5 Aerial Battles That Put 'Top Gun' To Shame
It's never a good idea to glorify war, but holy shit do fighter planes make it hard not to. It's not just the badassery of the machines themselves, but the fact that being a fighter pilot takes a special kind of balls that borders on crazy.
As a result, the aerial "dogfights" that have raged for the last century have provided the world with some truly insane battles. Like ...
One Battle, Almost 200 Fighter Jets
As usual, in 1982, Israel found itself at war with its neighbors. This time the opponent was Syria. This was the fourth time since 1948 that Syria found themselves at war with Israel, and battles rarely went their way.
Syria's military is the Detroit Lions of the Middle East.
But on June 9, 1982, this war spawned the largest air battle in history. Nearly 200 planes swarmed the skies in a display that military historians agree looked exactly like that huge air battle at the end of Independence Day.
Above: Powerful symbolism.
The whole thing started with Israel's Operation Mole Cricket 19, which not only is the lamest name for a military operation we've ever heard, but apparently there had been 18 previous operations named that. Anyway, the goal was to knock out the Syrian anti-aircraft missile sites that were threatening the Israeli jets. The Israelis sent in 96 aircraft, including F-15 Eagles (which by the way, to this day have a perfect record in combat) ...
... along with several other types of fighters, including F-4 Phantoms and F-16 Falcons.
The Syrian Air Force responded by flooding the sky with 100 of their own jets, mostly Soviet-made MiG fighters, like the MiG-23:
The Israelis first swept in and destroyed the anti-aircraft sites on the ground. Then the two swarms of fighter jets went at it in a blizzard of missiles and gatling gun fire. The aerial hellstorm went on for nearly two hours.
Of the 100 Syrian jets, 80 of them went plummeting to the earth in flames.
Of the 96 Israeli fighters ... zero were lost.
Several Israeli pilots did injure their jaws while yawning.
The Israelis called off the attack, because they knew they'd have to come back and take out the anti-air batteries that would surely replace the ones they'd destroyed. But they also probably felt kind of sorry for the Syrians, considering they had just obliterated pretty much their entire air force in one shot.
If you're thinking that makes the Israeli Air Force look pretty goddamned serious, well ...
Outnumbered 28 to 1
On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Israel were at war, and not for the first time. Yeah, they get a lot of practice over there.
"This is like a vacation for us!"
Egypt thought it was a good idea to attack the Ofir Air Force Base in the Sinai Peninsula, which was held by Israel at the time. They sent 28 Soviet-made MiGs, mostly MiG-17s (which are notable for looking exactly like the planes a child draws on the back of a notebook):
Meanwhile, down at the base the Egyptians were about to attack, pilot Amir Nahumi was sitting on the ground in his F-4 Phantom fighter jet, with his fellow pilot Daniel Shaki. They were probably discussing how it was a perfectly average, quiet day and how surely nothing out of the ordinary would happen.
It was one of those afternoons where you just spend hours hanging out and taunting the UAVs.
All of a sudden, MiGs were swarming over the base. Shaki and Nahumi waited for orders to take off and repel the attack ... but none came. Thinking, "Fuck the orders," Nahumi and Shaki decided to take off and fight the MiGs by themselves.
Come get some.
Right after takeoff, they saw the runway below them get blown to shit. Which meant no one else would be able to take off to help them. Not giving a rat's ass about this clearly minor setback, The two pilots proceeded to take on all 28 MiGs.
Shaki and Nahumi managed to shoot down one of the MiGs. Then they managed to shoot down another one. And another. And another.
"Somebody find us more Egyptians."
In six minutes, this one lone plane blew seven enemy jets out of the sky. But of course you can't overcome those kind of odds forever, and the remaining 21 jets finally coordinated and ...
... got the hell out of there before they could be shot down, too. Did we mention that Nahumi was partially blinded by the sun during the battle (due to light reflecting off the skins of the MiGs)? And that he was flying on one engine after the other stalled, not due to enemy fire, but due to smoke from his own gun?
The Israelis celebrate the battle's anniversary every year with the traditional paper jet dance.
Unarmed Plane vs. Iraqi Fighter Jet
It was January 17, 1991, and Desert Storm had just kicked off. At the head of the opening salvo of explosions were Captains James Denton and Brent Brandon. They were piloting an EF-111 Raven, which is basically a fighter/bomber that has been modified to be a radar jammer. So all of its weapons had been taken out, and replaced with the equipment to send out the powerful signals that would confuse the radar on whatever Iraqi weapons would try to shoot at the ridiculously large strike force of bombers coming in behind them.
Above: The EF-111 "Declawed Kitten" variant.
So, even though they weren't carrying bombs or missiles of their own, their job was crucial. If they failed, the Iraqis could lock on and create mass havoc for the dozens of bombers in the strike force.
To up the danger level, the night time bombing mission was flying between two major Iraqi Air Bases. When the Iraqis realized their radars were being jammed, they sent up some of their best fighter jets. One Iraqi jet, a highly maneuverable and heavily armed Dassualt Mirage F1 ...
Above: Dassault Mirage "Bristling with Goddamn Missiles" variant.
... spotted the unarmed EF-111 and went in for the kill.
Very quickly, Denton turned in an attempt to avoid the attacking Mirage. However, within seconds, the more maneuverable Mirage had locked onto Denton and fired a missile at him and Brandon who spotted it and called to his captain. The missile was a heat-seeker, homing in on the heat pouring out of their own engines.
Note: A missile is much faster than an F-111.
Denton did the only thing he could do -- he yanked on the stick and banked the plane into a 5-G turn, which was as about as much force as that aircraft could take without something important breaking off of it from the stress.
He was actually banking closer to the missile. Next, he unleashed a cloud of "chaff", which is handfuls of aluminum foil (no, really) meant to confuse the missile's tracking system.
It worked, and the missile sailed away into the night. But the Iraqi fighter was still there, and had lots of extra missiles. It continued to chase them through their turn, and no amount of aluminum foil was going to stop it. At this point, the two aircraft are skimming along at just 400 feet off the ground. In the dark. Jets do not have headlights.
The Iraqi plane locked on again, ready to fire.
The American pilots formed their fingers into pistols and made "pew" sounds as a defensive precaution.
At that moment, the pilot of a nearby American fighter jet (an F-15 Eagle, like those mentioned in the first entry) finally spotted his unarmed comrade about to get blown apart in the distance. He would lock on to try a long-range shot to save his fellow pilots' lives ...
... but he'd never get a chance to pull the trigger. Denton, in his F-111, barely cleared a ridge. But the Iraqi pilot didn't -- he crashed and exploded into a fireball. This is known in military circles as the "Han Solo losing TIE fighters in an asteroid field" maneuver, or at least it should be.
The Air Force Academy still refuses to acknowledge General Solo's accomplishments in the field of pilotry.
Denton and Brandon were awarded with Distinguished Flying Crosses for performing the only known kill of a jet by an unarmed aircraft.
An Airborne Battle. With Pistols.
During the last days of World War II, it was clear that the allies were soon going to win in Europe. Still, Germany was determined to duke it out to the end.
"I will never go back to wearing normal hats! Ever!"
In the skies on the last day of the war, Lt. Duane M. Francis was flying his L-4 Grasshopper Spotter plane. Now, forget everything you're thinking about military aircraft based on the badass machines we've talked about before. An L-4 was one of these:
Which was fine for what it was intended to do, which is spot targets for American artillery so they could continue pummeling the remains of the German military on the ground.
However, while Lt. Francis was up there in his dinky little sputtering airplane, he saw a German aircraft. That would be terrible, if not fatal, news for someone flying such a ridiculous, flimsy thing that looks like it should have a rubber band behind its propeller. But the enemy plane was one of these:
Somehow, black-and-white is more menacing than yellow.
An F-156 Storch. It was another spotter plane, doing literally the exact same thing the American plane was doing. These two completely unarmed planes, that look like they could not survive an encounter with a particularly angry bird, were about to do battle.
Lt. Francis and his copilot dove in and engaged the enemy plane. Realizing that his aircraft was unarmed, Francis and his copilot proceeded to take out their .45-caliber pistols and, reaching out the windows, laid into the German aircraft.
"I prefer to think of each bullet as a tiny, air-to-air missile."
Keep in mind, shooting anything with a pistol is hard, even on the ground. Shooting a moving object while on the ground is harder. Shooting a moving object while you yourself are moving, like if you're both in cars, is close to impossible.
So shooting a moving object in the air, while you are also in the air, where both of you can move in three dimensions, with a pistol, is the sort of thing that has probably only happened a few times in human history.
Incredibly, their hail of pistol fire brought down the enemy plane. The German pilot had to crash land his plane into the field below, losing a wing in the process. Francis landed in the field nearby to take him and his copilot prisoner, both of the German pilots realizing that we would still be making fun of them 66 years later.
"I'm never going to hear the end of this."
Really, the only way the story could get more ridiculous is if one of them didn't have a plane at all. Well ...
Two Bombers vs. One Guy With a Rifle
In mid-1967 (yes, that's as specific as we can get), the North Vietnamese Air Force sent two An-2 planes to bomb a supposed radar station. These were light, propeller-driven planes, but it wasn't like they were trying to take out NORAD here. They had more than enough ordinance on board to blow up a tiny radar shack.
Unfortunately for the Vietnamese, they were wrong about the target. The building they saw below them wasn't a radar station, but an Air America station (Air America being the CIA-run transport service that operated during the war). The station was guarded by a single helicopter (on the ground), it's pilot, a mechanic and one crazy man with an AK-47.
Top speed: 0 mph. Maximum Altitude: Depends on throwing strength of the user.
The Vietnamese pilots flew in, firing their guns and ripping holes in the building. Then the crazy man with the AK-47 (he was reportedly a Thai mercenary) ran outside. Standing right in the path of the bullets and rockets pouring out of the two bombers, he raised his rifle and opened fire.
"Have at you, plane."
He emptied the magazine into one of the planes. And, to everyone's surprise except his, it went crashing to the ground. The other bomber, probably wondering what kind of new, deadly-yet-invisible anti-aircraft gun they were facing, decided to abandon the mission. The helicopter pilot and mechanic at the base, probably fighting the urge to just let that guy with the AK-47 take care of the fleeing plane, instead took off on their Huey helicopter and gave chase. Keep in mind, helicopters are not made for taking out fixed-wing planes. They're intended to haul troops around and maybe blow up some stuff on the ground. Improvising, the helicopter crew positioned themselves right above the enemy plane and used the wash from the propellers to push the Vietnamese aircraft downwards.
As if that wasn't badass enough, the mechanic on board the helicopter grabbed his gun and crawled down onto the rails of the chopper. Hanging on with one arm and shooting with the other, he sprayed a volley of bullets into the cockpit of the Vietnamese bomber, more than likely killing its pilot and sending the plane spiraling into the ground. His heroic actions were immortalized by this tasteful print.
So at least one little kid got to live out his secret agent fantasies.
To date, it is the only air-air kill by the CIA, and is also the most awesome air-air kill ever. Even if, had they not intervened, the enemy plane would probably have gotten downed moments later by the crazy Thai mercenary and a well-thrown knife.
For more insane stories from the Armed Forces, check out 7 WTF Military Weapons You Won't Believe They Actually Built and The 10 Most Bizarre Military Experiments.