Home » The most thrilling one-on-one naval aircraft duel ever took place between Showtime 100 and Colonel Toon

The most thrilling one-on-one naval aircraft duel ever took place between Showtime 100 and Colonel Toon

by Till Daisd
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Although Toon now appears to have been a propaganda mashup of multiple excellent North Vietnamese pilots, the Showtime 100 crew met a fantastic dogfighter that day

Lt. Randy “Duke” Cunningham was returning from a mission to suppress flak over Haiphong, North Vietnam, on May 10, 1972, while piloting an F-4J Phantom from VF-96 Fighting Falcons (callsign “Showtime 100”) from the carrier USS Constellation (CV-64). Willie Driscoll, a radar intercept officer (RIO), was seated in Cunningham’s back seat.

After the strike, an air fight broke out above the objective, separating Cunningham and Driscoll from their wingman.

Showtime 100 disengaged and began to fly toward the coast at 10,000 feet after downing two MiGs with one Sidewinder each when Duke spotted an adversary MiG-17 (NATO reporting name Fresco) closing in from the front. Duke aimed for a close pass in an attempt to prevent his rival from turning onto his six, but the tenacious MiG driver was able to fire his 23 mm cannons.

Cunningham and Driscoll were flying against Colonel Toon, the most renowned North Vietnamese fighter pilot and the leading ace of the conflict with thirteen American victories to his name. There is no doubt that the pilot the crew of the Falcon 100 fought that day was a fantastic dogfighter, as George Hall relates in his book Top Gun, even though it appears today that Toon was a propaganda hybrid of several excellent North Vietnamese pilots.

Duke did a six Gs vertical pullup to get away from the Fresco and planned a diving Sidewinder assault once he reached the peak of his zoom ascent. The MiG-17 was just 100 yards away, climbing canopy to canopy with his F-4J, when he glanced over the edge of his ejection seat in search of a glimpse of the enemy.

Duke lit the burners because he knew he could outrun the MiG, but he made another error by pulling away vertically, which allowed the enemy to re-open fire with his guns. The two aircraft then started a classic rolling scissors maneuver as Cunningham rolled off the top and spiraled downward, followed by Toon firing his cannons. This forced the Phantom to slow down to 200 knots, a speed at which the MiG had better turning and handling capabilities.

Cunningham managed to get away for two miles, after which he shot his Phantom into a vertical position of 60 degrees and flew towards the Fresco. But, like with the last battle, the MiG-17 tracked the F-4, and the Vietnamese opened fire from below to end it.

Cunningham and Driscoll were now ready to go on the attack, and this time they engaged the MiG-17 head-on while slightly offsetting it so that Toon couldn’t fire his cannons. Duke dragged the throttle to idle and popped his speed brakes as they approached the vertical. Cunningham had to start the burners when the Phantom’s airspeed fell below 150 knots in order to maintain altitude.

Toon retreated because he thought that if Cunningham fired an AIM-9, the Sidewinder would be fooled by ground clutter, even if the Phantom was able to pursue him. Duke shared the same worry, yet he still fired the third AIM-9 from his arsenal. The North Vietnamese fighter exploded and hit the ground at a forty-degree angle after the missile first appeared to miss the MiG.

Showtime 100 V Colonel Toon: the most epic 1 V 1 dogfight in the history of naval aviation

Their Phantom was struck by a SAM after the engagement as they neared the coast of North Vietnam, but fortunately, Cunningham and Driscoll were able to safely eject into the South China Sea. They had to fight a good fighter pilot, but they prevailed because of the lessons they had acquired while taking the Navy’s first Top Gun training.

Cunningham and Driscoll became the sole members of the U.S. Navy to achieve ace status during the Vietnam War thanks to the same lessons that helped them achieve their fifth victory. The authors of the article, Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Willie Driscoll, explain in the video below how they managed to shoot down their fifth North Vietnamese MiG during the battle.

Photo by U.S. Navy

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