Almost 700 aircraft have been shot down by IAF pilots in “Dogfights” since 1948, however, it has been 30 years since the last one. To recall some of the stories, dilemmas, the small tricks and the moment in which you see an enemy aircraft falling down, we talked with three “Interception experts” that remember it all
Col. (Res.) Avraham Shalmon always has a story to tell. After many years of being a fighter jet pilot, with 14 and a half interceptions, you won’t catch him without a heritage story.
He took part in the “Rimon 20” (Grenade 20) aerial battle in late July 1970 during the “War of Attrition” in which the Egyptians had a difficult time withstanding IAF attacks, so they asked the USSR for aid and Soviet combat pilots met the IAF jets in the battle field.
While IAF’s F-4 Phantoms created a diversion south of Suez, Egypt, a quartet of Mirage-3 from the “Bat” Squadron was deployed to a photography mission, to allegedly attract enemy pilots. Six quartets of Soviet MiG jets were launched and discovered a quartet of Phantoms and six Mirage jets and as such began a mass aerial battle which ended with five downed Soviet pilots in MiG jets and no losses on the Israeli side.
Col. (Res.) Shalmon flew a “Mirage” in the battle. “I saw a jet in front of me and I was about to fire at it, but at the last moment I realized it didn’t really look like a MiG and I later discovered that it was our jet. Behind him I saw two MiGs, so I fired a missile and downed one of them. The other one went wild, so I did as well: after unsuccessfully trying to down it, I continued following it with 600 meters between us and used cannon fire. The interception was credited to me and another pilot which is the reason that only half of it has my name on it”.
“You never forget the possibility that you may lose, but you know you’re a good pilot. That is what always guided me to be the best that I can be. You can never be the best there is, but you can do the best you can. During a ‘dogfight’, you’re extremely focused on the mission. You need to be focused on flying, firing your cannons and keeping yourself safe. But fear? Not for a second”.
I didn’t jump
June 26, 1970. Col. (Res.) Yehuda Koren, then a Mirage pilot from the “First Jet” Squadron, was patrolling when a dogfight began with Syrian MiGs.
“One of them followed me and didn’t let go and I decided it was either him or me. I released my bidons (fuel tanks) and slowly began accelerating so it seemed to him that he was about to catch me. I flew higher and he tried to follow but was unable to reach my height and fell downwards, I followed. When he tried to disengage, I flew down to his height and shot a missile towards him”.
There is always the deciding moment. “The moment I realized it had to be him or me, I felt as if I had an advantage over him, I let him feel as if he was closing in on me so he would lose speed. The MiG has a strong engine, but the Mirage’s advantage is its high maneuverability. We always said that exercise dogfights against a skilled Israeli pilot and the same jet, were much more challenging than any real battle”.
Out of 10 and a half MiG interceptions, his first was in the 1966. When he was unable to reach one of the MiGs that disengaged, he decided to deceive him in another way.
“I shot a few rounds in his direction with the hopes that he would see the explosions and maneuver, which would allow me to get closer to him and shoot him down. It worked.” he shared. “I remember how I once yearned for the moment I would shoot down my first jet, but after my first successful interception, I did not jump around the cockpit and I wasn’t filled with joy. I guess it’s a personality thing”.
During the second day of the “Six Day” War, Col. (Res.) Koren was assigned to accompany a quartet of “Vautors” from the “Knights of the North” Squadron on a mission to attack the H-3 Airbase in Iraq.
“We followed the ‘Vautors’ at low height over a moon like view of black rocks and crevices below us. Our path was almost a straight line, as we flew east over Jordan and Syria to Iraq”, he shared. “When the dogfight began, I went after an Iraqi ‘Hunter’ jet in an attempt to hit him with cannon fire, which was like trying to shoot at a strait razor. I shot a long burst and I could see pieces flying off of him”.
Despite a problem in his fuel pump, Col. (Res.) Koren was able to get close to a MiG which was maneuvering after two Israeli “Vautors” and hit him with a burst.
“We understood that it was time to go back home and we were asked to disengage and fly west”, he described. “Two ‘Vautors’ flew west as a ‘MiG’ flew behind them in a ‘scissor’ like movement in an attempt to hit them. Before he could, I flew behind them and shot a burst in his direction that hit his wing”.
The Iraqi MiG and Hawker Hunter will be remembered as two of the farthest interceptions from Israeli territory in the history of the IAF.
“When we turned to return home, I was low on fuel and we flew at such a height that at any moment the Jordanians or Syrians could intercept us, but luckily for us, the wind was blowing in our direction”, added Col. (Res.) Koren. “We arrived at the Ramat David Airbase with our last drops of fuel, but there was still enough fuel for me to do a ‘victory loop’ before landing”.
He promises that even after the 11th victory loop it doesn’t get boring. “If you would send me on the mission today, I would go about it in the same aggressive manner and with the same enthusiasm”.
Opportunity and Danger
Brig. Gen. (Res.) Israeli Baharav, with 12 interceptions of enemy aircraft and a Medal of Distinguished Service, returns to the mass dogfight that took place on the last day of the 1973 “Yom Kippur” War over the Suez Canal. He led one of two “Nesher” jet quartets along with two additional jets, when they were suddenly met by no less than 22 Egyptian MiG jets.
“It was clear that it was the end of the war and I must admit that along with our dedication to the cause, pilots were beginning to think how they could survive this, after surviving so much”, he recalls. “When you are faced with a large amount of opponents, you see it as a good opportunity to shoot down multiple enemy jets, but on the other hand, there is very real risk of being intercepted. There was a specific point that most of the aircraft congregated into and the willingness to be in a high-risk area is based on the determination that may be the answer to the interception aces success”.
And yes, in the background there is the ultimate desire. “Downing a jet is the dream of every young combat pilot who receives his wings”, explained Col. (Res.) Koren. “A dogfight is the peak of a pilot’s expertise and even though the nature of aerial battles has changed, I am sure that it is still their dream today. If you have downed a large amount of aircraft, you have become a role model in the IAF”.