Post-war CAPs were usually quite uneventful, and the biggest enemy that threatened most F-15C Eagle pilots during this period was complacency.
The Feb. 28, 1991 ceasefire effectively brought Operation Desert Storm to an end. However, USAF F-15C Eagle crews continued to maintain a CAP station north of Baghdad, and it was while flying such a mission on Mar. 20 that two Eagles engaged a pair of errant Su-22s over the City — Saddam Hussein’s home town. The 53rd TFS’s Capt John Doneski (in F-15C 84-0014) intercepted the trailing jet, downing it with an AIM-9 fired from the rear hemisphere. The second Su-22 landed at Tikrit AB.
These post-war CAPs were usually quite uneventful, and the biggest enemy that threatened most F-15 pilots during this period was complacency. Drilling holes in the sky while manning CAP stations over Iraq was the most boring thing MiG killer Thomas ‘Vegas’ Dietz had ever done in his life, and that meant concentration could be lost and mistakes made. Six weeks had passed since his double kill at the beginning of February, and Operation Desert Storm had now given way to Operation Provide Comfort — a humanitarian mission to protect and supply the impoverished Shiites and Marsh Arabs to the south and Kurds to the north.
Provide Comfort called for the Eagle pilots to enforce northern and southern no-fly zones, preventing Iraqi fixed-wing aircraft from attacking the impoverished refuges. On Mar. 22, Dietz was flying just such a mission in F-15C 84-0010. He recalled in Steve Davies’ book F-15C Eagle Units in Combat;
‘We were just about ready to come home when we decided to investigate a few radar contacts headed west that were to the northeast of us. Normally, when we locked up a helicopter it looked like a fixed wing target in terms of airspeed on our radar, but as the latter settled down, the airspeed indication walked its way hack down to about 100 knots or so. We then knew it was a helicopter. Well, these two contacts stop at about 300 knots, so I decide that we would VID them.
‘We headed northeast and then turned in behind them, sanitising the area as we went. We locked them up, and as we got into visual range, I could discern that my aircraft contact was camouflaged, had a sloped tail and a pointed nose. I thought to myself that it was definitely not a helicopter, and that it met our strict ROE.’
Dietz did well to visually identify his target aircraft (an Su-22) without a close pass, as a combination of the heavy haze that particular day and the much greener terrain in northern Iraq made visual acquisition and identification difficult. Satisfied that the ROE was met, he rolled in behind the fighter-bomber as Lt Robert ‘Gigs’ Hehemann (in F-15C 84-0015) engaged his target some 1.5 miles further south.
‘We had started off above them, but we were at a co-altitude of about 1000 ft when I shot the guy down with an AIM-9 at less than a mile’s separation. The missile came off of the rail and flew right up the Su-22’s tailpipe. It blew up just like you see in the movies, forcing me to pull out of the way to avoid this huge fireball and debris. As I rolled over to see it all, I spotted chunks of metal falling to the ground.
‘Meanwhile, “Gigs” was telling me that his target was a turboprop, which we were not allowed to shoot down, but its pilot had seen my guy explode and had had enough. He ejected and came down in his parachute as “Gigs” went ripping by the Iraqi pilot at 450 knots.’
‘I almost speared the guy as he ejected — he surprised the hell out of me! I checked him in his chute and he was alive, hanging there with his goggles on. He had punched out of a camouflaged PC-9 with rocket rails. It carried on flying perfectly straight and level, so I flew close formation with it until it started a gradual descent — it crashed one minute and fifty seconds later to be exact.’
Dietz had killed an Su-22 ‘Fitter’ that had been bombing Kurdish civilians. The PC-9 was acting as a forward air controller, spotting targets and firing smoke markers to identify them for the Fitter then attack. These kills were the last scored against the Iraqi Air Force (IrAF), and they were Dietz and Hehemann third each, making them the most successful MiG killing duo of the war.
F-15C Eagle Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Radomil talk via Wikimedia Commons