“I wondered what the missile would look like as it came off his wing toward us,” Cdr Robert Besal, A-6 Intruder B/N.
On the night of Jan. 17, 1991 after Lt Zuhair Dawoud shot down Lt Cdr Scott “Spike” Speicher F/A-18C Hornet, he banked right to give the blast a wide berth, and when he rolled back to the left, he could not spot the flaming debris falling earthwards. He did not have much time to look, for almost immediately the Tammuz IOC ordered him and his MiG-25 to vector south.
As explained by Douglas C. Dildy & Tom Cooper in their book F-15C Eagle vs MiG-23/25, following 48 miles behind Speicher was the CO of VA-75, Cdr Robert Besal, in A-6E “AC504” (“Battleaxe 41”), flown by Lt Cdr Mike “Ziggy” Steinmetz, with his three wingmen in eight-mile trail behind him. Only two minutes after the Hornet was hit, Besal recalls, “There was a call from our AWACS, `”Battleaxe,” possible “Foxbat,” high, 260 degrees, 60 miles from IKE, heading south.’ As I Fumbled with my chart to find the IKE reference point, our ALR-67 warning scope lit up with a bright capital letter ‘I’ — for interceptor. Short seconds later, the bandit appeared.
“He was closing like a bullet from 1:30 high, slicing down toward us, with two large afterburner flames behind him. `Ziggy’ started a right turn as I craned my neck to keep the MiG in sight. As he overshot behind us, ‘Ziggy’ resumed course, and I hoped that our wingman behind us hadn’t closed on us too much. The `Foxbat’ [circled around and then] roared up from our ‘six o’clock,’ passed us off the left side and zoomed upward, still in ‘burner, then pitched over for another run on us. I wondered how much fuel he had, and what the missile would look like as it came off his wing toward us. After a second run with no luck, the MiG blazed away to the northeast, toward Al Taqaddum.”
Dawoud’s account does not mention the head-on pass, but resumes by describing his stern attack on “Battleaxe 41.” “Meanwhile, I locked another target from behind and I asked the GCI for permission to fire but the GCI refused and asked me to confirm the target visually. So I approached it . . [un]till I reached eight kilometers [4.3 miles] and prepared R-40TD heat-seeking missile and asked the GCI again for permission to fire but he denied my request again so I asked him why? He told me there was a MiG-29 [that] took off ten minutes after me and he lost track with it and he feared I might [be] engaging it. I told him this slow-moving target was impossible to be a MiG-29 but he insisted I disengage and return to base. So I moved past the target aircraft . . . I can still remember [seeing] the cockpit lights of that aircraft.
“I asked the GCI for directions to base because there was a problem with the navigation instruments in my aircraft, and he told me that he had lost radar contact with me! I [had a] feeling of despair as fuel was becoming low and the navigation instruments [were] down, and as it was dark, I could see nothing of ground features as electricity was lost all over the place . . . The only thing I could see was AAA and SAM fire. But suddenly I noticed that Haditha train station had electrical power and since I knew location [was] 35km [19 nautical miles] north of base, I turned around toward the base and connection with GCI [was] re-established but with very poor quality and he told me to switch to base frequency and I did it, but no one was responding.
“[As] I started approaching the base, I switched the wing lights of the aircraft [on] so they would know it’s friendly airplane, and the runway lights were switched on for me. But suddenly, the landing officer was screaming to me, ‘DO NOT LAND AT THE MAIN RUNWAY!’ So I made a turn and landed in the secondary runway (later I understood that the main runway was cratered by bombing in its last one-third). No one was there when I landed. All [were] inside shelters. So I taxied the aircraft to the gate of one of the shelters and while doing that I noticed the amount of destruction to the base with concrete chunks and metal objects all over the place. I increased the thrust so they could hear the sound of the engine inside the shelter and let me in — it worked and they let me and the aircraft to go to the shelter.”
While Dawoud was airborne, Qadessiya had been attacked by three RAF Tornado GR 1s. By that time other “Foxbats” were taxiing out for takeoff, one of them being badly damaged by the Tornados’ JP233 “mines” strewn across taxiways; its pilot was badly injured. None of them took off.
F-15C Eagle vs MiG-23/25 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Dmitriy Pichugin and Leonid Faerberg (transport-photo.com) via Wikipedia
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com