|Photo U.S. Air Force Museum|
The F-15C was the “premier” air to air fighter in OPERATION DESERT STORM. Actually both the U.S.A.F and the Royal Saudi Air Force scored kills in the conflict. While the F-15s were not new to combat, the first F-15 kill occurred 1979 by the IDFAF, 33 of 36 U.S.A.F. air to air victories were by the F-15C. However they weren’t the only aircraft to score a shoot down on day one.
The first kill of that January 17th morning was by the most unlikely of aircraft an unarmed EF-111A Raven! Yes, the Spark Vark was the first aircraft to be engaged by a Dassault Mirage F.1EQ. The F.1 was configured for air to air with two Matra R.550 Magic air to air missiles, a French short range AAM, similar to AIM-9 Sidewinders.
The Spark Vark was over the western desert of Iraq orbiting. Its mission was to create a corridor for the air armada streaking overhead into Iraq, by jamming the Iraqi radars. The Vark was crewed by Pilot Capt. Jim Denton with Electronic Weapons Officer Capt Brent Brandon. The Mirage broke out of a flight of four after being engaged by F-15C vectored by an AWACS. The Mirage broke, popped flares and the F-15Cs missile missed.
The Iraqi pilot then saw the unarmed aircraft and engaged. The Magic came off the wingtip rail and headed directly at Denton and Brandon in AF 66-0016. Denton began evasive action and Brandon popped flares in defense. The Magic missed. Denton decided to use the Vark’s advantage and dove the beast to the deck.
The Iraqi pilot decided to follow. He was going to take out that aircraft. Denton began using his Terrain Following Radar to evade the hostile behind him. Screaming across the desert he finally jinked right and pulled up, pushing the throttles. The TF-30s pushed the craft to over Mach 1. Behind them the Mirage pilot, wasn’t so lucky he did not make the pull out in time, plowing his aircraft into the desert sand.
Though there is much documentation about the incident Denton and Brandon were not given credit officially by the U.S.A.F. I think the idea that an unarmed mudmover was the first kill of the war did not sit well with the Fighter Mafia.
AF 66-0016 survived and is serving gate guard duty at Cannon Air Force Base, in New Mexico. It carries the names of Capt Douglas L. Bradt and EWO Capt Paul R. Eichenlaub, who were the only combat casualties in the EF-111. Bradt and Eichenlaub lost their lives on February 14, 1991, when their Spark Vark, AF 66-0023, took evasive action and flew into the ground.