Spotting the two MiG-21s first, Moshe Melnik became the section leader and turned towards them, launching a Python 3 AAM as he closed on the enemy jets.
Bought in the mid-1970s to secure air superiority for Israel in the Middle East for decades to come, the F-15 Eagle has indeed been the unrivalled master of the skies since its arrival in December 1976.
As the description of the Smithsonian Channel’s video in this post explains, the fighter claimed its first kills three years later in the disputed airspace over southern Lebanon, when the IDF/AF skirmished with the Syrian Air Force.
At 1107 hrs on Jun. 27, 1979, Israeli COMINT and SIGINT stations detected radio traffic indicating that Syrian radar had acquired IDF/AF attack aircraft flying along the Lebanese coastline. As explained by Shlomo Aloni in his book Israeli F-15 Eagle Units in Combat, three formations of SyAAF MiG-21s (and not the MiG-17s featured in the clip) were scrambled to intercept the Israeli aircraft, but as they crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border, the IDF/AF jets withdrew west and the Arab interceptors were ordered by their fighter controllers to abort the mission and return to base.
At 1120 hrs Syrian radar operators detected more Israeli jets over Lebanon, so the SyAAF MiG-21s were again vectored to engage. One minute later, Israeli radio jamming blocked any communication between the Syrian pilots and personnel manning the Ground Control Intercept (GCI) stations. The latter then spotted F-15s popping up from low altitude on their radar screens, but they were unable to relay this information to the MiG-21 pilots due to radio jamming. The Baz pilots were now just moments away from their first clash with the SyAAF.
Flying the lead jets, Benny Zinker (then Commander of Double Tail Squadron) and Moshe Melnik (then Commander of Flying School Fighter Training Squadron) quickly achieved a radar lock on their targets and fired a single AIM-7F each in a BVR engagement. As was typical for this time of year, the weather was clear and sunny, allowing the Baz pilots to keep visual contact with the two large AAMs that they had just shot off. Time passed and the Sparrows disappeared from sight, having missed their targets. Both pilots could now see the MiG-21s, so Zinker and Melnik decided it was time for WVR combat.
Spotting the two MiG-21s first, Melnik became the section leader and turned towards them, launching a Python 3 AAM as he closed on the enemy jets. Again, he kept his eyes glued on the missile’s flightpath, and this time he was relieved to see it score a direct hit on the MiG-21, which duly broke apart into two large sections.
Although already a 5.5-kill ace F-4 ace, Melnik was so overwhelmed by this sight that he totally ignored the second SyAAF fighter. Fortunately, Yoel Feldsho (Double Tail Squadron’s senior deputy CO) was covering the lead section, and he fired an AIM-7F which destroyed the MiG-21 before it could get onto Melnik’s tail.
The following footage features Melnik explaining how he became the first F-15 pilot in the world to shoot down an enemy plane.
Israeli F-15 Eagle Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Israeli Air Force