A Very Unusual Air Victory


The aircraft involved in this incident, EF-111A-66-0016, now occupies the position of Gate Guard outside Cannon Air Force Base in the United States.

Not all air-to-air victories are achieved by shooting down an adversary. Other techniques can apply. In 1991 EF-111A Raven aircraft participating in Operation Desert Storm brought down an Iraqi Mirage F1 through outmanoeuvring it on the battlefield. The story is one that is worth recounting as it illustrates that not all air-to-air combat is about homing missiles or getting into a position to bring guns to bear on an enemy.

On the first night of the air operation an unarmed EF-111A was to secure notoriety for achieving a combat victory over another aircraft. This is the only recorded occasion where an unarmed EF-111A achieved an aerial victory through manoeuvre alone.

At night as the first wave of attacking aircraft finally penetrated Iraqi airspace the EF-111A was flying at 5,000ft at the tip of a packet of twenty-two F15-E strike aircraft heading into western Iraq. Their mission was to bomb a number of key targets which lay between two key Iraqi airfields. As the EF-111A was jamming the Iraqi surveillance radars a warning tone in the ear of the EWO alerted them to the presence of an Iraqi Mirage F1EQ aircraft that had been scrambled from one of the airbases once the strike packet started its attacks. For the pilot and EWO of the EF-111A the warning tone of their radar warning receiver was not good news. On paper the unarmed EF-111A is no match for a Mirage. It was not intended to get into dogfights.

The Mirage was more than able to outmanoeuvre the EF-111A with its superior climb rate and it was equipped with 30mm cannon and the Magic 2 air-to-air missiles. The Iraqi Mirages also had the benefit of combat experience in the Iran-Iraq War.

The Mirage quickly got a lock on the EF-111A and launched a Magic 2 missile which was guided by a passive infrared guidance system. The EWO called ‘break right’ to close the distance with the Mirage and attempt to confuse the homing system on the Iraqi missile. Pulling a 5-G turn, which was the maximum limit for the aircraft, the captain also released chaff and quickly descended towards the ground. The Magic 2 missile flew past the EF-111A missing its target. As the two aircraft continued the dogfight an F-15C arrived to lock on to the tail of the Mirage. It would seem the presence of the F-15C disorientated the Mirage pilot who lost situational awareness at 400ft and plunged into the ground.

By flying fast and very low on its Terrain Following Radar system the EF-111A was able, with the help of the presence of the F-15C, to avoid an Iraqi Mirage F1 aircraft that was trying to manoeuvre into a firing position. By manoeuvring violently the EF-111A managed to avoid a piece of terrain in a valley that the pilot of the Mirage F1 was unable to miss.

The aircraft involved in this incident, EF-111A-66-0016, now occupies the position of Gate Guard outside Cannon Air Force Base in the United States. The only loss of an EF-111A in combat occurred a few nights later as serial number EF-111A-66-0023 crashed into the terrain in somewhat similar circumstances. Both crew members died in the crash. In the history of the EF-111A only four aircraft of the fleet of forty-two were lost.

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