Articles

That time an F-16 pilot saved ground troops with a sonic boom

America's F-16 multi-role fighters are some of the most advanced aircraft on the planet, carrying precision weapons and using them to kill bad guys around the world.


But in March 2003, two F-16 pilots were called to assist 52 British special operators surrounded by 500 Iraqi troops — meaning the friendlies were outnumbered almost 10 to 1.

Worse, there was essentially no light on the battlefield. It was so dark that even the pilots' night vision goggles weren't enough for the F-16s to tell where forces were on the ground.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Craig Baker, a F-16 pilot from the F-16 Viper Demo Team, performs a routine during the Sound of Speed Air Show above Rosecrans Memorial Airport, St. Joseph, Mo., August 26, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Patrick P. Evenson)

But the pilots could hear through the radio as the situation on the ground went from bad to worse. The Iraqi troops were pressing the attack, pinning the Brits down and preparing to overrun them.

Thinking fast, Lt. Col. Ed Lynch climbed to altitude and then went into a dive, quickly building up sonic energy around his plane as he approached the speed of sound.

As he neared the ground with the massive amount of sound energy surrounding his cockpit, he broke the sound barrier and pointed the bulk of the energy at the ground where he believed the Iraqi troops to be. Lynch pulled up a mere 3,000 feet from the ground, sending the massive sonic boom against the troops below.

(GIF: YouTube/TopGunMilitary)

The energy wave struck with enough force that the Iraqi troops thought the F-16s were dropping bombs or firing missiles. The Iraqi troops broke apart and the British special operators were able to get out during the chaos.

Lynch had to wait to find out his run was successful, though. He was targeted with a missile as he came out of the dive and was forced to take evasive maneuvers. He wouldn't learn about his success until he returned to base.

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