USAF F-15C pilot explains how he was able to shoot down an Iraqi MiG 29 without firing a single shot in Operation Desert Storm’s only real turnaround combat
“At about two miles I looked again, but I was no longer thinking about taking a pre-merge photo, so I planned to merge with the bogey 50 feet from its left wing. As I walked through its wing line, I saw it was a camouflaged brown and green Iraqi MiG-29! USAF F-15C Eagle pilot Capt Cesar “Rico” Rodriguez.
Day three of Operation Desert Storm (January 19, 1991) saw one of the most exciting engagements of the entire war unfold in Iraqi skies. F-15C Eagle pilots Capt Cesar ‘Rico’ Rodriguez and his wingman Capt Craig ‘Mole’ Underhill of the 58th TFS / 33rd TFW were performing a fighter sweep in front of an F-16 and F-4G strike force when they were guided by an AWACS controller to a single contextual threat.
Within minutes, Rodriguez had been stranded on radar by the approaching Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) MiG-29, forcing him to turn away from the enemy aircraft in order to spoil his targeting solution. Underhill supported his flight leader by firing an AIM-7 Sparrow, which headed directly into the Iraqi jet. Rodriguez believes that it was probably a combination of his ECM, straw, and the efforts of other airborne platforms that prevented the “Fulcrum” pilot from launching a missile at him.
Turning to the burning MiG after the AWACS controller spotted a second contextual threat, Rodriguez detected this second mission contact as he recalls in Steve Davies’ book F-15C Eagle Units in Combat:
“We then received another call from AWACS. “Second group, north, ten miles,” in which case we made a spot control turn to the north. “Mole” and I were about 2.5 miles apart, and I was in sight with him on my right wing and slightly ahead. I looked up and saw a trail of smoke – not missile trail, but engine smoke – so I put my Auto Acq in there and “Mole” and locked it up. simultaneously.
Underhill later wrote that the MiG initiated a tough turn towards him when his Auto Acq mode triggered his RWR. Rodriguez continued:
`We started going through our ID matrix, and the target displayed friendly electronic feedback for both of us. I did a break lock and re-lock, but the same thing happened again. I have now managed a VID pass and pushed “Mole” towards a five mile line-up formation. The bogey was closest in azimuth to my nose, so I flew the pass. I brought the target detection box [a square symbol in the HUD that is overlaid onto the radar-designated target’s position] in sight and I looked at the contact about eight miles away, but it was only a point and I couldn’t tell what it was.
`I looked about four miles again and saw a western-looking silhouette that looked like an F-15 or an F / A-18, so I’m not declaring it hostile. At about two miles I looked again, but I was no longer thinking about taking a pre-merge photo, so I planned to merge with the bogey 50 feet from its left wing. As I crossed its wing line, I saw that it was a camouflaged brown and green Iraqi MiG-29! ‘
The MiG was flying in the 8,000-foot region, and Rodriguez had performed a low-to-high VID engagement in the sun, consistently staying below his opponent’s plane of motion.
“I said ‘Hostile, MiG-29’ and started a sharp left turn when he started his left turn, so we had what looked like a classic two-circle flight. Initially his turn was level so rather than staying horizontal with him I switched to a split-S maneuver to cut through his circle. [turn]. “Mole” was now in the high revs of 20,000 feet in a cover position, looking for an option to enter the fight.
The engagement quickly turned into a one-circle fight, where the two planes attempted to outdo each other in what looked like a constant spiral, but “Rico” had the advantage as he managed to get behind. the bandit’s line “3-9”. ‘ [the imaginary line that stretches from the left wing to the right wing] in the first two rounds.
`He recognized that I was there, and I think he maybe even visually saw” Mole “up there. The fight has now turned into a downward spiral to the left, with an energy advantage that I converted to WEZ (close to fire settings). I spent time inside its turning radius with a high heading-crossing angle, then took off out of its turning radius, before regaining energy, aligning circles and come back inside his circle, seeking to use an AIM-9 against him. As I came inside for the shot, there was an opportunity for “Mole” to come in and shoot too, but I chose to call him and continue my pursuit. We were now below 1000 feet.
`He tried to do a split-s maneuver in what looked to me like a” cobra ” [a high angle-of-attack pitch-up or pitch-down]. I came out of the fight and dipped my wings to pick up the Tally-Ho [visual contact], how hard it hit the ground. It hit the desert floor and then tumbled down with all the momentum it had for what appeared to be several miles. Meanwhile, “Mole.” and I was getting the hell out of Dodge. “Mole” called out, “Click south. I’m right side tactical,” and I looked left and he was there directing our separation.
Rodriguez was glad to know that not only had he just stolen the only real turning point of the entire war, but had foiled the IrAF’s best attempts to take down a coalition fighter at the same time. He believes the MiGs came from a secret highway airstrip known as F1 that served as a warning strip in the desert.
F-15C Eagle Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and can be ordered here.
Photo credit: US Air Force