On January 4, 1989, two US F-14 Tomcats downed two Libyan MiG-23 Flogger Es in an engagement that has come to be known as the Gulf of Sidra incident. This was the second Gulf of Sidra incident following the downing of two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters in August 19, 1981.
In 1973 Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi claimed the Gulf of Sidra as territorial waters. Gaddafi named it The Line of Death, crossing this line would invite a military response. The USS John F. Kennedy was deployed near the Libyan coast. Late in the morning on January 4, 1989, Combat Air Patrol station was taken by two F-14A Tomcats belonging to the VF-32 Swordsmen squadron.Due to the presence of the Kennedy battle group near the Libyan coast, pilots were advised to expect some hostilities.
CDR Joseph Bernard Connelly and CDR Leo F. Enright were in F-14 AC207 (AC was the tail code for VF-32 Swordsmen) and LT Hermon C. Cook III and CDR Steven Patrick Collins were in AC204. At 11:50 the two aircraft were informed by a Grumman E-2 Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft that four Libyan MiG-23 Floggers had taken off from Al Bumbaw airfield near Tobruk. The Tomcats turned for an intercept, the first two MiGs were 50 km ahead of the rear pair. The common procedure at the time was to acquire and lock the enemy aircraft with the Tomcats powerful AWG-9 radar, a maneuver that generally ended with the enemy aircraft reversing their course and avoiding an engagement. The Tomcats locked the Floggers from 72 nautical miles away. The Tomcats then turned away from the head-on approach, thus indicating to the Floggers they do not wish to engage in combat.
The two Libyan MiGs changed their course and gained speed. They accelerated to 870 KTS (1,600 km/h) and were on an intercepting course, heading towards the two Tomcats. The Tomcats descended to 3,000 feet with their radars still tracking the Floggers. Due to the low altitude of the Tomcats, the Flogger pilots had no clear radar image of the Tomcats. This diving and climbing maneuver was executed four times, hoping the Floggers will be intimated and reverse heading.
“Warning Yellow weapons hold” was heard over the radio at 11:59 meaning the Tomcats were authorized to fire if threatened. The order to arm the Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles was given by the lead Tomcat’s RIO (Radar Intercept Officer). You can clearly hear him say “Master arm on, Master arm on” followed by “Bogeys have jinked back at me again”. At a range of 14 miles AC207’s RIO launches an AIM-7M Sparrow, surprising his pilot. “Fox 1 Fox 1” was heard over the radio. The missile failed to track so a second missile was launched “Fox 1 again”.
The Tomcats split. As the lead tomcat was circling to get a tail angle, the wingman engaged a Flogger with a Sparrow. The words “Good kill! Good kill!” and “Pilot ejected” can be heard over the radio. The last Flogger is shot down by the lead Tomcat using a Sidewinder missile. Both pilots were seen safely ejecting their planes. They were however lost at sea. The Tomcats set course for home, after one pilot broadcasts over the radio “Let’s get out of here.”
Gulf of Sidra incident video