F-16 dodging 6 Iraqi SAMs
The clip starts out with his premission arming before takeoff as he narrates into the footage. The SAM action begins around the 3:00. The radar waring receiver tones can be heard often. In some cases, you can even see the missile smoke trails.
Noteworthy the video of his dancing with SAMs remains a teaching tool in the US Air Force (USAF) today.
According to Air Force Magazine’s PDF document ‘Package Q’, then-Major Tullia flew one of the F-16s assigned to attack an oil refinery in Baghdad near a bend in the Euphrates River. Intelligence indicated that the Iraqis had grouped substantial defenses in the area.
Still, Tullia was surprised at the intensity of the ground fire as he approached the target. Anti-aircraft shells were creating a virtual carpet of smoke and shrapnel in the sky, mostly at altitudes from 10,000 to 12,000 feet.
“I didn’t expect such a big effort on their part,” he recalled.
The first SAMs appeared just prior to roll-in. There were two of them, SA-2s.
“I turned around, saw them coming up. They went beneath us and overshot,” Tullia explained.
He was getting some additional missile warnings but he dived in and delivered his bombs on the now-burning refinery. As he pulled off and headed south the electronic countermeasures warnings escalated. He was now the hunted, not the hunter.
Tullia looked back and saw two missile plumes. He wondered if they were directed at him, and it quickly became clear they were.
“Then I go, ‘Oh, no, time to start maneuvering,’” Tullia said.
He jettisoned his wing tanks to lighten up his F-16 and make it more nimble. Tullia remembers thinking the effect of this move was pretty impressive—it really did make a difference.
These two missiles also overshot and detonated harmlessly above his aircraft. He turned back onto the egress heading. But then two more SAMs came at him, from his left and right rear quadrants.
Chaff and flares did not dispense
Tullia began dancing in earnest, waiting until the last second before a hard turn to cause the missile to overshoot and detonate far enough away to avoid shrapnel damage to his fighter.
At this point he was separated from the right of his flight and losing altitude due to his defensive maneuvers.
“It was challenging because I didn’t have a lot of chance to gain airspeed,” he said.
He’d punched his wing tanks and did not have a lot of remaining fuel. Using the augmented thrust could have made it impossible for him to return to base.
“I was gambling that maybe in military power I could still get enough speed to maneuver. I was lucky because it did work out,” he says.
Finally he was out of the SAM envelope and heading for south of the border at high altitude. A fellow 614th TFS pilot lagged back to keep him company. In the end, Tullia was surprised he had enough fuel to make it back. He landed in Qatar, pulled right off, and shut it down.
“I don’t know how much gas I had left. It couldn’t have been much,” he recalled.
Walking around the F-16 afterward Tullia and his crew chief discovered that his chaff and flares had not dispensed. He had avoided those missiles without countermeasures, utilizing his flying prowess alone.
“I was kind of surprised,” he said, drily.
For this exploit, Maj. “E.T.” Tullia was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force