“I called the ground radar but didn’t receive a reply. I tried again and still got no reply. After my third call, the operator replied asking if we were still in our aircraft?! They had assumed we had been targeted by all those Matra missiles that had run their course and exploded mid-air,” Fereydoun A. Mazandarani, former IRIAF F-14 Tomcat Pilot.
The following interview, which appears on Hush-Kit and that was brought to my attention by the owner of the Facebook group Where have all the Tomcats gone Marc Wolff, is an abridged extract from the forthcoming Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Support their book and pre-order here.
The F-14 was the king of the air in the extreme combat of the Iran-Iraq War. Around 180 Iraqi aircraft fell to Grumman’s deadly Tomcat, of these kills, sixteen can be attributed to Col. Mazandarani. Hush-Kit spoke to the world’s greatest living ace to learn more.
How did you feel going into combat in the F-14?
“Very confident. The truth is as the war dragged on the feeling of resignation took over our units. We felt the war would go on longer than we had hoped for. With the prospect of an immediate ceasefire fading, we decided to preserve our irreplaceable number of AIM-54A missiles by resorting to engaging enemy aircraft in dogfights – meaning we would get close to them and use our superior techniques and tactics to shoot down enemy aircraft. I just want to tell you how confident all of us felt about the F-14 Tomcat that even when the Mirage F1s were added to the Iraqi air force fleet, that confidence was still there. Yes, they managed to create a headache for us, but we quickly overcame that threat and regained the upper hand.
To further prove my point, during the eight years of war, Iran only lost 5 Tomcats to enemy air activity. These losses initially were due to the lack of intelligence on the presence of Mirage F1s in the area, and more so being ambushed by several Iraqi F1 fighters for 4 of the Tomcat losses. They had to ambush and overwhelm the F-14 but one on one they really had no chance. Needless to say, and for variety of reasons our main objective as F-14 crew in the latter stages of the conflict was to make the Iraqi air crew abort their missions mid flight. We were quite successful in doing that. And this is how it worked: As soon as the Iraqis found out that an F-14 Tomcat was patrolling in the area they would abort and RTB. Or we would just lock on them, and the radar lock alone made them hightail it back to their own side.”
How Combat effective was the F-14, and how important was it in the war?
“It can’t be measured. In my opinion, the presence of the Tomcat in the Iranian air force was the highlight of aerial combat during the Iran Iraq war. Saddam’s strategic miscalculation of the strength of Iranian air force during the chaotic months after the 1979 revolution led him to believe the Iraqi army would march triumphantly in Tehran within a few weeks and never thought that the Iranian air force could utilise all of its capabilities including the use of the F-14 Tomcats. The chaos stemmed from the purges and executions that decimated the whole of former Imperial Iranian armed forces. Most of our leaders above the rank of colonels, were either, executed, imprisoned, discharged or had left the country. Among them were outstanding war planners and tacticians. Adding to this chaos, was the low morale in the armed forces as a result of the Islamic revolution. Despite the military and economic support from twenty plus countries including the regional Arab states, The Soviet Union, France, both West & East Germany, United States… etc, Iraq was never able to maintain air superiority during the 8 year war all because of the magnificent Grumman Tomcat.
What is the biggest myth about the Iranian F-14s?
“The most tiresome is that the departing US personnel stationed in Iran managed to sabotage Iranian F-14 radar, electronics and Phoenix missiles before leaving Iran in the ensuing days after the 1979 revolution. Let me tell you that I was a young officer during those days at Esfahan Khatami air base. Our wing commanders and senior officers made sure this never happened. We lined up departing American personnel before boarding their TWA aircraft and inspected them all. Another myth that needs to be shot down right now is myriad of statements by F-14 enthusiasts boasting about shooting down Iraqi fighters from a distance of over 150km! That is untrue.
What should I have asked you?
This is a good opportunity to clear the air. The following quick Q/As are rather important in my opinion:
What was the F-14’s kill ratio during the Iran Iraq war?
Between 155-160 kills with the Phoenix missile. Roughly 10 enemy aircraft fell victim to AIM/7E Sparrow, AIM/9J Sidewinder, MIM-23 (AIM-23C) & M61A nose gun.
Roughly 8-10 manoeuvre kills, or their running out of fuel in aerial combat and never reaching a friendly air field.
Number of Iranian F-14 losses that fell to enemy aircraft stands at five. This is a kill ratio of 1:35 to 1:37
Bear in mind that Iranian F-14s were fighting with one hand tied behind their back. Despite being on order, the AIM-7F Sparrow, And AIM/9L missiles were never delivered due to arms embargo, and we had a limited stock of very expensive Phoenix missiles.
What was your most memorable mission and why?
One of my most important and stressful engagements was on Thursday Mar. 21, 1985 along with RIO Lt. Sanatkar. I was on final approach returning to base from a 6hr combat air patrol. Wing command ordered us to cancel approach and fly back south as fast as we could due to lack of available covering fighters in that critical sector. I air refuelled and headed south towards Khark Island area to offer aerial protection for a convoy of some twenty massive oil tankers fully loaded with Iran’s one month worth of crude oil output. We were on station for more than an hour and nearing bingo fuel status with 8500 lbs left in the tanks. I was about to head to our tanker for another mid-air refuelling when the radar controller warned us of 10 approaching bogeys.
It did not take long when these bogeys became bandits. But the problem was that my aircraft was quite low on fuel for any engagement. We turned our F-14 heading south initially, but again turned to heading 300 degrees as 13 targets began appearing on the radar scope flying at 500ft ASL. We later found out they were eight upgraded MiG-23 bombers known as MiG-27* and five French built Mirage F1s acting as escort. I had no choice but to engage the enemy fighters in order to protect the convoy of tankers from a horrendous air assault. I told my backseater to be ready to bail out whenever I instructed him to do so. I set my altimeter to 35ft ASL and thought out my engagement strategy as I began dropping altitude.
(*probably actually MiG-23BN)
At about 20NM, with our fuel at 2,000lbs the escort fighters fired some 20 Matra missiles at us aimlessly as the onboard ECM, Chaff and flares began to work their magic. We started defeating the missiles by making hard left and right turns called “Jinking” and turned into the Iraqi strike package. Fortunately, the MiGs jettisoned their payload and broke formation as we maneuvered between the enemy fighters and frightened them. The escort fighters which were flying in two groups had also broken formation and as I passed the last three Mirages, I banked hard and got behind them watching the Mirages light up their afterburners as they headed back. I thought of chasing them but my fuel gauge was now reading 600lbs almost 50NM southwest of Khark Island, so I disengaged and eased back on the throttle to military power returning towards Busher air base.
I asked Lt. Sanaatkar if we had been hit or anything but he confirmed that all systems were working just fine. I called the ground radar but didn’t receive a reply. I tried again and still got no reply. After my third call, the operator replied asking if we were still in our aircraft?! They had assumed we had been targeted by all those Matra missiles that had run their course and exploded mid-air. I told them that we may have to ditch the plane and may require immediate SAR helicopter over head. But right then I was interrupted by my dear friend Col. M. Reza Moharrami (nicknamed Mamish), the pilot of a KC-707 fuel tanker, saying that we will be shaking hands soon. To our astonishment this brave and marvel of a pilot had flown toward the engagement area faking radio communications with other aircraft to give the enemy side the false belief that more friendly fighter aircraft is headed to my engagement zone. We hooked up with the tanker at 2,000ft and gradually climbed to 22,000ft receiving much needed fuel in the process. On our way back to base, I was informed by ground based radar that one MiG-27* and two Mirage F1s had not been able to make it back which was icing on the cake!”
With special thanks to ‘Michael’ in Tehran for facilitating the interview
Interview by Kash Ryan
Kash Ryan a native of Iran, hails from a military family. Both his father and grandfather were professional service members. His father served in the Iranian Air Force retiring as a Lt colonel. Kash served mandatory service in Iranian Air Force in the late 1990s.
Growing up on an air base planted the seeds of curiosity about aviation and aircraft in him. He is a qualified private pilot currently splitting his time between Canada and the United States. As a military history enthusiast he was compelled to bring several fascinating combat memoirs of the Iranian Air Force pilots to a wider audience in the English speaking world for the first time.
It may be that Bud Anderson has 0.25 more kills than Col. Mazandarani, but the latter remains the greatest living jet ace. Another candidate for the title is Giora Epstein with 17 kills (one was a helicopter).
Photo credit: Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force