“I had eight aerial kills with the Phoenix missile, two kills with the Vulcan M61A gun, and one kill with the MIM-23 Hawk missile that we ended up using on our fleet of F-14 jets due to severe missile shortages in late stages of the conflict,” Col. (rtd) 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.
Tell me about your kills please:
“I had eight aerial kills with the Phoenix missile, two kills with the Vulcan M61A gun, and one kill with the MIM-23 Hawk missile that we ended up using on our fleet of F-14 jets due to severe missile shortages in late stages of the conflict. On top of that I reportedly can claim five manoeuvre kills from two separate engagements.
“My first air-to-air kill was a few days before the official start of the war Sept 17, 1980 when two Iraqi MiG-21s were on a bombing run over the city of Mehran in western Iran. The ground radar guided us toward the Iraqi fighters and we approached them in a way that I ended up 13 to 15 miles behind one of them at 3,000 feet. I was flying with my RIO Lt. Sultani, at over 240 knots faster than the Iraqi fighter when I fired my Phoenix missile and watched an aircraft disintegrate and explode visually for the first time.
“My second & third kills were with RIO Lt. Najafi on Sept. 25, 1980 flying over the general area of Dezful in SW Iran. We were informed by ground control radar that four MiG-23s had crossed the border. We were directed towards them and at around 45NM locked our radar on the fighters. They reduced their altitude and turned towards Iraq flying in between the mountains. At one point my RIO noticed that he only had two radar signatures and when we checked with ground radar, they also confirmed two targets. My sixth sense told me that this was a ruse and that only two of the fighters had actually returned. I turned the plane around, and within mere seconds re-acquired the missing two hostile aircraft flying at 100ft heading for the city of Yasouj. We immediately locked on both targets and launched two Phoenix missiles. One of the MiG pilot survived the ejection and was later captured.
“My fourth kill was a MiG-23. My RIO on this mission was Lt. Ahmadi. We were providing top cover for CAS missions on Nov. 13, 1980. This MiG was in pursuit of two Iranian AF F-5E Tiger jets returning from a close air support mission. Our position didn’t give us enough time to engage him with the Phoenix missile so we prepared ourselves for a knife fight. We both began turning into one another trying to get each other in our respective gunsight. We began spiralling downward in a rolling scissor manoeuvre. I opened fire with the gun twice, but didn’t think he was hit. I told my RIO to keep reading the altitude as we hurtled towards the earth. I kept hearing him read the altimeter: “2500ft, 2000, 1800, 1500, 1000, 600, 300” and then I pulled the nose up hard pushing the throttles to zone 5 afterburner, avoiding the ground. The moment I levelled off, I inverted the plane in time to notice a fireball on my left side. The MiG impacted the terrain. Honestly, I really would have wanted to meet with this skillful pilot and I felt bad about his sudden demise.
“My fifth & sixth kills were on Nov. 29, 1980, a day after the Morvarid (Pearl) naval operations that decimated the bulk of Iraqi naval forces in the northern Persian Gulf. My RIO on this day was Lt. Ibrahim Ansareen. The main objective of the operation was to destroy Iraq’s Al-Bakr & Al-Amaya oil terminals (now ABOT) in order to cutoff Iraq’s oil export. The enemy naval surface forces had lost several fast attack boats on top of a few Russian built corvettes to our well equipped navy. And so the Iraqi air force was tasked to provide cover for their helicopters trying to retrieve Iraqi troops and sailors lost at sea, or still on the oil platforms. Our job was to deny their top cover and also target their helicopters as they came in to reinforce their positions.
“I took out one Iraqi MiG fighter aircraft with a Phoenix missile and continued playing cat and mouse with the remaining fighters. At another opportune moment, I launched a second AIM-54A Phoenix missile at another approaching MiG about 10 or 11 miles out resulting in a shoot down. Since my aircraft was loaded with only two rounds of AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, and therefore we were practically Winchester, I immediately called for support. Two of my buddies late Capt. H Farrokhi who was patrolling in another area as well as Capt. Jamshid Afshar came to replace us. These two men on that very day shot down 3 other intruding Iraqi fighter jets resulting in total shoot down of 5 enemy aircraft by our F-14 fighters in one single day.
“My seventh kill happened on April 24, 1981 when 1Lt. Farrokh-Nazar and I were providing cover for our ground troops in the vicinity of Ahvaz. We were vectored by ground radar to intercept an aircraft heading for our friendly positions. We tracked him on our radar, and at about 20NM fired a Phoenix missile resulting in a shoot down.
“My eighth & ninth kills happened on/about November 20, 1982 with Lt. Tahmasebi as my backseater. We received a NoTAM alert about the arrival of Saddam Hussein and/or a few high ranking officers to inspect the Iraqi battle areas. On that fateful day we could see that higher than normal Iraqi air activities which supported our initial intelligence about the presence of high ranking figures in the battle area. As usual, we’d lock onto the Iraqi fighters a few times and they would immediately turn around; however, during one of these radar locks the Iraqi fighter and its wingman continued its course towards us. Knowing who they were and what they were going to do, we fired two Phoenix missiles at them but could not really tell if those launches were successful. The moment we landed, we were summoned bv our angry wing commander. We were both given a written reprimand for not following the rules of engagement ROE as we had been directed. Apparently our ROE had directed us to engage the Iraqi fighters only inside the Iranian territory. We were also forbidden from crossing into Iraqi air space by our headquarters. This was set up to prevent the loss of prized F-14 aircraft with its sophisticated weapon system inside the enemy territory in case of a mishap or loss to enemy fire. The air force brass had also feared our top secret AIM-54A missiles would somehow end up in enemy hands if it was fired at enemy fighters inside the enemy air space. As a result, we were not credited for these two kills. However, 31 years later in 2013 ‘IRIAF’s Center for Study & Research’ officially registered these 2 kills in our names.
“My tenth kill was in Northeast of Boubian Island with Lt. S. Shokouh in Feb 1984. The target was a Mirage F1 that we destroyed using the nose gun. We were patrolling in sector 3, close to Minoo Island south of the city of Abadan when we encountered a single Mirage flying low. We didn’t have enough time to prepare a radar lock.
“I managed to get myself to his 4 o’clock. Switching to PLM for close combat or dogfight, I locked onto the Mirage but the pilot immediately went into full afterburner and began jinking preventing us to get on his six. I managed to manoeuvre myself to about 25 degrees off of his tail using afterburner as we flew below 100ft AGL. At a distance of 500-700ft I opened up at him. Took two bursts of the F-14’s Vulcan M61A1 canon to effectively strike the Iraqi fighter. The Mirage caught fire and unfortunately, the pilot didn’t have enough time to eject at that high speed and in a very low altitude. The burning fighter slammed into the ground and exploded.
“My eleventh kill took place in September 16th, 1986 during the live firing test of the US made MIM-23 Hawk surface to air missile carried by the Iranian F-14. Quick background should be provided here. The late Shah’s air force had ordered plenty of AIM-7F Sparrow and AIM-9L sidewinder air to air missiles along with the AIM-54A missiles for our new fleet of the F-14s. But the hostage crisis of 1980 effectively killed the prospect of the arrival of the former missile types thus the Iranian F-14s and crew went to war only with AIM-54A being F-14’s standard missile. The two versions then available in our inventory, namely AIM-7E and AIM-9J, were not really compatible with the F-14’s fire control system. The MIM-23B Hawk SAM was the only medium range anti-aircraft missile in our inventory. We adapted it for our F-14 and it was called AIM-23C Sedjil. I was a senior member of the team that worked on converting the Hawk surface to air missile to an air-to-air missile. During the final trial run, I was ordered to test the missile during an actual combat situation to prove the system to naysayers. I was sent TDY to Bushehr 6th tactical air base to stand scramble alert. I think it was on the third day when the opportunity arrived to demonstrate the combat capability of this new weapon. My backseat was 1Lt. Ansareen.
“We locked on and fired the first Hawk which turned out to be dud. The missile made a barrel roll over the nose cone of the F-14 and fell straight down. I immediately fired a second one at 20NM resulting in positive hit as confirmed by our SIGINT and radar data. I am told the target was a French built Dassault Super Etendard maritime strike aircraft leased to the Iraqis in mid 1980s. This specific Super Etendard’s tail number must have been 4667 piloted by Captain A. Kamal Hussein.
“These maritime strike jets were used extensively by the Iraqi air force to strike our cargo ships and oil tankers using their infamous Exocet missile. And as you know they had a rather stellar record during the Falklands war against the Royal Navy surface assets as well.”
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