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.
Which three words best describes the F-14?
“Deadly, unpredictable by the enemy, hell of a ride!”
What was the best thing about the F-14?
“I would have to say its powerful radar and variable sweep wings, but let’s not forget the manoeuvrability and great visibility.”
What was the worst thing about the F-14?
“I guess I would have to stick with the TF30-414 engine cliché, but if you knew how to handle it, it wasn’t that bad. The fact is, in almost 40 plus years of service and about tens of thousands of flight hours in the Iranian air force, the losses due to engine problems were fewer than a handful of Tomcats.”
How do you rate the F-14 in the following categories:
“I would give it a 100 because of its variable sweep wings.”
“Another 100 Again because of its variable sweep wings and great aerodynamics.”
“It is a 95 for this one. But it offered great control when flying with high AOA.”
“This was 95 out of 100, mostly due to the minimal lag of turbo fan engines compared to turbo jets or newer turbofan engines.”
“A+. It will receive a 100 when in zone 5 afterburner.”
“The sensors especially the electronic countermeasures and electronic counter countermeasures at the time of delivery were top of the line. These performed quite well against AAMs and SAMs during the Iran-Iraq war. Unfortunately, the post revolution Iranian air force did not receive the IRST, and Data Link systems due to the hostage crisis and the ensuing arm embargoes. We could have made great use of them.”
Man machine interface/cockpit
“The cockpit layout and easy access to switches and gauges were fantastic compared to the F-5 aircraft I had flown. Moreover the F-14 offered unprecedented and greatly improved cockpit visibility.”
“As mentioned above, the exceptional layout of the instruments and switches were quite useful in knowing the craft’s position. This along with the pilot’s awareness of his surroundings and position as well as foreseeing possible scenarios during engagements is of utmost importance. Of course, physiological conditions such as fatigue drastically reduces situational awareness as we witnessed during the war. In one instance, during a CAP mission on a moonless night around 0330 local time, I was returning to 8th tactical fighter base near Isfahan when I noticed another F-14 less than 200 metres away flying inverted with its gears extended upwards. I wasn’t sure about what was transpiring before my eyes since it was our standard operating procedure to turn off all aircraft navigational lights in combat conditions. I contacted the tower and they confirmed that my colleague J.Z. was on final approach. I gently radio’d him and said, “Hey, I think you are vertigoed! Just roll right and level off.” Thankfully, he listened and levelled off moments before landing. But this story will always be with me as a good example of what fatigue and combat can do to a pilot.”
Tell me something we don’t know about the F-14:
“It might be news to your readers that the Iranian Air Force used the F-14A as ‘Bombcats’ on several missions during the war against Iraqi forces in mid 1980s, way before the US Navy did. The wing box of the F-14 is a masterpiece and so we never had any asymmetrical issues with the wings during all these years.”
How good was the Phoenix and what was your experience with the weapon systems?
“It was flawless. As far as I can recall, out of some 167 launched AIM-54A missiles, only in one instance did the missile malfunction. Our investigation and pilot record showed that the missile’s own engine didn’t ignite on time, and when it did, the missile actually followed the Tomcat. This missile was a successful weapon. And quite frankly since the AIM-54A Phoenix was the only standard missile received by the Iranian air force for use on the F-14, it was standard operating procedure to launch it from 20-25 miles out to ensure higher hit rate and also to keep our own F-14 jets safe from enemy air-to-air weapons.
“As for my personal experience with it, I must say that I fired eight rounds of Phoenix missiles in total, from different positions and angles, which all hit their targets. My first experience firing the missile, was chasing a MiG-21 with enough speed to overtake it at 11 miles towards its aft hemisphere. This was September 1980.”
What was your toughest opponent and why?
“My own toughest engagement was with five Iraqi Mirage F1 fighter jets during my annual Stan/Eval check while on an S.M. (special mission) flight with Major J. Shokraee-Fard as instructor pilot. It took place near Nowruz Oil Field which had been attacked the day before by the Iraqi air force. I had actually briefed the pilots that same morning on how the Iraqis would probably attack: i.e. in two groups, one group flying at high altitude distracting the CAP fighter(s) while the other group snuck in low to strike the oil rigs.
“As had been predicted, we encountered two groups heading our way from two directions. A flight of two, and a flight of three. As soon as we prepared to engage the enemy at 690 Knots and slightly over 50 feet above the water, I noticed that our Master Arm switch had failed leaving us defenceless. The hunter had become the hunted. The attacking Mirages fired six air-to-air Matra missiles or as we called them, Red Heads, at us. Making hard turns and pulling high Gs, we defeated the missiles and re-engaged them in a canopy to canopy dogfight. We were so close that in a couple of passes I could see the pilot’s white notepads strapped to their legs.
“Maj. Shokraee-Fard kept checking our six, advising me of enemy position while I kept manoeuvring hard keeping myself out of their gun or IR missiles lock. During one of these manoeuvres we saw one Mirage crash into the water while the others returned to base. Once we were clear, I noticed that my G-suit had ruptured from the pressure and my helmet had cracked hitting the canopy. On our way back to base, we were advised by ELINT and the local ground radar that only three of the five Mirages had returned. After the flight, Maj. Shokraee-Fard had to wear a neck brace for six months while I suffered injuries to my knees which resulted in two surgeries after my retirement. The G meter was locked at 11.5Gs on the gauge which required the Tomcat to go through Non-Destructive Inspection (NDI). The analysis showed 19 cracks and fractures along the longitudinal axis of the aircraft which put it out of service for almost two years. We were really lucky that day.”
What was life like in your unit during the war? What were the biggest highs and lows?
“In the early days and weeks, the high losses of our pilots in the F-4 and F-5 squadrons were especially hard and painful, affecting the overall morale. It was quite bleak. As the days went by, we realised that the only available force that could slow down the rapid advance of the Iraqi ground forces was the air force and so they came to terms with the fact and accepted it. After a few weeks, despite the repeated loss of our colleagues, the missions continued without any problems and the bitter realities of war became routine. We had no choice. Iran’s ground forces were in disarray after the revolution, as a result of widespread purges – and in many cases they were no match for the Iraqi onslaught. Therefore the air force took it upon itself to act as speed bump against Iraqi ground units until our own soldiers could be organized into an effective fighting force. We performed CAS (close air support), while providing BARCAP to our own cities and infrastructure.
“My biggest high was to be the first person in Iranian AF pilot to have done a night refuelling in an F-14. We were not trained to do this by our former US Navy instructors so I was quite proud of myself for doing something like that. The biggest low would be losing three F-14s within a short few days to the French built Mirage F1 used by Iraqi AF. That hurt our pride badly.”
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
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