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Twentieth Century Chivalry

Nine Hundred Years On

The knights of the First Crusade began to battle long before they reached the Holy Land. Some from France were already slaughtering and looting by the time they reached the Rhine. They swept through the Balkans as a plague of locusts.

Today's knights rule the skies above the Balkans as effectively as their predecessors of nine centuries ago ruled the earth. Here is the story, told by one of them, of a combat between two F-15 Eagles intercepting an intrusion by two Mig-29 Fulcrums.

We publish it because some readers, we believe, will be interested in how little certain aspects of warfare have changed during those nine centuries.

F-15 in vertical climb
An F-15 in the climb

Boomer and I were tasked over Bosnia-Herzegovina on 26 March, patrol time from 1500Z to 1900Z. We were established on CAP over Tuzla for about an hour after initial refueling. At 1602Z, while eastbound approaching the Bosnia/Yugoslavia border, I got a radar contact 37 nm to the east, 6k, beaming south at over 600 knots. Of course AWACS had no clue and did not have any inkling someone was flying on the other side of border (although he was real good at calling out every single friendly WEST of us!).

I called out the contact and Boomer was locked on same. Without an ID and not tactically sound to cross the border at the time, I elected to pump our formation in a right hand turn through south and called "PUSH IT UP, BURNER, TAPES ON!" (we were initially flying .85M, 28K) and rolled out heading west/southwest. At that time I didn't think anything much would happen. I figured the contact would probably continue south or turn east and remain well on the east side of the border. Nevertheless, I called the flight lead of the south CAP over Sarajevo and gave him a craniums up on the position of contact, altitude, and the heading.

This entire time AWACS still had no radar contact, even after I called it out on the radio. Man, running away with the contact at our six o'clock with AWACS not having any clue was NOT comfortable! Boomer and I continued west for a total of 60 seconds (about 10 nm) before I directed the formation to turn back hot, again turning through south in an attempt to get some cut-off.

Boomer was on the northside of the formation (left side as we rolled out heading east). We both got contact 070 for 37 nm, 23k, target now heading west (hot towards us).

AWACS finally woke up and starting seeing the same thing. Now, I'm starting to think SHIT IT'S GONNA HAPPEN (evident with the increase of about two octaves in my voice!). It was fairly obvious this guy's originated from FRY. Checked AAI for friendly squawk: nobody home! We still needed to get clearance from AWACS to engage, so I requested [codeword deleted] and got no reply from the controller (pretty sure he had no freakin clue what that codeword meant!).

About this time both Boomer and I got good ID on the target in our own cockpit and with threat hot towards us inside 30 nm decided to blow off the AWACS? clearance to engage restriction and go for it! Target was now inside 30 nm and I directed Boomer to target the single group. I broke lock and went back to search in 40 nm scope and 120 sweep. The target check turned towards north west and descended to high teens. Boomer and I checked about 30 degrees left to northeast for cutoff. This check turn slung me aft in the formation so I stroke it up to full AB to get more line abreast. I called "COMBAT 1, ARM HOT" and saw Boomer's wing tanks come off with bright flames under the wing. Pretty impressive! I was well over the Mach when I punched my tanks off and the jet jumped up abruptly (you can see it in the HUD).

1500Z ~ 1500 Greenwich Mean Time.

CAP ~ combat air patrol.

nm ~ nautical miles

AWACS ~ the airborne controller's aircraft, a modified Boeing 707.

ID ~ identificatiion

BURNER, TAPES ON ~ afterburner and recording tapes switched on

.85M, 28K ~ 85% of the speed of sound, 28,000 feet altitude

craniums up ~ "heads up", a quick briefing

our six o'clock ~ directly behind us
070 ~ bearing 070 degrees

FRY ~ Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

AAI ~ electronic identification system (once known as IFF)

AB ~ afterburners

well over the Mach ~ well over the speed of sound

HUD ~ head-up display of flight and attack data

F-15 with afterburners on
Afterburners on ~ dramatic acceleration

I rolled my elevation coverage looking from about 5K to 21K and, no kidding, stay in search for at least one full frame (believe me, I wanted to go back to single target track SO DAMN BAD !!!). AWACS started calling out "two contacts, lead trail". Sure enough, I was starting to see the break out on my scope! At about 20nm, Boomer called "FOX 3, 18K !". I saw the cons/smoke came from his jet and thought: SONOFABITCH!!!! I gotta get me some!!!

I commanded miniraster on the leader and as soon as the radar locked (about 17 nm), immediately thumbed forward. My first shot came off inside 16 nm from the leader. When I pressed the pickle button, it seemed like an ETERNITY before the missile actually launched, but when it did ~ WOW! The missile came off with such a loud roar/whoosh. I not only heard it clearly in the cockpit above the wind noise, radio comms, ear plug, and helmet, I actually FELT the rocket motor roar! In the HUD, you can see the flames shooting out from the tail end of the missile, and the smoke and cons following it!

two contacts, lead trail ~ radar had shown that the single blip had split, that the contact was two aircraft in echelon.

cons ~ condensation trails

air-to-air missile

Stepped immediately to the trailer and pressed and held the pickle button for at least 3 seconds. Again, thinking: COME ON, DAMN IT! LAUNCH!!! The second missile came off just as impressive as the first after the same painful delay. I yelled "Dirk 1, Fox 6, lead trail!" Both targets started a check turn to the southwest and continued to descend to low teens. Approaching 10 nm, checking RWR to make sure we weren't targeted.

"Dirk 1 naked !" ~ "Dirk 2 naked !" ~ "Dirk, let's go pure!"

From 30K, both of us rolled our jets inverted and pointed nose low directly at the TD box on the HUD, and pulled throttle to idle. I think my heart rate at this time was reaching my aerobic limit for my age (you know, that formula: 220 minus age...)! Against a broken cloud background, I saw a tiny dot in the TD box about 7 to 8 nm out. "Dirk 1, tally ho nose 7 nm, low!"

Realizing I saw the trailer, I was praying Boomer would soon follow up with a tally call on the leader. Approaching 5 nm, I'm scanning in front of the trailer for the leader but no joy. Shit! The trailer continued his left turn to southwest. Inside of 5 nm, thumb aft to AIM-9 and tried twice to uncage but the tone was not there. Just then, between the HUD and the canopy bow (about right 12:30 to 1 o'clock position), I saw the leader explode! The best visual description I can think of is if you held a torch from one of those Hawaiian Luau party, and swing it through the air. The flame with an extended tail trailing the torch is exactly what I saw!

Turning my attention back to the trailer, the trailer exploded into a streaking flame seconds later just as I tried to uncage the missile the third time! Never mind!

"DIRK 1, SPLASH TWO MIG-29s !!!"

I was screaming like a woman! Didn't really bother to keep an eye on the fireballs, so I didn't see any chutes. Later report confirmed both pilots ejected safely. Not that neither Boomer nor I would've felt bad if they morted. Anyway, I called for Boomer and I to reference 080 heading and short range radar. Thumbed aft to AUTOGUNS and plug in full AB and accelerated to 460 kts at 20K. My cranium was on a swivel and breathing like I just ran a full sprint!

I looked north and it took me a few seconds to find Boomer (about 3.5nm left and stacked high). Tried to talk his eyes back to me, but Boomer called out to west in a right turn. I waited a few seconds and turned west as well.

Rolling out, I was 3 nm in trail of Boomer, so I had him shackled to the south to pick up line abreast. The fun wasn't over yet. Boomer got an AUTOGUN snap lock less than 10 nm south of us, low alt, with no ID. I told him to press for VID while I followed him 3 nm in trail. We were diving back down to the low teens and I saw ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on my radar! Boomer all of a sudden pulls up and yells "Dirk 2, unable ID!" That's BAD!!! I just about shit in my pants! I saw nothing and after a few seconds I asked Boomer if he saw ANYTHING at all. Boomer said he didn't see anything, so we just stroke it up and separate to the northwest for a while, then came back for a second look. Nobody home! Boomer thought it may have been a bad radar lock. I sure hoped so!

The flight across the Adriatic was uneventful, and Boomer and I finally had a moment to think about what happened. After I landed and pulled into dearm, I saw a freak in flight suit and wearing a reflective belt, jumping up and down. Sure enough, it was "Freak" O'Laughlin welcoming us back! Taxi back to the chocks was like having a bunch of kids following an ice cream truck! Everyone came running out and waited at the parking spot for us.

Boomer taxied in front of me as I pulled into my spot. Losing all professionalism and radio discipline (yada yada...), I called out on Ops freq: "Boomer, YOU're the SHIT!!!" Getting out of the jet and greeting all the bros and maintainers was THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY CAREER!!! Our Ops Group Commander "Wilbur" Eddy was first to shake my hand, followed by the mob! We were laughing, shouting, hooting, high fiving, and hugging! It was awesome!

Couldn't wait to review the tapes, we all piled into the "Turtle" and watched my HUD tapes. Thank God it recorded everything clearly, including the fireball from the trailer. "Homer" Samuel and "Bull" Mitchum almost knocked me over when they came storming into the Turtle! We were all screaming and jumping so hard in the Turtle I though it was going to tip over! Boomer and I were laughing and high fiving the entire car ride home! We weren't even suppose to fly that day!

Some afterthoughts: No kidding, it took over a day for this to finally sink in. It felt almost surreal that day/night. "Fish" Bonita said it best when he saw me hours after I shut down engines: "So, Claw, have you landed yet?" Only one word can describe this event: FUCKINGUNBELIEVABLYLUCKY!!! Not the fact we shot them down, but that they were airborne during our watch. Any Eagle driver could've easily done what Boomer and I did, but as "Heater" Griffin said: "You guys won the lottery!" The sequence of events happened in our favor like the planets lining up. The jets, the missiles, the radar (well, at least mine) performed marvelously! Our MX dudes deserve the bulk of the credit. We had no spares that day. The crew chiefs and the Pro Super, Jim Snyder, absolutely BUSTED THEIR ASS working red balls and launched us on time! Boomer, my wingman, what can I say?

Regardless of whose missile hit which Mig, WE shot down two Fulcrums that afternoon. We succeed as a team, and fail as a team (good thing it was the former)! Boomer did an OUTSTANDING job of finding the group, working the ID matrix, and target according to plan. If I didn't have faith in him, I would not have broke lock and break out the lead trail formation. Of course I'm proud of what we did, but there's one thing I'll really stick out my chest for: To everyone who taught me and influenced me on my tactical flying and gave me long debriefs (though painful at times), especially "Razor" Johnson, "Elwood" Amidon, "Heater" Griffin, "Homer" Samuel, "Dozer" Shower, "Nuts" Destasio, and "Bear" Gibbs, I DID NOT LET YOU GUYS DOWN!!! It doesn't get much better than this guys! Well, maybe two more kills would be pretty cool.....

That's all I have to say about that!

RWR ~ electronic defence system that warns of attack
TD box ~ target designator
AIM-9 ~ short-range missile
VID ~ visual identification

Very little of the above text has been edited. We did not wish to lose either its freshness or the remarkable authenticity of the emotions it displays.

It has been circulating among aviators for a little time, and we believe it deserves the wide readership it has acquired.

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Part One of 20th Century Chivalry
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