Here’s how this Viper pilot scored both the First US F-16 Kill and the First Kill for the AIM-120 AMRAAM

Here’s how this Viper pilot scored both the First US F-16 Kill and the First Kill for the AIM-120 AMRAAM

By Dario Leone
Dec 26 2023
Sponsored by: Schiffer Military
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Operation Southern Watch

On Aug.26, 1992, US President George H. W. Bush announced a no-fly zone over southern Iraq in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688. Thus began Operation Southern Watch, one of the longest contingency/deployment operations ever undertaken by the US Air Force (USAF). The resolution protected Shiite Muslims under aerial attack from the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm and enforced other United Nations (UN) sanctions against Iraq. Those sanctions included compliance with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons inspection, plus dismantling, destruction, and import/export restrictions.

The no-fly zone (called “The Box” by Southern Watch participants) encompassed all of southern Iraq south of 32° N.

Countless military engagements

Here’s how this Viper pilot scored both the First US F-16 Kill and the First Kill for the AIM-120 AMRAAM
Gen. Gary North, poses for a photo in front of the Viper he flew when he shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 scoring the first US F-16 Kill.

However air operations conducted by Saddam Hussein’s air force during ’91-’92 showed he had no intention of complying with resolution 688. In fact as explained by Donald J. McCarthy, Jr. in his book “The Raptors All F-15 and F-16 aerial combat victories,” countless military engagements between coalition forces and Iraqi command and control systems, anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) sites, radar sites, and surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites took place from the very end of the 1991 Gulf War until the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Iraqi MiG-25 violating the no-fly zone

One of the most famous clashes took place on Sunday, Dec. 27, 1992, when an Iraqi MiG-25 (NATO reporting name “Foxbat”) fighter violated the no fly zone and entered airspace south of 33rd parallel.

On that day at approximately 10:42 a.m. local time, the then Capt. Gary “Nordo” North (who was flying the F-16D No. 90-0778, callsign Benji 41) led a flight of four F-16s on a routine OSW mission. As the Viper drivers were refueling from a KC-135 they heard urgent transmissions between a formation of four F-15s in the no-fly zone and AWACS controllers.

F-16 MiG Killer print
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An Iraqi fighter (that one F-15, having been close enough to gain visual acquisition, confirmed it as a “Foxbat”) had crossed the border into the no-fly zone and now was speeding north to safety with the F-15s in hot pursuit. The Foxbat quickly reached north of the thirty-second parallel, and the F-15s, now low on gas, left the area.

AWACS controllers order two F-16 fighters toward an Iraqi aircraft

As told by Craig Brown in his book Debrief: a complete history of U.S. aerial engagements 1981 to the present, North and his wingman refueled with only enough gas to allow them to cover their assigned on-station time in the no-fly zone, and crossed the border into southern Iraq while the third and fourth aircraft in their group continued to refuel.

Within minutes AWACS controllers ordered the two F-16s toward an Iraqi aircraft that was heading south toward the thirty-two parallel to ensure the Bogey did not cross into the no-fly zone. Few minutes later AWACS controllers directed the Vipers to intercept another high-speed contact which originated in the north and crossed into the no-fly zone approximately thirty miles west of the F-16 formation. The Iraqi fighter was forced to turn north to safety before the F-16s, armed with two AIM-120A Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, could engage it.

Fedotov MiG-25RB altitude world record

AWACS radar monitored another aircraft, northeast of the F-16s, flying south toward the no-fly zone, but this time as the F-16s flew to intercept the fighter an Iraqi SAM radar site began tracking the Vipers. At this point North ordered the third and fourth aircraft in his group, now with a full load of gas, to fly north at their best speed. Again AWACS radar reported a radar contact entering the no-fly zone to the west of North’s formation at high speed at 30,000 feet.

The bogey flies towards USAF F-16 Vipers

The Bogey was flying directly towards them on an easterly heading.

Nordo called for a tactical offset to the north to “bracket” the F-16s between the MiG and the thirty-second parallel, creating a blocking maneuver and trapping the Iraqi fighter in forbidden airspace. The MiG could not escape back into Iraqi territory without a fight. “Someone was going to die within the next two minutes, and it wasn’t going to be me or my wingman,” North said.

First US F-16 kill

Lt. Col. Gary North the 33rd FS commander; SSgt. Roy Murray, crew chief; SA Steven Ely, assistant crew chief, pose with the F-16D #90-0778 which Lt. Col. North was flying when he shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 over the “No Fly Zone” on Dec. 27, 1992. Mounted on the wing tips are the AIM-120A advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. Location of this photo is at Shaw AFB on April 1st, 1993

North requested clearance to fire as he visually identified the aircraft-a MiG-25 Foxbat armed with AA-6 “Acrid” radar guided missiles. He directed his wingman to employ his electronic jamming pod and again he requested clearance to fire. He finally heard “BANDIT-BANDIT-BANDIT, CLEARED TO KILL” over his head set. At approximately three nautical miles, at fifteen degrees nose high and fifteen degrees right bank North locked up the MiG-25 and fired an AMRAAM, which guided to impact and totally destroyed the Russian built Foxbat.

First US F-16 kill, first kill for the AIM-120 AMRAAM

On Oct. 28, 1998, Col. Paul “PK” White interviewed North for an article he authored, “Nordo’s MiG Kill,” where North described the moment of missile impact: “I saw three separate detonations, the nose and left wing broke instantly, and the tail section continued into the main body of the jet, and finally one huge fireball.”

Noteworthy this engagement not only marked the first aerial victory scored by an American F-16, but also the first kill for the AIM-120 AMRAAM.

Video of first US F-16 kill, first kill for the AIM-120 AMRAAM

The following video is the original footage of the engagement described in this article.

The Raptors All F-15 and F-16 aerial combat victories is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.

Debrief: a complete history of U.S. aerial engagements 1981 to the present is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.

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Photo credit: Senior Airman Darlene Seltmann and A1C Robert Trubia / U.S. Air Force; Dmitriy Pichugin via Wikimedia Commons

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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