The Only Air-to-Air Kill for the British Phantom

On May 25th 1982, Lt. Roy Lawrence and his RIO  Lt. Alistair Inverarity of RAF 92 Squadron were sitting in their McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 XV (SN: XV422) on ZULU alert at RAF Wildenrath.  The airbase was conducting an exercise to prepare for an upcoming NATO TACEVAL (Tactical Evaluation).  It was tense in those days and aircraft of ZULU alert were, exercise or not, armed with live weapons, lest the Russians picked that day to attack.

During exercises it was normal for NATO aircraft to practice on each other.  The Wing Commander of the base exercising would invite his neighbors to attack his base.  I vividly remember a day at Hahn AB when four Canadian F-18’s roared over our hangar “attacking” the base.  For air to air combat it was a free for all.  Anyone could jump anyone in mock dogfights until one side cried Uncle by wagging their wings.

Lawrence and Inverarity were launched on a training intercept mission.  After completing their mission they were returning to base when they spotted  a pair of RAF SEPECAT Jaguars .  Lawrence rolled into the attack.  Maneuvering  into the six o’clock position, Lawrence fired what he thought was a training shot.  Both men were horrified to see an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile leap off its rail and guide straight into the trailing Jaguar (SN: XX963/AL) flown by Flight Lt. Steve Griggs of  RAF 14 Squadron.  Griggs had been busily trying to land his aircraft.  He never saw it coming.  As his aircraft exploded around him, he ejected safely.

THE INVESTIGATION

Like any mishap, a chain of events led to the catastrophe.   The RAF Wing Commander authorized aircraft armed with live weapons to participate in the exercise. To prevent fratricide, the Master Arm switch should have been covered in white tape.  It wasn’t.  To disable the missile launch system, the RIO would pull the circuit breaker removing the power.  In the event, Inverarity is heard pulling the CB and Lawrence acknowledging  the action prior to the engagement.

During the investigation, the circuit breaker in question was found to be faulty.  In the pulled position, the slightest pressure would depress it and complete the circuit.  It was felt by the Board that the G Forces during the initial maneuver was enough to do this.

At a lengthy and public board of enquiry the blame fell squarely on the crew who had pulled the trigger and achieved the RAF’s only air-to-air kill with the mighty FGR.2. Both crew were found to be guilty and punished.

Prosecutor Capt. Christopher Eadie told the hearing:

‘A Phantom fitted with eight live missiles has a capacity for dealing death and destruction which imposes an onerous duty to take maximum care.’

The Board’s final determination was:

“A breakdown of safety checks led to the pilot getting the ‘growl’ in his headset, squeezing his trigger…and getting the ‘Kill’.”

 

Both men could have been sentenced to jail terms of two years each under the charges, but were only reprimanded by a judge advocate .

 

 

North Sea Ejection

The North Sea, 22 NOV 1975- Captain Jim Evans (33), pilot and Lt. George Kuprian (29), WSO flying an F-4D Phantom II (66-0256) call sign  “Trest One” were conducting air combat training over the North Sea,  60 to 80 miles east of Great Yarmouth. Nearest…” (Great Yarmouth is a coastal town in Norfolk, east England).  Trest Two was flown by Frank Chuba.  Trest Three was flown by Ed Daniel. The aircraft was assigned to the 492nd TFS (48th TFW), RAF Lakenheath, UK.

Trest One suffered a compressor stall followed by a fire in the right engine.  Prior to ejecting , Captain Evans coordinated with Drayton Center to dispatch a rescue helicopter to the scene from RAF Mildenhall.  He then ordered the remaining flight Trest One and Two to establish a high and low RESCAP.  At this point, Evans headed west to the English coast.  This was when the second engine quit.  When the flight controls seized up, the crew ejected.  The ejections were successful and neither airman suffered injuries.  The remaining flight, Trest Three (Lead) and Trest  Two immediately established a RESCAP over the downed crew and followed them as they entered the water. Both crewmen were seen getting into the life rafts.  The sea conditions were six to nine foot swells with a water temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The survival of Evans and Kuprian, wet and cold in the bitter weather was in serious doubt.

The rescue became complicated when both the rescue helicopter and a UK Coast Guard ship responded.  Ed Daniel coordinated with the helicopter while trying to direct the ship to the survivors with no radio contact with the ship.  All the while working with Trest Two trying to maintain visual contact with the survivors. He also had intermittent radio contact with  Captain Evans who was coordinating his own rescue.

THIS IS THE RADIO TRAMSMISSION THAT DAY

Video by cowlovecow

Evans and Kuprian were both picked up by the British Helicopter. Kuprian never made it to his raft. In fact of the two under arm inflatables,  only one inflated. The chopper accidentally saw him going to pick up Jimmy. Definitely  “Angels on his shoulder”.

Ed Daniel remained on RESCAP until relieved by another flight of F-4’s from RAF Lakenheath.  It was estimated that the RESCAP would be BINGO fuel at 3000 lbs and have to return to base.  Daniel left with 1100 lbs remaining and never made it back to RAF Lakenheath.  After 80 miles, he diverted to a nearby runway.  The aircraft flamed out just after leaving the runway.

I have yet to find the Investagation Board’s report on this mishap.  If you have a copy, please drop it in the comments.

This mishap happened “on the weekend of 22/23 NOV 1975”.  Using my F-4 experience, if there was weekend flying they’d fly on Saturday to give us all of Sunday to fix whatever they, the pilots broke.  Therefore I placed the date of the mishap as 22 NOV 1975.