Seasnake's Aviation Page

The Doomed Phantom

This story will be difficult to verify, but it happened during the opening phase of the Iran/Iraq war in 1980.

I sailed aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower, and we sat off the coast of Saudi Arabia for 8 months. The 'box' of water that our Battle Group (convoy) cruised around in was called Gonzo Station, and it was pretty safe.

Occasionally, Soviet recon bombers stationed in Ethiopia or India would fly out to see where we were, but mostly we went unmolested.

From time to time, the IKE would go to GQ (General Quarters) and launch fighters and a Hawkeye radar aircraft to see what was happening over the horizon to the North. Not too far in that direction, a war was glowing hot. Large missiles pounded Islamic cities in a fratricidal orgy of stupidity, and desert combat claimed generations of the young. We watched, and wondered how long it could go on, before we were dragged in.

One night (either August or September), our ship was called to Battle Stations/NO DRILL, and we sent two F-14 Tomcats out. What made this different from all other launches was the manner of the jet's departure -- flight crews dashing across the deck to man-up, the enormous ship heeling way over in a radical turn into the wind, and the fastest catapult sequence I have ever seen.

Within 3 minutes, the first "Pukin' Dog" (the squadron nickname for VF-143) was off the deck in a screaming, gut-wrenching 180-degree turn that sent the jet off howling in full afterburner.

On deck, each of us tightened our helmet straps and became a little more awake. After some yelling, cursing, and a lot of prodding, the second "Dog" was shot off, making an identical high-energy turn toward the North.

What happened up there is probably still a secret, but I can tell you what we saw from the ship. Fifteen minutes after the launch, we could see a tiny, bright 'star' on the northern horizon. It passed our ship at a range of perhaps 15-20 miles and was visible for maybe 5 minutes.

Looking through the ship's "Big Eyes" (specialized long range binoculars on the Signal Bridge), we watched three aircraft pass by in the deepening twilight. Two were our Dogs; one high, one lower.

The third aircraft in the bizarre formation had the unmistakable silhouette of an F-4 Phantom. The fighter was flying slowly, with its nose slightly up, and it was burning gloriously.

It was difficult to make out details, and soon it was gone. The word was that the Iranian Phantom was shot up over the war zone and the pilot ejected. Unmanned - the F-4 flew off, and away from the war. Now, out over the North Arabian Sea, it was headed to the peace of a lonely watery grave.

To avoid any accidents, Alpha X-Ray called the shot. One of the Dogs slid in behind the flaming jet, to end the Phantom's solo flight. The bright star winked into the night and was gone.

At the time, the only F-4 Phantoms in the region were used by the Iranian Air Force. I always wondered if the Tomcat pilot got credit for this mercy killing...

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