RAF Harrier GR.7 pilot recalls the recce mission he and his wingman flew above the crash site of two US Army UH-60 Black Hawks shot down in error by two USAF F-15s

RAF Harrier GR.7 pilot recalls the recce mission he and his wingman flew above the crash site of two US Army UH-60 Black Hawks shot down in error by two USAF F-15s

By Dario Leone
Oct 8 2023
Sponsored by: Osprey Publishing
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The Harrier GR.7

Famous throughout the world as the first jet fighter capable of vertical take-off and landing, the Harrier was utilised by the Royal Air Force as a ground attack and reconnaissance aircraft in the Close Air Support role (CAS).

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The GR.7 series is part of the second generation of Harriers and replaced the older GR.3. This variant is quite similar to the American designed AV-8B but is built under license and equipped with RAF specific navigation and defense systems and added under-wing pylons. The GR.7 is capable of carrying twice the load of the GR.3 or the same load twice as far. The GR.7 first flew in 1989 and entered service in 1990. Of the 96 GR.7 Harriers belonging to the RAF 62 originally were GR.5s that were upgraded to GR.7s.

The Harrier GR.7 was at the ‘tip of the spear’ for the RAF when it came to employing weapons against well-equipped standing armies and irregular forces in the 1990s and during the first decade of the new millennium. Assigned to the Harrier Force, the GR.7 aircraft undertook No Fly Zone patrols over northern Iraq.

Harrier GR.7 pilots witnesses to unfortunate incident

As told by Michael Napier in his book Harrier GR 7/9 Units in Combat, on Apr. 14, 1994, Harrier GR.7 pilots were witnesses to unfortunate incident.

‘On the day in question’, recalled Sqn Ldr I MacDonald, ‘I had just exited northern Iraq to begin the long transit home. I was flying in a pair. There had been a fair bit of operational chatter, so we were aware there was something going on. Just after exiting Iraq, AWACS informed us two “Hinds” [Mil Mi-24 gunship helicopters] had been shot down, and they tasked us to carry out a recce of the crash site. This was obviously an exciting development, so we took on more fuel from the tanker and re-briefed.

‘Our simple plan was to fly over the coordinates at high-level taking pictures, followed by a rapid descent in a “safe area” to ultra-low level for a second recce run. We had often discussed tactics during the tour, and decided there was no middle ground when it came to heights. It was either well above small arms/MANPADS or “on the deck”. We duly flew over the target area at height, “all cameras blazing”. Our return run was flown at ultra-low-level over the target in a battle pair, remaining low until we reached the border with Turkey. We did not see any wreckage, although I recollect the other pilot did see some smoke. The low-level recce was operationally sound (and, in the event, produced pictures confirming the aircraft as UH-60 Black Hawks).’

USAF F-15s had shot down two US Army UH-60 Black Hawks in error

MacDonald;

‘The mission was very exhilarating, and we were “on a high” when we were met back at Incirlik by the RAF Commander (group captain rank) and a very serious looking US Army major. We were not invited to view our films with the group captain and the major, but it was obvious something was up.’

In fact, the F-15s had shot down two US Army UH-60 Black Hawks in error.

Harrier GR 7/9 Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing is available to order here.

Photo credit: SAC Scott Travis / Crown Copyright, Sgt. Janel Schroeder and MSGT STEVEN TURNER / U.S. Air Force, U.S. Department of Defense

RAF Harrier GR.7 pilot recalls the recce mission he and his wingman flew above the crash site of two US Army UH-60 Black Hawks shot down in error by two USAF F-15s

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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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