interceptor, and tactical aerial reconnaissance platform into the 2000s.

The jet supported every overseas deployment from Panama to Operation Desert Storm and all the post 9/11 counter-terrorism campaigns.

It was a fearsome weapon, generating legendary stories of how the enemy would see its fighters explode in the sky for no apparent reason, before a squadron of F-14’s popped up on radar minutes after the opposing side was already dead.

To date, no other carrier-based aircraft has incorporated the F-14’s variable geometry wings. At take-off speeds, the wings are swept forward.

Once airborne and accelerating towards supersonic speed, the wings sweep backward for less drag.

But then, without warning, the Tomcat program was canceled in September 2006, shocking American fighter enthusiasts and military pundits alike.

It’s not that the jet was too slow. Or outmoded. The problem was, the F-14 technology was now in enemy hands.

In the 1970s, when the F-14 was introduced, the United States had an ally in Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. The Shah introduced a series of economic, social and political reforms with the proclaimed intention of transforming Iran into a modern, global power. During his 38-year rule, Iran spent billions on industry, education, health, and armed forces and experienced significant economic growth. As many as 80 F-14’s arrived in Iran directly from the U.S.

Then in 1979, an Islamic revolution swept Iran, and the Shah fled in exile. The Iranian monarchy was formally abolished, and Iran was declared an Islamic republic led by Ruhollah Khomeini.

The last thing the U.S. needed was technological advancements made to the F-14 being stolen via espionage, sent back to Iran and subsequently used against Americans.

That was it for the F-14. It was retired by the U.S. Navy in 2006, and replaced by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Rather than risk spare parts finding their way to Iranian air craft, the Department of Defense ordered F-14s to be completely destroyed.

A contractor whose company was hired to destroy the remaining aircraft at the time said, “There were things getting to the bad guys, so to speak. And one of the ways to make sure that no one will ever use an F-14 again is to cut them into little 2-by-2-foot bits.”

A few retired F-14s are on display across the country, but an estimated 40 or so F-14s are still in service are in Iran’s air force. In fact, in November 2015, there were reports of Iranian F-14s flying escort for Russian bombers on air strikes in Syria.

Still, the appeal and reputation of the F-14 Tomcat lives on – particularly every time we watch Tom Cruise get his “need for speed” in “Top Gun.”