Home » When a US Navy F-14 Tomcat shot down a USAF RF-4C Phantom II during a war game

When a US Navy F-14 Tomcat shot down a USAF RF-4C Phantom II during a war game

by Till Daisd
0 comment

F-14 shooting down RF-4C

A US Air Force (USAF) RF-4C Phantom II was shot down by a US Navy F-14 Tomcat on September 22, 1987, over the Mediterranean during NATO Exercise Display Determination 87. The F-14 pilot got confused and released a live Sidewinder while the RF-4C was doing a simulated reconnaissance mission on the USS Saratoga (CV-60). The crew of the RF-4C was rescued after ejecting. The pilot of the F-14 never flew again.

USAF Phantom pilot Captain Michael Ross and his Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) 1st Lt. Randy Sprouse (aboard RF-4C, 69-0381, ZR tailcode, of the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, out of Zweibrucken Air Base, West Germany) were searching for an ‘enemy’ fleet comprised of the US carrier USS Saratoga as part of the multi-force exercise.

Saratoga’s radar picked up a contact that was a neutral KC-135 airborne tanker and directed its F-14 Tomcat fighter jets toward it. The Tomcats arrived at the same tanker where Capt. Ross’s Phantom was refueling. Without giving it much attention, Sprouse looked back and noticed the two F-14s following them. When the unmarked Phantom refueled and departed, the Tomcats initially thought it was a friendly aircraft and followed it.

Confusing the orders

The Phantom’s scanners malfunctioned shortly after it attempted to switch them on. The Phantom crew continued their mission and saw the “enemy” fleet. The requirements stated that the mission was considered completed if they could read the hull number of the carrier. Following the Phantom, new pilot Lt (Jg) Timothy Dorsey (flying F-14A BuNo 162707 from VF-74 Be-Devilers) notified the Saratoga of the reconnaissance aircraft. With the Tomcat on the Phantom’s tail, Lt. Sprouse looked back and called out, “There’s a Navy F-14 sitting on our left wing at about 8 o’clock!”

Captain Ross replied, “Okay. He’s a good guy.”

At the same time, the Tomcat pilot, Lt. Dorsey, asked the Saratoga if he should engage and was given the clearance, “Warning Red, Weapons Free,” which was a standard exercise call at the time (vice Weapons Tight or Hold).

This is where Lt. Dorsey confused the orders. Lt. Dorsey asked, “Jesus! Do they want me to shoot this guy?” To which his own RIO, Lt. Command Edmund Holland, replied, “Yes-shoot!”

Application to be advanced to rear admiral

Since this was intended to be a training mission, Lt. Commander Holland and Command intended for Lt. Dorsey to “fire” a simulated missile, which entailed locking up the target using the infrared tracker of the AIM-9 Sidewinder. When he got the tone the infrared was tracking, that would be a kill. However, Lt. Dorsey fired a live Sidewinder missile and shot down the Phantom (The very end of the film here).

Both were able to eject, although they were both seriously hurt. When they punched out, the explosion and spiral down forced them up against the side of the cockpit. The Saratoga picked up both of the men. Sprouse suffered a dislocated shoulder, while Captain Ross needed 32 surgeries to treat his numerous injuries.

Following an investigation, it was determined that Lt. Dorsey was responsible for both his inexperience and his error in judgment. Even though he was never authorized to fly again, he was allowed to keep his pilot wings and continued in the Navy, advancing to the rank of Captain (Colonel in the Army) and attempting, but failing, to be promoted to rear admiral.

Photo by U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force

You may also like

Leave a Comment