The story of the USAF pilot who led Bahraini F-5 drivers into battle during Operation Desert Storm

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The story of the USAF pilot who led Bahraini F-5 drivers into battle during the Operation Desert Storm
Mike Pelonquin in front of a Bahraini F-5E

“Once in the target area, they used the very up-to-date Pappy Boyington ‘Black Sheep’ squadron roll-in. Chaff and flares were on the programme, But if we used flares a lot with the F-5, we can see the flares, but not the aircraft,” Mike “Saint” Pelonquin, former USAF F-5 pilot

One of the most enduring military aircraft designs ever introduced, Northrop’s F-5 tactical fighter series has served its customers over more than four decades. The F-5’s initial flight was on Jul. 31, 1963, at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), Calif.

The F-5 Tiger is an agile, highly maneuverable, reliable supersonic fighter, combining advanced aerodynamic design, engine performance and low operating costs. More than 2,600 were built by Northrop and under co-production and licensing agreements with Canada, the Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Switzerland.

Among the countries that purchased the F-5 there is also Bahrain, which thanks the Tiger entered the fighter jet age. The Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) in fact was originally equipped with only helicopters, but it entered the ranks of jet fighter operators with the acquisition of F-5 fighters from the U.S..

Mike “Saint” Pelonquin, former pilot of USAF 64th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis AFB and former Fighter Weapons School (FWS) commander, was invited to instruct with the Bahraini Air Force on the F-5. As explained by Tom G. Docherty in his article Northrop’s Ageless Wonder appeared on Key Publishing special publication Cold War Warriors, during this period the first Gulf War erupted in 1991 and Saint flew 21 combat missions from Shaikh Isa Air Base. “We carried a load of five Mk.82 LD [low-drag bombs] on a centre-line BRU-27 [ejector rack], two 275 gallon tanks on the inboards and two AIM-9P-4 [Sidewinder missiles] on the tips. The problem in Bahrain was that none of their operational pilots had ever flown an F-5 that heavy. They were going to have to learn on the fly.

“Once in the target area, they used the very up-to-date Pappy Boyington ‘Black Sheep’ squadron roll-in. Chaff and flares were on the programme, and yes, there was a discussion about: ‘Now they might be able to see you’. But if we used flares a lot with the F-5, we can see the flares, but not the aircraft — especially at the altitude they were dropping from on their first missions.The story of the USAF pilot who led Bahraini F-5 drivers into battle during the Operation Desert Storm

“The BRU-27 was set on ripple, which had a pattern length of about 1,000ft with five bombs on the first couple of missions. Some of the guys brought back one or two bombs. In order to get all five bombs off the ripple mode, we had to hold pickle button down for 1.1 seconds, and these guys had never done that.

“Also, on roll-in, some of them forgot the chaff and flares, which No.4 could easily see, and on one mission he said: ‘Hey guys, I don’t see any chaff and flares’. Immediately the sky lit up! They might have been seen on that pass!

I mention these mis-cues because after three missions by any pilot, all five bombs were released and all chaff and flares that had been programmed had been released. This required a release button to be activated on roll-in, once again on final, and once during the pull-off from the target. If we could do that and get our five bombs off, we had our act together.

“A few flares were kept for any air-to-air engagements that might occur on return to base. Who knew? The point being that these guys learned quickly and did well, and follow-on missions went like clockwork — pretty much. They did have one mission where they were starting their roll-in on the target and a flight of four A-4s [Skyhawks] flew directly underneath them.

“All in all, the pilots started out as `baby rabbits’ but quickly morphed into veterans executing like pros. The Bahrain F-5s flew 127 strike sorties and showed up every day they were scheduled.

“I remember when I was in the aggressors, there was a chart of 10 to 15 aircraft, all fighters, with the top qualities of each listed, be it turn performance, weapons load, size, speed and so forth, and under the F-5, it said: ‘He will show up for he fight.’ And, they did.”

The story of the USAF pilot who led Bahraini F-5 drivers into battle during the first Gulf War
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-5N Tiger II VFC-13 Fighting Saints, AF02 / 761536 / 2017

Photo credit: Mike Pelonquin and Mike Freer – Touchdown-aviation via Wikipedia

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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