The event was de-classified and forgotten years ago, but I can still close my eyes and remember it just as it happened...

20,000 feet, going up at 45 degrees, crowding Mach one but keeping it sub in deference to the residents of Eilat over there on the right. It's cold outside, we've climbed into sunlight, still dark on the ground when we were scrambled a couple of minutes ago.

On my left the needle nose of Duv's Mirage IIICJ keeps wandering into my peripheral vision. An eager kid, he still wants to formate tight, despite all my teachings. Well, not a problem right now, we're in friendly airspace and staying there, but another chat will be required. "I want you at least a klick away, give us both room to move and keep me out of the debris when some SAM smacks your cocky arse."

He's good, and he knows it.

We've been yanked out of a sleepy Quick Reaction Alert stance in the revetments at base by a ground controller who doesn't like the look of a formation of Migs out over Jordan. It's mid '72, the War of Attrition is keeping us busy as several Arab airforces probe Israel's borders, looking for chinks and needing to be escorted off the property.

We top off at 35,000, not a particularly safe place, SAMS reach here easy, but inside the border its a good patrol height and according to ground those Migs are down around 15, altitude is advantage.....

I flex my shoulders, shaking out the kinks, I'd been reading a good book when we got the call, half asleep in the cockpit, hope one of the crew caught it when I tossed it over the side and rolled.

Under my wings a pair of Shafrir infrared homing missiles, hopefully they won't be needed today, this has the feel of a false alarm, but we'll see.

We stretch our legs now, going out to Mach 1.8, any faster and we'll just be overshooting or orbiting, the trick is to get there just when they maybe go for the border, testing us out. 1.8 looks about right, those Migs will be a quarter into their fuel by now, about the time they usually come play if they are going to.

It's still dark down below, but we're in full sunshine, so will the Migs, four -21s control thinks, we'll soon know...

Suddenly ground is getting excited, "Turning in now!" Good, our timing is right on the money, down in front of my nose the invisible line of dispute called the border is seconds away. We hold course but nudge over into a dive and light up our radar, debatable if they knew we were coming before, their ground control is not too swift, especially out here, but we just set off their RWRs, a friendly wake-up call, gotcha!

Out of the haze we see them appear, four dots that grow and resolve at frightening speed, on the nose at close to 2000 knots closure, will they or won't they come in and play?

In a split second it all dissolves, someone in that stupidly tight formation of four just had a bit of brain-fade, they dart left and right avoiding each other, hard not to laugh, but we're a little busy ourselves.

One Mig gets forced west in his formation break and crosses that invisible line, the others turn tail.

In an instant we have swooped in, cutting him off, he sees us, tries to duck east and thinks better of it.

I come out of a rolling turn taking off about eight gees as I flatten into the pursuit, hanging west to keep him flanked from the cities toward the coast, Duv has gone high, covering my tail.

The Mig dives, twisting and rolling, looking for safety down low, and I stay with him, closing up, all over him. Somewhere in there I've armed the Shafrirs, reflex action, the heads are now growling at me, sensing the hot exhaust of the -21, eager to fly. This guy is now inside our airspace, nothing to stop me taking him out, but we have a mandate, try and scare them home, less of them will come back.

As we descend I get closer, going inside missile range, although the Shafrirs, just Sidewinder copies really, but better in close, still growl, I click over to guns. I don't want to shoot this guy, but just in case he goes offensive.

We are getting low now, down below a hundred feet, I realise he's pretty good, beginning to think a Russian, the Arab pilots just don't fly this way.

A rise ahead sends us both ballooning, the other side updates my internal GPS. Hell! We got here this quick? The Dead Sea is looming before us.

He rolls over his balloon and drops lower, running straight now, and perhaps twenty feet off the water. With the slight speed advantage a Mirage has at this altitude, below sea level in fact, I am all over him. In his cockpit his RWR must be screaming incessantly, and as I come along side I can see him, snatching glances at me but very, very busy staying out of the water.

Behind me Duv has moved up and away to the left and I hear him call to me, "not so low boss!"

It's time to finish this. I drop back a little and sink below, nudging my nose in close under his tail and trigger a brief burst from the DEFA cannon. The shells pass directly under his fuselage and raise splashes on the surface that are whipped away behind us in an instant.

That does it. He rears up, 'burner flaring, probably low on fuel by now but frantic to get away as he turns and heads for Jordan, no doubt cringing in his seat, expecting a missile in his tail at any instant.

I pull up and away, near vertical, hurtling above the steep walls of the sea, rolling around the climb to keep an eye on him, sensing Duv climbing with me behind and wondering what it is he's saying as my body shudders in delayed adrenaline shock.

I pull my head back into the cockpit and sweep across the gauges. Running low and hard like that has the Atar turbojet a little hot and rough and fuel is becoming a concern. I report in to ground and get a clearance to Beersheba, returning to base would be touch and go.

A few minutes later we are on the ground and parked, ground crews already swarming over our aircraft to have us ready for the next call.

As I swing down Duv comes running over: "Wow! did you realise how low you were?"

"Not really, just low enough to do the job, why?"

He showed me his gun-camera footage. I had streaked half the length of the Dead Sea rarely more than six feet above the waves, pulling a rooster tail that had forced Duv back and to the side. So that was where all that dried salt on the Mirage had come from...Just as well there were no boats out that morning....

We heard later the Mig had run out of fuel and ejected before he got back to a strip. Another that would not be likely to disturb our early morning cockpit vigils.

The things you do when you're young and hot and convinced you are immortal.


MIG 21

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