The second Gulf of Sidra incident occurred on 4 January 1989 when two United States Navy F-14 Tomcats shot down two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers that appeared to have been attempting to engage them, as had happened eight years prior in the first Gulf of Sidra incident, in 1981.
In 1973 Libya claimed much of the Gulf of Sidra as its territorial waters and subsequently declared a “line of death”, the crossing of which would invite a military response. Tensions between Libya and the U.S. were high after the U.S. accused Libya of building a chemical weapons plant near Rabta, causing the U.S. to deploy the USS John F. Kennedy near its coast. A second carrier group, based around the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was also being prepared to sail into the Gulf of Sidra.
On the morning of 4 January 1989, the Kennedy battle group was operating some 130 km north of Libya, with a group of A-6 Intruders on exercise south of Crete, escorted by two pairs of F-14As from VF-14 and VF-32, and as well as an E-2C from VAW-126. Later that morning the southernmost Combat Air Patrol station was taken by two F-14s from VF-32, (CDR Joseph Bernard Connelly/CDR Leo F. Enwright in BuNo 159610, ‘AC207’) and (LT Hermon C. Cook III/LCDR Steven Patrick Collins in BuNo 159437, ‘AC202’). The officers had been specially briefed for this mission due to the high tensions regarding the carrier group’s presence; the pilots were advised to expect some kind of hostilities.
At 11:50 a.m., after some time on patrol, the E-2 informed the F-14 crews that four Libyan MiG-23s had taken off from Al Bumbah airfield, near Tobruk. The F-14s from VF-32 turned towards the first two MiG-23s (Floggers) some 50 km ahead of the second pair and acquired them on radar, while the Tomcats from VF-14 stayed with the A-6 group. At the time the Floggers were 72 nautical miles (133 km) away at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) and heading directly towards the Tomcats and carrier. The F-14s turned away from the head-on approach to indicate that they were not attempting to engage. The Floggers changed course to intercept at a closing speed of about 870 knots (1,610 km/h).
The F-14s descended to 3,000 ft (910 m) to give them a clear radar picture of the Floggers against the sky and leave the Floggers with sea clutter to contend with. Four more times the F-14s turned away from the approaching MiGs. Each time the Libyan aircraft turned in to continue to close. At 11:59 the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) of the lead Tomcat ordered the arming of the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow missiles it was carrying. The E-2C had given the F-14 crews authority to fire if threatened; the F-14 crews did not have to wait until after the Libyans opened fire.
At almost 12:01 the lead Tomcat RIO said that “Bogeys have jinked back at me again for the fifth time. They’re on my nose now, inside of 20 miles”, followed shortly by “Master arm on” as he ordered arming of the weapons. At a range of 14 nautical miles (26 km) the RIO of the lead F-14A fired the first AIM-7M Sparrow; he surprised his pilot, who did not expect to see a missile accelerate away from his Tomcat. The RIO reported “Fox 1. Fox 1.” The Sparrow failed to track because of a wrong switch-setting. At 10 nautical miles (19 km), he launched a second Sparrow missile, but it also failed to track its target.
The Floggers accelerated and continued to approach. At 6 nautical miles (11 km) the Tomcats split and the Floggers followed the wingman while the lead Tomcat circled to get a tail angle on them. The wingman fired a third Sparrow from 5 nautical miles (9.3 km) and downed one of the Libyan aircraft. The lead Tomcat by now had gained the rear quadrant on the final Flogger. After closing to 1.5 nautical miles (2.8 km) the pilot fired a Sidewinder, which hit its target. The Tomcats proceeded north to return to the carrier group.
The radio transcript reveals the stress of the situation:-
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Gypsy 207 contact at 175, 72 miles, looks like a flight of two, Angels 10.”
CLOSEOUT: “Closeout concurs, showing 78 miles.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Throttle back just a little bit here.” (The Radar Intercept Officer is asking the pilot to slow so as to provide more time for him to lock on and for the Libyans to respond.)
CLOSEOUT: “Closeout shows 25 mile separation for an inbound”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Contacts appear to be heading, ah, 315 now, speed 430, Angels approximately 8,000.”
CLOSEOUT: “Roger Ace, take it north.”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Looks like we’ll have to make a quick loop here.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Come starboard, ah I need to give ya collision here. Yeah, come starboard about 40.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “207 ah, 61 miles now, bearing 180, Angels 8, heading, uh, 330.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Steady up.”
CLOSEOUT: “Alpha Bravo this is Closeout.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Come back port, ah, 20 degrees here, he’s jinkin’ now.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Bogies appear to be coming, ah, jinking to the right now, heading, uh, north, speed 430, ah, Angels 5,000 now in the descent. So lets take her down now, we’re goin’ down.”
At this point in the conflict, the aircraft are still far apart, but closely rapidly. The F-14A Tomcats elect to descend so as to ensure that their radar gets a clear lock-on without ground clutter that might foul-up the radar picture of the engagement.
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Closeout, 53 miles now. Bogies appear to be heading directly at us. I’m coming towards…. Steady up 150 for 33 offset, 50 miles. 49 miles now, speed 450, Angels 9, I’m goin’ down to 3.”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Yes, they did not go over.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Roger.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger that, 30 degree offset now. Bogies heading 340, speed 500, lets accelerate.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Okay, it looks like they are at 9,000 feet now.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger, bogies are jinked back into us now, now let’s come starboard 30 degrees the other side.”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Coming starboard, say your Angels.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger, Angels now 11, ready up.”
CVG-67 Kennedy Shipboard Air Command (Alpha Bravo): “Closeout ah, Warning yellow, weapons hold, I repeat, warning yellow, weapons hold. Alpha Bravo out.”
CLOSEOUT: “Roger, Gypsies, pass up, Alpha Bravo directs warning yellow, weapons hold.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “35 miles here.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger that. Bogies have jinked back into me now for the third time. Nose is on at 35 miles, Angels 7.”
CLOSEOUT: “Alpha Bravo, Closeout, did you copy?”
At this point, the US Navy pilots have repeatedly attempted to turn and manoeuvre so as to position themselves favorably against the incoming threat. Each time, however, the Libyan pilots receive GCI (Ground Control Intercept) guidance to adjust course so as to ensure that the F-14s do not gain any advantage. With each turn (or “jink” in the parlance of US Navy fighter pilots), the Libyans cancel out the American manoeuvre and press in, ensuring a head-on engagement, which is their best (if slim) hope of effectively engaging the Americans.
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Okay, I am taking another offset, starboard, starboard, ah, 210.”
CLOSEOUT: “Guys, I’m locked up here 30 miles, Angels 13,000, he’s the trailer.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger that, level off here, bogie jinked back into me for the 4th time. I’m coming back starboard. I’m back port now. Port 27 miles, bogie is at 7,000 feet.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “We’re at 5.”
CVG-67 Kennedy Shipboard Air Command (Alpha Bravo): “Watch out, bogies 135-50, Angels 16, heading 340.” (This call is for the second pair of Libyan MiGs, but it is misinterpreted by Closeout to mean the pair being engaged and the threat is not passed on.)
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Okay.”
CLOSEOUT: “Roger, same bogies.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Okay, you’re in collision now, steering.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Okay, bogies have jinked back at me again for the fifth time. They’re on my nose now. Inside of 20 miles.”
The Libyans have now closed to within a reasonable range. For the US Navy pilots, this means that they have to engage and shoot down the planes. The Libyans are positioned nearly 11,000 feet higher than the American planes, which elected to go low to improve their radar performance, as earlier described. The Libyan planes, however, have vastly inferior radar systems and probably could not get a good radar picture of the threat they were facing. They went by GCI guidance alone — at no time is the Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) heard in the audio files from the F-14s, thus the Libyans never locked out for a firing solution. The Americans proceed to engage with the intent to destroy the two Libyan planes.
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Master arm on, master arm on.” (Sound of Master Arm Alert in background.)
CLOSEOUT: “Okay, good light”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Good Light”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Okay, centering up the T, bogie has jinked back into me again, 16 miles, at the center of the dot.”
CLOSEOUT: “Say your Angels.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “I’m at Angels 5, nose up.”
CLOSEOUT: “No, his Angels.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “No, wait a minute.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Angels are at 9!”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Alpha Bravo from 207.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “13 miles. Fox 1! Fox 1!”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Ah, Jesus!”
The pilot of Gypsy 207, Joseph B. Connelly, is surprised to see one of his missiles launch, as the attack wasn’t properly coordinated by his RIO, Steven P. Collins. Seconds later, the AIM-7M Sparrow missile fails to track properly. RIO Collins had improperly set a switch on the missile prior to launch, which resulted in its failure (this was a recurring problem with AIM-7M Sparrow missile launches from F-14A Tomcats at the time.
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Breaking right.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger that, 10 miles, he’s back on my nose. Fox 1 again!” (This time, he has the switch set correctly and the missile tracks true — it takes time, however, to reach the target.)
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Watching ‘em up.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “6 miles, 6 miles.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Tally 2, Tally 2! Turning into me.”
The RIO in Gypsy 204, Leo F. Enright, spotted the two Libyan MiG-23s as they were now just six miles dead ahead. The Libyans were closing quickly and had negated the F-14′s long range systems advantage, despite all. At this point, the engagement threatened to devolve into an old-school gunfighter-style dogfight. The Libyans had played their cards well and the US Navy’s lead plane, Gypsy 207, had made two critical firing mistakes with its AIM-7M Sparrow radar-guided missiles.
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger that, 5 miles. . . 4 miles.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Okay, he’s got a missile off.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Breakin’ right.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “Good hit, good hit on one!” (The second AIM-7M Sparrow missile fired hits the MiG-23 and scores a kill.)
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger that, good kill, good kill!”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “I’ve got the other one.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Select fox 2, select fox 2!!”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “I got fox 2.” (Cook refers to the selection knob being already turned to select the heat-seeking AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles.)
CLOSEOUT: “Keep your eye for the trailer.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Comin’ hard starboard.”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Those fxxxkin’!”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Shoot him!”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “I don’t got tone.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “That’s the second one.”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “I’ve got the second one on my nose right now.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Okay, I am high cover on you.”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Get a fox, get a, lock him up! Lock him up.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “There! Shoot him, fox 2!”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “I can’t! I don’t have a fxxxking tone.” (The calmness and matter-of-fact tone of the pilot, almost academic in phrase even if swearing, is interesting; he seems to be working the problem and is momentarily angry that his system doesn’t seem to be working like it should — yet he is taking the time to work the issues while he trails the MiG in firing position.)
At this point, Gypsy 204′s pilot, Hermon C. “Munster” Cook III, has the Libyan MiG-23 lined up perfectly in his HUD. Everything is right on and he is within 1.5 miles of the MiG, directly behind it. Incredibly, the pilots hears no missile tone from the AIM-9M Sidewinder missile. Moments later, Cook realizes that he simply has the volume turned down to the stops. Turning up the knob, he is greeted by the perfect growling tone of the missile, which is tracking the target perfectly.
As for the Libyans, they seem unable to keep up with the rapidly changing air combat. Gypsy 204 did an early break and then reversed to come in behind the Libyan MiG, pulling a continuous 5Gs in the maneuver. Once too close for radar-based weapons-systems, Gypsy 204′s pilot selected heat-seeking missiles, which are fired from up front and the RIO, Leo F. Enright, transitioned to a different role in the fight, keeping his eyes open and tracking the overall combat picture and planning for the egress afterward, thus freeing up the pilot to concentrate on the attack.
The Libyan MiG pilot, who should have pulled out sharply into a tightly turning dogfight, is tentative and does not maneuver effectively. It would appear that while the GCI instructions had been perfect and had countered the F-14s in their earlier positioning, now that the combat is engaged, the Libyans lack the individual pilot initiative to fight “head-to-head” in a turning fight.
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Tone’s up!” (Once volume knob is twisted, the tone growls instantly to high volume.)
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Fox 2.” (The RIO calls the pilot’s launch of an AIM-9M Sidewinder heat-seeking missile.)
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Good kill! Good kill!”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Okay, good kill.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Pilot ejected.”
CLOSEOUT: “The pilot’s ejected out of the second one.” (The E-2C Hawkeye is relaying the radio report to the USS Kennedy’s Air Command (Alpha Bravo).
For a few brief seconds, the two F-14s track the two parachutes of the Libyans as they descended toward the water. They also watch for the impact of the two MiG-23s into the water. Then they turn and descend, accelerating away and to the north. As earlier briefed, the Libyans had another two MiG-23s airborne, even if they were 50 km further south, and this was a threat that was on the minds of the pilots and RIOs. Though they would have likely been able to engage and shoot down those as well, they didn’t know where the other aircraft were.
Their assumption was that the other two MiGs were far enough away or had turned off the track since the early warning radar aircraft, the E-2C Hawkeye “Closeout” did not provide reporting during the engagement. In fact, “Closeout” called the two other aircraft earlier but the call was misinterpreted by the two Tomcat crews.
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Okay Munster, lets head north, head north.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Okay. Port side high, comin’ down hard.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Roger.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger that. Just revert. Blowin’ north, let’s go down low on the decks, unload, 500 knots, lets get out of here.”
Gypsy 204 Pilot Cook: “Okay, two good chutes.”
CLOSEOUT: “They’re showin’ two good chutes in the air here, from Munster.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “Roger that, I see the, ah–.”
Gypsy 207 Pilot Connelly: “I’ve got the splash, one splash.”
Gypsy 207 RIO Collins: “One splash.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Take that down to, ah, 3,000 here Munster.”
CLOSEOUT: “The, ah, splash 160 at 96.”
Gypsy 204 RIO Enright: “Lets go, Munster down to 3,000 and lets get outta here.”
Identifications of the Tomcats vary and the narrative above used the details from Air Aces. However, most other sources identify the wingman as AC202 rather than AC204. Both agree on AC207 as the lead.
The Libyan pilots were both seen to successfully eject and parachute into the sea, but the Libyan Air Force was unable to recover them.
It is unknown why the two MiGs operated in this manner, or why the Libyans did not launch a successful rescue operation to recover the pilots. The following day, the Libyans accused the US of attacking two unarmed reconnaissance planes, but the footage, also called the gun-camera videos, showed that the Libyans had been armed with AA-7 Apex missiles. Depending on the model, this can be either a semi-active radar-homing missile or an infrared-homing (heat-seeking) missile.
At the request of the National Air and Space Museum, the U.S. Navy provided BuNo 159610 to its Udvar-Hazy location near Dulles International Airport. Although Tomcat BuNo 159610 downed the Libyan MiG-23 as a VF-32 F-14A model Tomcat, it returned from that deployment and was entered into the F-14D re-manufacture program and served later in a precision strike role as a VF-31 F-14D(R). On September 30, 2006, it was formally unveiled to the public with now-retired Captain Connelly and Captain Enwright on the podium as honored guests.
As of August 2015, BuNo 159437 is still resting at the Aircraft Maintenance and Restoration Group (AMARG) facility just outside Davis-Monthan AFB. This aircraft is one of seven F-14s currently remaining in the AMARG complex and has not been scrapped due to impending museum placement. If BuNo 159437 becomes a museum exhibit, it is likely to be placed on the USS John F. Kennedy once the ship becomes a museum itself.
Hobbymaster 1/72nd scale New to Pre-order
Hobbymaster updated images added to the website
I have added the following updates to the website. For a full view of all of the images in the aircraft gallery, please click on the images below, which will take you straight to the aircraft model.
Hobbymaster and Century Wings arrivals due at the end of this month.
There are now very limited stocks available after a very busy time on Pre-orders over the last few weeks. If you meant to order one of the following models, and hadn’t got round to it yet, I wouldn’t hang about !
Century Wings New Announcement Last week
As many of you know Century Wings announced a new “Landing Configuration ” Tomcat last week, CW001619 Century Wings Grumman F-14A Tomcat VF-84 Jolly Rogers AJ200 1978 “Landing Configuration”.
Thank you for all your Pre-orders, these are now safely reserved for you on what is certain to be a Sell Out Release. I am closing the order books on this model soon and after that will most likely have only 6 pieces or so to sell when they finally arrive at Sywell. Please order your model ASAP to avoid disappointment. Please click on the image or link below to get a closer look, images will be updated as soon as I receive them.
This model is not arriving in the U.K. until December, so if you pay by Credit Card, your payment will not be taken until your model is ready to be dispatched. If you pay by PayPal your payment is immediate and that is beyond my control.
At the end of this month there will be a lot of models “taking off” to their new homes, particularly Prowlers and Tomcats. Please bear with me while I get them all out to you as soon as possible.
STOP PRESS !! Corgi Sale !!
I have added two offers to this week’s Newsletter at short notice. I have been able to get very limited stocks so if you want either (or both) of these models please get your order in quickly. When they are gone they are gone! Please click straight onto the links or images below to go straight to the models on Sale.
Well that’s it for this week !
Thank you for taking time to read this week’s Newsletter.