It feels contradictory for one of the F-14's to gun down the first A6M2 Zero, but the other F-14 to fire an air-to-air missile ("AAM") at the second A6M2. Is this distinction a goof? If not, what distinguishes the choice of different weapons?

Did the first pilot use rounds from the M61A1 Vulcan rotary cannon, because he needed merely a handful and they are cheaper? I know from military service that militaries don't want you to shoot rabbits with elephant guns, or kill flies with cruise missiles. On August 29, 1998, Canadian Major Roland Lavoie remarked, "Also, it might be overkill spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars on a missile to shoot down a balloon that's drifting away." I can't identify the air-to-air missile ("AAM") from this Youtube video, but it costs more than the handful of rounds from the F-14's rotary cannon.

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to edit your question from, "why did the first pilot..." to something more like "why did the scriptwriter..." chose this or that. I would seriously doubt if the pilots flying those F-14's for the cameras had any input at all into the choice of weapons that made the movie screen. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Feb 5, 2023 at 4:16

2 Answers 2


YouTuber and former F-14 RIO Ward Carroll published a very thorough video commentary on this film. It's well worth watching. There's tons of interesting information in it (for example, and since you wondered, the missile was an AIM-9 Sidewinder) but nothing is said about the guns vs. missiles.

In addition to the obvious answer "because that's how they wrote the script," I suspect one important factor was that they wanted to showcase all the capabilities of the F-14. Much of the film is in fact a "personal ad" for U.S. naval aviation.


In real life the weapon of choice is dictated, in simple terms, by distance to target and type of target (air to air, air to ground, air to radar etc.).

While the effective range of aircraft gun is very long (see "The fighter plane that shot itself down"), the accuracy falls off very rapidly. Using a gun at targets several hundreds of yards away becomes essentially a game of luck if the target is maneuvering.

Missiles, on the other hand, need to acquire a target lock, which may be somewhere between difficult to impossible if a maneuvering target is very close. A missile may also have difficulties maintaining target lock after launch towards a close target.

  • $\begingroup$ Can't wach that video, as I am not a member of PopMech... there are other youtube videos about it, could you consider a replacement link? $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 7, 2023 at 15:29

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