Very few American pilots ever get air-to-air kills these days. Even fewer can claim an air-to-air kill with bomb. Missiles, sure. Guns, perhaps. But a dropping a bomb on an enemy pilot? That’s badass.
Our complete and total dominance of the air means we tend to operate with absolute authority. And there are few who would consider an outdated Russian Hind helicopter to be a fair fight for an F-15 Strike Eagle. So why not increase your handicap and make it a fair fight?
Before we get to the details, let’s take a step back and admire one of the Air Force’s most underappreciated workhorses. The F-15 came into its own in the 80s, after the Cold War tensions had all but subsided. There was never a film that gloried in its exploits like Top Gun did for the flashy F-14. And the F-15 was quickly eclipsed by the smaller, more nimble F-16.
Yet the F-15 is still patrolling the skies. I would have said “quietly patrolling the skies,” but I know better. I used to live on a big tract of land right beside a transponder that the Air National Guard used for flight patterns, and the F-15s would buzz in at tree-top level, just under supersonic, before making hard left turns that make NASCAR drivers wet their pants. I’d see them before I’d hear them, and then the noise was crippling.
These beasts are humbling–and they weren’t shooting at me. I can’t imagine being on the receiving end of their wrath.
And that wrath was finally unleashed during Operation Desert Storm. TheF-15 C and D were built for air-to-air combat. The F-15E targeted ground placements–Scud missile sites and surface-to-air missiles, mostly. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t fight in the air, too.
On Valentine’s Day 1991, U.S. Air Force Captains Richard “TB” Bennett and Dan “Chewie” Bakke were hunting Scuds. Bennett was on the stick, and Bakke was running the Eagle’s weapons systems, when word came in from AWACS that Mi-24 Hind Gunships were close to a U.S. Special Forces operation.
Bakke spoke with the author of “Debrief: A Complete History of U.S. Aerial Engagements,” and described how their radar wasn’t picking up the Hinds, which–when aware of the incoming F-15s–accelerated quickly. They couldn’t establish a missile lock on the targets because of the mismatched speeds of the helicopters and their F-15E.
Bakke could see the rotors with his LANTIRN pod (a ground targeting system) and so he improvised. He switched from missile to a laser-guided, 2,000-pound GBU-10 bomb.
Just as the Hind left the ground, the bomb tore through the rotors and the cockpit. That would have been more than enough to take down a Hind, but there was more carnage to come. The bomb, equipped with a fuse delay, buried itself in the earth beneath the helicopter, which fell back on top of it. And then…
Well. Let’s just say they had a hard time finding much of the Hind. This was the F-15E’s only air-to-air kill from the conflict.
The special forces team that had been threatened by the Hind confirmed the kill, and sent Bennett and Bakke their gratitude.
Here’s what it looks like when a GBU-10 strikes it’s target. You know, for science: