Cold War Era

Iraqi MiG-29 Pilot Explains how he was able to Shoot Down a RAF Tornado during Operation Desert Storm

“I manoeuvred the aircraft to be behind and above them, I selected R-60MK heat-seeking missile and a HUD symbology appeared (ER) which means target acquired and I fired,” Capt. Jameel Sayhood, IrAF MiG-29 Pilot.

The MiG-29, known as the Fulcrum in the west, became both one of the Soviet Air Force’s main fighter types and a successful Soviet export with nearly a third of the 1,500 first generation Fulcrums built up to 1996 being exported. It saw service with 25 nations around the globe.

Designed as a mass-produced and relatively cheap light tactical fighter, the MiG-29 first flew on Oct. 6, 1977. After extensive flight testing, it entered production in 1982 and deliveries to the Soviet Air Force began in 1983.

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The Fulcrum received its baptism of fire during the First Gulf War of 1990-91 (the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing US-led military operation to force Iraq out of Kuwait), seven years later after entering Soviet Air Force service. However, when Operation Desert Storm (or, to the UK, Operation Granby) was launched, Iraq made no real effort to oppose the Western coalition; at any rate, there was very little fighter activity.

As reported by Yefim Gordon and Dmitriy Komissarov in their book Mikoyan MiG-29 & MiG-35, according to Iraqi sources, on  Jan. 19, 1991 an Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) MiG-29 flown by Capt. Jameel Sayhood shot down a Royal Air Force/No.31 Squadron Panavia Tornado GR.1A strike aircraft (ZA467/’EK’, c/n BS097/283/3133) with an R-60 AAM. The Tornado was making a low level bombing attack on the Ar-Rutbah air defence radar site; the crew, pilot Squadron Leader G.K.S. Lennox and navigator Squadron Leader K. P. Weeks, did not eject and were killed.

This is the firsthand account of Capt. Jameel Sayhood. ‘January 19th, 1991, Al-Waleed AB. I was on standby alert with my wingman Capt. Alaa Abdul Jabbar that day in case the GCI ordered us for intercept. We were part of detachment from Al-Qadisiyah AB stationed at Al-Waleed/H3 AB (we moved there the day before, January 18th). Two days earlier, on the first night of the war, we lost two brave pilots from our squadron when two MiG-29s were downed by USAF F-15s over Talha airfield, and we were eager for revenge, despite the declining ability of the Air Force to counter the coalition aircraft as our bases, runways, EW radars and many other installations were either destroyed or damaged but thanks to the efforts of the repair crews who did everything they could to get us airborne.

‘Already on January 19th the day started for my squadron when two MiG-29s headed for an intercept of [a] US formation of AWACS and F-15s. So I was anxious to hear news about them.

‘Around midday the air defence sector commander […] called the standby unit and I answered the call. He told me the P-19 radars near the city of Hit had detected a four ship formation – probably British Tornados-heading north from the Saudi borders. “We assess their destination [as] either Al-Waleed/H3 AB or Saad/H2AB or Al-Qadisiya AB or even Tammuz AB. Since we experienced what these planes do to runways with their JP223 bombs so you should be in the aircraft in case Al-Waleed AB is their target.”

‘I was ready in the aircraft at 1220 hrs, waiting. I [had] already checked the systems and missiles. I was carrying two R27R semi-active radar guided missiles R-60MK heat-seeking missiles. […] I was thinking about the upcoming task and also about the other two MiG-29s already in the air to intercept the AWACS. Finally the order came at 12.26h. The Tornados were coining toward me, so I was given the permission to scramble immediately.

‘I switched the radio frequency to the AD sector and the GCI notified me that “an enemy aircraft is to the right and directly below you!” I turned my head to the right and noticed an airplane and since the sun was high in the sky I noticed its shadow on the desert floor (it was a RAF Tornado no doubt). […] I estimated the distance [as] 500 metres (1,640 feet), no more, and apparently they didn’t notice me… I manoeuvred the aircraft to be behind and above them, I selected R-60MK heat-seeking missile and a HUD symbology appeared (ER) which means target acquired and I fired. Within a second they turned their heads toward me… it appears they noticed the flash of the missile of their RWR warned them. That was the first and last time they seen me. A huge explosion rocked the plane and soon it was engulfed in fire and crashed to the desert floor. […] They were flying at only 70 metres (230 feet).’

However, western observers dismiss this claim because ZA467 was in fact shot down on Jan. 22, 1991 and attribute the loss to surface-to-air missiles. Another RAF Tornado GR.1A was indeed shot down on Jan. 19 – a No.27 Squadron aircraft (ZA396/’GE’, c/n BS063/194/3095) flown by pilot Flight Lieutenant David Waddington and navigator Flight Lieutenant Robbie Stewart, but this was a confirmed SAM’kill’.

Mikoyan MiG-29 & MiG-35 is published by Crecy and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Crown Copyright and Unknown

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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