That time U.S. F-15s stumbled into an Iraqi trap and won
It became clear just hours into Operation Desert Storm that the U.S. was leaps and bounds ahead of the Iraqi Air Force — the first aerial clashes resulted in the U.S. downing three enemy aircraft while suffering no losses. But U.S. pilots knew that Iraq had significant air defenses and fighter aircraft that had to be taken seriously.
And that's what made it so scary for the Air Force and Marine Corps F-15 pilots who realized that they'd stumbled into a sophisticated trap on the second day of the assault.
The F-15 is a stunning fighter that claims over 100 aerial kills with zero losses to enemy fire.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Hughel)
Marine Corps Capt. Charles Magill was leading a flight of eight F-15s protecting a larger strike package headed into the contested airspace to destroy threats on the ground. The eight F-15s in the lead got a call from the E-3 Sentry aircraft on the mission.
Two MiG-29 Fulcrums were near the target area.
Magill decided to take three other F-15s with him to destroy the threat, leaving four behind to protect the main strike package.
Four-against-two odds, especially when the team of four has F-15s versus enemy MiGs, is a good setup — but the F-15s had been tricked. As they pursued the MiGs, the ground suddenly erupted with surface-to-air missiles, all locked on U.S. jets and racing to their targets.
MiG-29 were useful and capable fighters, even if they lacked all the capability of American F-15s.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Ammons)
The American pilots were forced to jettison their external fuel tanks and take evasive actions. They deployed flares, put the planes through gut-wrenching turns, and, ultimately, avoided every missile fired against them. This left them in suddenly-safe skies once again — except for the two MiGs that had lured them. The Americans still smelled blood and decided to continue the pursuit.
As they drew close, the MiGs took a sudden turn towards the Air Force and Marine pilots, making the Americans think that the MiGs were prepared for a knockdown fight.
But, it turned out, the Iraqis had spotted a lone Navy F-14 Tomcat and were maneuvering to attack it, allowing the F-15 pilots to pursue the MiGs in turn. Magill took his shot immediately after Air Force Capt. Rhory Draeger. Magill, worried that his first missile had malfunctioned, took a third shot.
Draeger's first missile flew true and shredded the Iraqi jet, while both of Magill's missiles also made contact. The first missile tore the right wing from the Iraqi jet and the second missile flew into the resulting fireball and exploded. The strike package was safe once again to attack Iraqi ground targets and Operation Desert Storm continued unabated.