Our two Phantoms came off target in formation. Quickly I pushed my wing man back into combat spread. We weren’t done by a long shot.
“Beaver, picture between Shantini and Texaco?”
Texaco was the KC-135 inflight refueler orbiting 200 miles north. Our personal gas station.
“Section Bandits 3-5-0 for 100, HOT!”
Hot meant they were pointed at us and closing.
“Shit Ray it looks like we are going to have to fight our way out.”
“Should be fun.”
Was his emotionless response over the ICS.
“Icky say state?”
I was asking how much fuel he had.
I looked down at my state, it was close.
“Shit we don’t have the gas to screw around, Ray.”
“Icky go stealth.”
Stealth was an old Phantom trick, My options were: a. to blow through the Hornets super sonic and run away. Or b. turn with them and hope for an escape opportunity. I didn’t really have the gas for either, we definately didn’t have the gas for a. So I chose b. in stealth mode. We went to idle on one engine and minimum burner on the other. The Phantom had a nasty characteristic. It smoked like a bug truck. Long black lines of smoke would point to where you were if you had any power besides idle or burner selected. The first fighter to gain sight had a huge advantage. By going stealth we got ride of the smoke, conserved fuel and it would keep us close to cornering speed.
“3-4-0 at 55 angles 15.”
“Check ten left.”
I eased the nose down to get to 15,000 feet. We had to keep them in close to prevent giving them space to turn on us. Our speed built to 550 indicated in the descent. We were 100+ above our cornering speed, but could not come out of stealth mode this close.
“3-4-0 at 30 angles level.”
They were two minutes out at our combined closing speed. Ray and I were heads up, trying to get sight of the tiny Hornets.
We were going to pass inside of a few hundred feet at a combined 1000+ MPH. I decided to pull him into the phone booth to see what he had. I jammed both throttles to full burner and wrenched on 8 g’s in an early turn. Air combat is 80% mental, I wanted to see if this guy was a fighter pilot or just some dude who flew around in fighters. I put my nose on him and pulled; he was a fighter pilot. His F-18 turned to a ball of steam as he matched my move with a 9 g pull. The air was compressed so violently on his wing it turned to vapor. We were going to pass very close, neither surrendering in our little game of chicken. At the merge he rolled nose low and squatted with an incredible rate of turn. We passed so close we were both shaken by a huge jolt of turbulence created by our shock waves.
Came over my ICS.
It looked grim; he was kickin’ my ass in the turn. Time to stop fighting his fight. I unloaded and snapped to wings level, then yanked the 8 g’s right back on. The sun was high, I had to get into the sun before he shot me. As the nose reached pure vertical I unloaded and held it directly in the sun. Cranking my head around I watched the Hornet complete it’s eye-watering turn. He put his nose right on us, following us up hill. I was betting that he had come to the merge at his corner speed of around 320 KIAS, I knew with a turn like I just witnessed, he was bleeding air speed like a stuck pig. I held my nose in the safe zone of the sun, also bleeding air speed like a fat stuck pig. but, he couldn’t shoot me, his heaters wouldn’t lock me in the sun and we were outside of gun range and inside of radar guided missile range. We hung nose up waiting to see who fell first. My gamble payed off the Hornet began to fall to the earth below. I took a quick snapshot of my airspeed it was 270, enough to get my nose down first. Burying the stick in my lap I gave up everything I had left in energy, to pull the nose down. The Hornet had hit zero airspeed and was now just a falling leaf. He was venting fuel which verified that. I got lucky he was falling belly up, sweeping his tail pipes toward me. With the cool ocean in the background, even if he went to idle, my heaters would track. I got tone and sent two (simulated) his way.
“Fox two, Fox two.”
“Roger, bug out north.”
Joker meant he had enough fuel to get to the tanker and re-fuel only if we left now. Other wise he would have to Bingo, emergency divert to San Clemente Island. We headed north buried the nose to let gravity give us airspeed as we ran for our lives. The second Hornet was still alive. We were betting he too was low on fuel and couldn’t give chase in burner…
Read more Naval Aviation and air combat exploits in the Aviators Series: