USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can’t We All Just Be Friends?

Historical Guns Will Dabbs
USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
If you were a fighter pilot what weapon might you choose to rid the skies of something like this?

Young men are stupid. I am certain of this because, back in the early Mesozoic era, I was one. Don’t believe me? Roughly 93% of America’s incarcerated population is male. We are imprisoned at a rate fourteen times higher than is the fairer sex. Testosterone is the world’s most potent poison.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
I really, really wanted to fly one of these. Lamentably, I was born 45 years too late.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the plains I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had grown up devouring everything I could find on World War 2 aviation. I knew I wanted to be a military aviator, but I wasn’t sure what sort. The Internet was but a gleam in the eye of a young Al Gore, so I just read books and talked to folks who had done it. Eventually, I settled upon Army helicopters.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
This all just seems a bit tedious.

Driving jets was sexy and all, but those rascals were undeniably complicated. I wanted to really fly, not manage some hyper-complex technological system. Army helicopters seemed a bit closer to the Golden Age of aviation in my neophytic view. Additionally, if I didn’t pull it off there seemed to be plenty of other cool stuff I could do as an Army officer. 

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
That’s me doing my old job. I picked it because it seemed cool.

So, there you have it. I sought out a career path based solely on how cool it would be. Not how amenable it might be to raising a family (hideous) or what sort of retirement it offered (decent, I guess), but rather simply because the job seemed like a rush and I thought I’d cut a dashing figure in a flight suit. You recall I mentioned young men are stupid.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
When I reminisce about my time in the Army I recall being really tired and really dirty.

With the benefit of hindsight perhaps I should have worn blue instead of green. The Air Force is commanded by pilots, while the Army is commanded by grunts and tankers. That simple observation makes all the difference in the world as regards lifestyle. As a result of my skewed logic, I ultimately spent a year in the Infantry living like some kind of farm animal, feasted upon some of the most unspeakably vile stuff in survival school, and averaged eight months out of twelve away from home on a good year. However, at least I got to enjoy the inter-service collegiality that comes from being a military aviator.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
Captains Bennett and Bakke were flying an F-15E Strike Eagle like this one.

I did plenty of joint operations wherein I worked with the Wing Nuts of the US Air Force and the Squids of the Navy. I always felt like we enjoyed a productive relationship based on mutual respect. Then on Valentine’s Day 1991, CPT Richard Bennett, flying a USAF F-15E Strike Eagle along with his Wizzo (Weapon Systems Operator) CPT Daniel Bakke, showed the world the insensate disdain in which they held Army aviation. Those guys pulverized an airborne Iraqi helicopter gunship with an enormous honking laser-guided bomb.

The Setting

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
Operation Desert Storm was designed to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

Operation Desert Shield ran from August 2, 1990, until January 17, 1991. This was the massive buildup of Allied forces in Saudi Arabia in response to Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked invasion of Kuwait. Desert Storm was the combat phase. It ran for forty-three days from January 17, 1991, until the conclusion of hostilities on February 28, 1991.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
Scuds are intermediate-range ballistic missiles. They can carry conventional, chemical, or nuclear warheads.

Scud missiles were the regional scourge. Scuds had the range to reach Israel. Saddam was convinced that dragging Israel into the fray would splinter the Islamic nations from the Allied coalition. As a result, strike planners made taking out the Scuds a top priority. 

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
This is Strike Eagle 89-0487. It remains in service to this day.

The area of operations ranged from Al Qaim near the Syrian border over to Baghdad. We had about a dozen Special Forces teams active on the ground hunting Scuds. The Air Force cycled strike assets in and out 24 hours a day in support of the SF guys destroying high-value targets as they came available. It was this mission that put Captains Bennett and Bakke in the cockpit of Strike Eagle Tail Number 89-0487 on this fateful day.

The Plane

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
The F-15E Strike Eagle was designed to be versatile, rugged, and mean.

The F-15E Strike Eagle was designed to replace the F-111 Aardvark. The F-15A and F-15C were the single-seat air superiority versions of the airplane. The Strike Eagle carried a crew of two and was a true multi-role platform. That meant that the F-15E was capable of all-weather ground attack, deep interdiction, and air-to-air missions. It was and is an immensely capable airplane.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
The F-15E has seen widespread use around the globe.

Starting in 1985, we produced 523 of these magnificent machines. They have seen service in the Air Forces of Saudi Arabia, Israel, South Korea, and the US. The plane is 63 feet long and sports a max takeoff weight of 81,000 pounds. Its twin Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-220 turbofans each put out 29,160 pounds of thrust on the afterburner. The Strike Eagle tops out at 1,434 knots or 1,650 miles per hour.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
In ground attack mode the Strike Eagle packs an enormous quantity of ordnance.

The F-15E features four wing pylons along with fuselage hardpoints and bomb racks that will carry an aggregate 23,000 pounds of ordnance. There is also the obligatory M61A1 20mm Vulcan six-barreled electric Gatling gun. The Vulcan packs 500 rounds onboard and cycles at 6,000 rounds per minute.

The Engagement

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
Scud CAPs are designed to prevent this.

Strike Eagle 487 was on a Scud CAP (Combat Air Patrol) along with a wingman. CPT Bennett was tuned up to AWACS for general control and coordination. Amidst some foul weather with multiple cloud layers between 4,000 and 18,000 feet, they got word that an SF team was in trouble.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
These guys lived and died by stealth. Once they were compromised Uncle Sam moved heaven and earth to keep them safe.

The Iraqis had located the Green Berets and were closing in with both ground and air assets. With five enemy helicopters operating nap of the earth, the two Strike Eagles started hunting. The helos were apparently emplacing ground troops and then essentially herding the SF guys toward their inserted blocking force. If the Special Forces operators were not going to end up in an Iraqi prison or worse those enemy helicopters had to go. 

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
Antiaircraft artillery used to be called flak. It is relatively crude but undeniably effective if you get any of it on you.

The Strike Eagles dropped to 2,500 feet to get under the weather and were burning along at around 600 knots. The Wizzo CPT Bakke had acquired the enemy aircraft on his organic targeting equipment. As they were deep in Indian Country the AAA (antiaircraft artillery) was hot and heavy. Things were rapidly getting squirrely.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
The Mi-24 Hind was a product of the Cold War. It remains in widespread service today.

Using the high-resolution FLIR pod the Strike Eagle crew identified a pair of Iraqi helicopters moving sporadically. They would land briefly and then lift off, move a bit farther on, and land again. The American crew rightfully assumed they were inserting troops to corral the SF team. They visually identified the Iraqi aircraft as Mi-24 Hind gunships. The Hind is unique among dedicated gunships in that it also includes an ample cargo compartment that can carry extra ordnance or ground troops. With the two target aircraft moving abreast, CPT Bennett and his WSO planned their attack.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
The primary strength of the modern combat helicopter is the capacity to fly comfortably within the ground clutter.

They carried four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, but these weapons were not meant to be used amidst the rocky ground clutter of the Iraqi desert. As the Hinds were hugging the contours of the ground apparently the Sidewinders had a tough time locking on. However, CPT Bennet’s Strike Eagle also included four 14-foot GBU-10 Paveway II 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
The GBU-10 Paveway II is a beast of a thing.

The mission this day had not necessarily been to shoot down enemy helicopters, but rather to protect the SF team and kill Scuds. By using one of their 2,000-pound bombs the Air Force strike crew appreciated that they stood a good chance of neutralizing any ground troops the Iraqi helos might have inserted. With verification from AWACS that there were no friendly aircraft in the area, they moved in for the kill. 

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
Captains Bennett and Bakke used the tools they had at hand.

CPT Bakke lased the lead Iraqi Hind while still four miles away. The Mi-24 was on the ground disgorging troops at the time. If my math is correct the time of flight for the big weapon would be about 20 seconds. Just as they pickled off the GBU-10 the Hind broke ground and accelerated to 100 knots. Presuming the guided bomb attack to be a wash, CPT Bennett then armed a Sidewinder and prepared to engage once the Mi-24 cleared the surrounding terrain. Meanwhile, CPT Bakke carefully maneuvered his targeting laser to keep it centered on the accelerating Iraqi gunship.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
The F-15E Strike Eagle is ably equipped for air-to-air engagements. However, sometimes you just need to improvise.

Before CPT Bennett could loose his missile the massive bomb impacted the helicopter squarely. The resulting explosion simply vaporized the 26,000-pound gunship. The Special Forces team was eventually extracted and verified that the attack helicopter had been blown absolutely to smithereens. CPT Bennet resumed his Scud CAP and was actually vectored onto an active Scud TEL (Transporter Erector Launcher) about fifteen minutes later. Bennett and Bakke destroyed that Scud and headed home. 


USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
A ton of high explosive did a proper job on one unfortunate Iraqi Mi-24 Hind helicopter.

Now I wasn’t there, of course, but as an Army helicopter pilot myself I’m not completely certain that it was necessary to vaporize that enemy gunship with a 2,000-pound bomb. The Hind has a Vne (Velocity never-to-exceed) of 208 mph, roughly eight times slower than that of the Strike Eagle. Blowing the thing up with a massive bomb just seems a bit unnecessarily mean if not frankly bigoted.

USAF F-15E versus Iraqi Mi-24: Can't We All Just Be Friends?
This is the scoreboard on the side of the fuselage of Strike Eagle 89-0487. The green star commemorates the Iraqi Mi-24 obliterated by a Paveway II laser-guided bomb on Valentine’s Day, 1991.

Strike Eagle 487 remains in service today. Though it has been crewed by a succession of crew chiefs and flown by countless pilots and wizzos, it still sports the green star on the side signifying that it scored the F-15E’s first air-to-air kill. The fact that they dropped a bomb on a helicopter rather than shooting it down with guns or missiles just speaks to the curious nature of modern air combat and the sick sense of humor of Air Force fighter crews.

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  • Greg, AKA Karbine July 5, 2022, 9:02 pm

    It seems fighter jocks are adaptive, unconventional, and just danged stubborn. One of my favorite stories out of the airwar in the Pacific in WW2 was that of a very determined F4U Corsair pilot. Story went that he spotted a Japanese bomber, a Betty I believe. Supposedly the Betty had a very high ceiling and hoped it could get high enough to escape the Corsair. It was said that the Corsair was just able to catch up but found that his 50 cals were frozen in the extreme altitude. Fortunately the guns of the Jap tailgunner were also nonfunctional. Well, with the upgraded 4-blade prop having a diameter of 13ft, the fighter pilot did the only thing he could do. He pulled up under the tail of the bomber, brought his nose up a just enough to clip the aluminum of the tail. With one little snip, structural integrity was gone, tail snapped off, and the Betty began it’s long spiral to the Pacific Ocean below. The Corsairs prop, engine cowling, and wings had some damage, but that was one Jap bomber that would not menace the Allies ever again.

  • saran wrappe July 5, 2022, 5:58 pm

    Its obvious those F-15 flyboys are very knowledgeable about things non-F15. They could have done the same with a 6.5 Creedmoor.

    Thanks for the story. Had I not chosen another path in life I was set to be in the army and hopefully the 82AB during the first Iraq clean up.

  • Big Al 45 July 5, 2022, 1:38 pm

    Apparently, we share the same love for the P-38, my fave of faves.

  • Dain Bramage July 5, 2022, 10:02 am

    I thought Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait? ….just kidding.

    What a great story. I remember when it hit the news. It’s nice to get the details. Shows the ingenuity of our fighting soldiers.

    And thanks for your service.

  • Alan S July 4, 2022, 8:27 pm

    Another great story! Enjoyed it immensely. I think it was very cool that they used a bomb to take out the helicopter. Kind of like killing a gnat with a sledgehammer but waaaaay cooler!

  • James Spangler July 4, 2022, 8:15 pm

    And thus ended the Valentines Day massacre Part Duex.

  • Mike Laughlin July 4, 2022, 4:08 pm

    Good war story that I’d not heard, and being the “flak” (PA) for JTFSWA/CC I thought I’d heard them all. Well written. Thanks, LtCol USAF Ret.

  • Capt'n Eick July 4, 2022, 3:51 pm

    Great Read; I had forgotten about this occurrence!

  • OldGuy July 4, 2022, 3:39 pm

    Is there still time for an edit or perhaps even a retraction with attached apology?

    FACT: Saddam Hussein was the Fifth President of Iraq and held the position for nearly 24 years, but Saddam was largely what most Americans would call a self-appointed Dictator of Iraq (much like we would call Vladimir Putin today, a self-appointed Dictator of Russia). Saddam’s unprovoked invasion was of neighboring Kuwait and not his own country of Iraq.

    ANOTHER FACT: US President #41, George Herbert Walker Bush’s finite and limited goal was to Liberate Kuwait and to withdraw US forces after the scope of the mission was accomplished. Many believed that #41 was wrong and that we should have invaded Iraq as a consequence of Saddam’s un-provoked invasion and occupation of Kuwait. In retrospect, #41 was correct by liberating Kuwait and then withdrawing US forces so as not to start an unprovoked Middle East war on our own accord.

    History would observe that #41’s son, US President #43, George Walker Bush would invade Iraq for reasons ranging from “he tried to kill my daddy” to “Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction”. Several times before and after #43 invaded Iraq, #41 was concerned that #43’s advisors were counseling him correctly. Whatever #43’s highest reason for invading a foreign sovereign actually was at the time, Saddam Hussein was captured and hung by the neck until dead on 12-30-2006. The Second Gulf War was fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the funding cost to support the war in Afghanistan was approximately $5.0 Billion ($5,000,000,000.00) and the funding cost to support the war in Iraq was approximately $1.9 trillion ($1,900,000,000,000.00).

    How many Americans actually believe that our USA has obtained their full $2.5 trillion ($2,500,000,000,000.00) money’s worth funding foreign wars while the monies would have been better spent at home on domestic necessities like national health care, roads, bridges, education, and schools?

    On a separate note, while Putin’s “Military Exercise” in the Ukraine is not technically called a war, Putin believes Russia is not to be held to the same exacting standards of warfare as defined in the Geneva Convention. Our US Congress is already spending billions of dollars and sending money and military aid in the form of arms, munitions, missiles, and refugee support to another conflict zone bordering on Europe and NATO Membership Territory. With NATO’s newest members, Finland and Sweden, soon to be sworn in, other European Nations are seeking invitations to NATO membership. How much will it cost for Russia to leave Ukraine, either voluntarily or after being defeated, and who will pay to rebuild the country which Putin has razed in ruin to the ground?

    Happy Independence Day 2022 To All!

    • Walleye July 5, 2022, 10:21 pm

      Lighten up Francis…

  • Paul McDo July 4, 2022, 1:55 pm

    Great article! We laughed our collective arses off when we read that flight rep. There was a similar incident about the same time when a Warthog shacked another helo. Might not have been pretty but, a kill is a kill
    – From an appreciative former AWACS guy.

  • Steve G July 4, 2022, 11:53 am

    Will, I enjoy your writing. Keep it up.

  • Jim Kelley July 4, 2022, 10:55 am

    You need to proof read your intro. Iraq invaded Kuwait.

  • Gerry Frankovich July 4, 2022, 10:37 am

    Enjoyed the story and especially the photos! I need more! How about some A10 writings! Thanks much!

  • Kc Jailer July 4, 2022, 9:56 am

    Sick senses of humor are universal. I know of some grunts who took out a single rifleman in Panama with a TOW missile. “Sir, it was the coolest thing! You should have seen his face!”

    • AK July 4, 2022, 1:35 pm

      “You should have seen his face! I wrapped in tinfoil and dried it out on an oil drum back at firebase. It’s on my mantel now. “

      • KC Jailer July 11, 2022, 9:44 am

        Also related to “Sh!t, I’ve lost my leg”! “Not really, dude, it’s right over there…”

  • scott July 4, 2022, 8:49 am

    You may want to fix this – “This was the massive buildup of Allied forces in Saudi Arabia in response to Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq.” I believe you mean Kuwait. It reminds me of a great Brandon though..

    • Will Dabbs July 4, 2022, 9:57 am

      Fixed it. Just a typo. Thanks.

  • Scotty July 4, 2022, 8:20 am

    As a 27 year crew chief from bombers and tankers in sac, to heavy air lift. That sick sense of humor you mentioned is universal in the Air Force. At least for people who do things.

  • Ed July 4, 2022, 8:11 am

    Nice write up Sir
    Any recollections of the A10 Warthog?
    Best CAS platform the Army never got to fly worked on it back in the 70’s 80’s Still flying today !!

  • Dan Lewis July 4, 2022, 8:06 am

    Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait not Iraq.

    • Will Dabbs July 4, 2022, 8:42 am

      Good catch. I fixed it. Thanks.

  • Chuck Matson July 4, 2022, 7:34 am

    Great article…Prior AF crew chief…Desert Sheild/Desert Storm Veteran.

  • Elapid King July 4, 2022, 7:32 am

    “Operation Desert Shield ran from August 2, 1990, until January 17, 1991. This was the massive buildup of Allied forces in Saudi Arabia in response to Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq.”
    I realize it was more than 30 years ago, however, I always thought that Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait. I could be wrong, but….., I don’t think I am.

    • Will Dabbs July 4, 2022, 8:42 am

      A typo. I fixed it. Thanks.

  • Stan July 4, 2022, 7:16 am

    Once again great article. Thanks

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