The US Naval Institute reignited interest in a unique American military aviation history episode. The focus? A crucial event involving a US Navy F-14 Tomcat during the Gulf War in 1991.
The tweet sheds light on a pivotal moment when an F-14 belonging to the VF-1 squadron successfully shot down an Iraqi Mil Mi-8 helicopter. This engagement is the last air-to-air kill achieved by a US Navy Tomcat and the sole instance of such a feat against a helicopter.
The carrier-capable supersonic Tomcat fighter jet entered the service in 1975 and was regarded as the first operational fourth-generation fighter jet.
It effectively blended attributes like top speed, exceptional maneuverability, and advanced avionics and weaponry, which have become commonplace in modern fighter aircraft.
These fighter jets were also deployed to participate in the initial airstrikes of Operation Desert Storm.
One such mission unfolded on February 6, 1991, when Lieutenant Stuart “Meat” Broce and his RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) and squadron commander, Commander Ron “Bongo” McElraft, from VF-1 Wolfpack stationed aboard the USS Ranger, were assigned to provide air cover for a critical operation deep in enemy territory.
#OTD in 1991, an F-14 from VF-1 shot down an Iraqi Mil Mi-8 during the Persian Gulf War. It was the last air-to-air kill scored by a U.S. Navy Tomcat and the only one over a helicopter. A victory mark representing the helicopter was stenciled onto the F-14. pic.twitter.com/5vsy0gJlfM
— U.S. Naval Institute (@NavalInstitute) February 6, 2024
Tasked with protecting an EA-6B Prowler engaged in jamming operations to support a daylight air strike in occupied Kuwait, Broce and McElraft took to the skies in their F-14A BuNo. 162603, call-sign Wichita 103.
They were accompanied by another F-14 from VF-1, flown by Scott “Ash” Malynn and his RIO Dan “Zymby” Zimberoff. Given McElraft’s leadership role as squadron commander, he and Broce assumed the lead position.
During their flight to the designated rendezvous point, McElraft informed Broce that their radar system was not operational.
Following the completion of weapons checks, the controller relayed new orders to the two Tomcats: refuel from an Air Force KC-135 and proceed to a new Combat Air Patrol (CAP) station to monitor enemy activity.
The unexpected change in tasking posed a challenge, as the aircrews had to locate their new CAP station using navigation charts.
Since none of their charts covered the northern region, they speculated that the new station lay between the Gulf and Baghdad, farther north than any aircraft in the battle group had ventured, where US Air Force F-15s were reportedly achieving notable successes.
As they proceeded northward, Lieutenant Stuart “Meat” Broce, the least experienced pilot within the Wolfpack squadron in operating the F-14 Tomcat, pondered the weaponry at his disposal.
Having only six months of experience in the squadron, Broce reflected on the tactical considerations given their situation.
The F-14 Tomcat they piloted had a formidable arsenal of four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, four AIM-7 Sparrow missiles, and 700 high-explosive 20mm ammunition. However, the malfunctioning radar system presented a significant operational challenge.
Without radar guidance, launching missiles relied solely on manually aligning the F-14’s nose with the intended target, resulting in a degraded launch capability.
This limitation was particularly pronounced in the case of the radar-guided Sparrow missiles, significantly reducing their effectiveness in combat engagements.
Unfolding Of Aerial Engagement: A Detailed Account
When the F-14 Tomcats ventured further north, they gradually lost radio contact with their E-2 Hawkeye and transitioned to the control of a USAF AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft.
In a pivotal moment, Lieutenant Stuart “Meat” Broce found himself at the forefront of a critical engagement, as recounted in Craig Brown’s book, “Debrief: A Complete History of US Aerial Engagements-1981 to the Present.”
The AWACS controller broke the radio silence with urgent instructions for the Wolfpack pilots to engage an unidentified adversary. With his Tomcat’s radar system offline, Broce deferred leadership of the interception to his fellow pilot, Scott “Ash” Malynn, and his RIO, Dan “Zymby” Zimberoff.
However, Zimby, a highly skilled RIO within the squadron, struggled to establish radar contact. Bongo sought confirmation from AWACS regarding clearance to engage, receiving a definitive response: “Affirmative! Cleared hot, weapons free!”
Broce activated the master arm switch and, desiring a record of the engagement, initiated the onboard HUD camera/voice recorder, affirming, “Recorder on!”
As the two F-14s accelerated, AWACS provided ongoing updates on bearing and range. Despite repeated attempts to confirm the recording status, McElraft remained unresponsive.
With Malynn positioned to his right, Meat maintained altitude at 3,000 feet. Shortly after, Bongo identified a Mil Mi-8 Hip armed transport helicopter.
Meat switched to an AIM-9 missile and maneuvered for a high-aspect attack from above, adjusting altitude and lateral separation. Despite initial difficulties acquiring a lock due to the seeker head’s lack of tone, Broce persisted in his attempts.
Deciding to trust his instincts, he adjusted the nose slightly behind the target, anticipating sufficient heat signature for a lock.
As Broce initiated the firing sequence, McElraft’s alarmed interruption was cut short by the missile’s launch, which raced past the canopy.
Initially fearing a misfire, Broce was relieved to witness the AIM-9 homing in on the target, transforming the Mi-8 into a fiery explosion upon impact.
The impact obliterated the Mi-8, sending debris scattering across the desert floor. Communicating the successful strike to AWACS, Bongo reported, “Splash one… helicopter!”
After successfully downing a helicopter, Bongo contacted AWACS to report the kill before rejoining Malynn and Zimberoff.
They refueled from a KC-135 alongside two other VF-1 F-14s before returning to the CAP station.
Another refueling, this time from a KC-10, preceded their final half-hour at the CAP station. AWACS directed them to conduct a Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) on a strategic target.
Upon completing the BDA, the two VF-1 jets joined two other Wolfpack Tomcats and returned to their CAP station for patrol duties.
When they landed aboard the USS Ranger that night, Meat and Bongo were greeted by a crowd of well-wishers.
Lieutenant Stuart “Meat” Broce was presented with the umbilical cord from the AIM-9M missile he used to eliminate the helicopter, and their aircraft received a helicopter kill mark under the canopy. This marked the first recorded air-to-air kill against an Iraqi helicopter in Desert Storm.
Nonetheless, VF-1 continued to carry out their assigned missions, often operating under darkness, with exceptional professionalism until the ceasefire on February 28.
The Wolfpack later completed another cruise on the USS Ranger from 1992 to 1993 in support of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Restore Hope before returning to NAS Miramar and ultimately disestablished on September 30, 1993.