David Hamilton RAF: a day in the life of a Tornado pilot: Exercise Nile 90

In April 1990, whilst on detachment to Cyprus as Boss of XI Squadron flying the Tornado F3, I was fortunate to participate in Exercise Nile 90 with the Egyptian Air Force. As the title suggests we flew sorties over the Nile Delta against aircraft from the Egyptian Air Force. There were three separate sorties planned with a pair of F3s on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) over the delta flying respectively against Mig 21s, F-16s and Mirage 5s.

XI Sqdn Tornado F3 ZE764 'DH'

XI Sqdn Tornado F3 ZE764 ‘DH’

On 8th April, I, with my navigator in the rear seat, led a two ship of F3s against the Migs. The plan had been that the RN (from a ship offshore) would provide us with radar cover and we would be “bounced” by the Migs who in turn were being controlled by an Egyptian E-2C early warning aircraft. In the end the RN failed to turn up and we utilised the E-2C to provide us with safety cover, but no control. Sitting there over the Nile Delta expecting to be bounced with our RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) being “lit up” by the myriad of SAM sites in the delta was a very nervy experience! As the Migs were late, and we had no AAR (air-to-air refuelling), we slowed to endurance speed (about 240 kts) in the hope that we could remain on station to meet up with the Migs.

 

E-2C (Egypte)_001

Egyptian Air Force E-2C

This situation was of course less than ideal, but we were desperate to meet up with the Migs, something that comes along fairly infrequently in anyone’s career, if at all. Suddenly I saw them and made the call – “2 Migs, 2 o’clock high”. So there we were sitting ducks with the two Migs barrelling down out of the sun on the two F3s. So what to do? Luckily I had been schooled in slow speed air combat, when on exchange with 892 Naval Air Squadron flying the F-4 Phantom. My “teachers” had been exceptional fighter pilots who practised the Fleet Air Arm mantra of using AOA (angle of attack) rather than airspeed, especially when operating at the lower end of the speed scale! Convention has it that you cannot operate aircraft like the F-4 and F3 at slow speed, especially in close combat, but when needs must!

 

MiG-21PFM-Egypt-1982

Egyptian Air Force Mig21

So despite protestations from the rear seat I selected burner and turned into the approaching Migs. They were obviously taken by surprise and both flew straight through, caught unawares by a manoeuvre they were not expecting and especially at such low speed. I then unloaded the aircraft and reversed using full rudder and aileron to catch the 2 Migs in my sights as they tried to disengage and run away in full afterburner. I have never heard such a loud “growl” from an acquisition Sidewinder and so claimed 2 “kills”.

F15

Israeli F15 Eagle

Such a manoeuvre is obviously not to be encouraged on a regular basis, but I have always been taught to do the unpredictable in air combat. You might only get away with it once, but that’s all it takes to win or survive!  The other sorties were equally successful so we must have left the Egyptians confused as I believe that they had been told that the Tornado F3 would be “easy meat” in close combat. Finally, a nice touch at the end of my engagement with the Migs was being “escorted” some of the way back across the Eastern Mediterranean by a pair of Israeli F-15s. Their friendly wave and thumbs up were a reassuring sight knowing someone was looking out for us as we flew back to Cyprus on minimums (they had obviously also been monitoring the exercise)!

 

With thanks to David Hamilton RAF

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