Wolfhounds and Floggers

In the wee hours of the 17th of January, 1991, the aerial campaign to gain air superiority over Iraq and Kuwait kicked off with large flights of bomber, attack and fighter aircraft pummeling air bases and knocking any enemy fighters that strayed into their path out of the early morning skies. Iraqi generals wished to preserve their aerial capabilities and saw their only chance to do so through flying as many fighters as possible to a relatively safe-haven in Iran. To counter this, Coalition generals and admirals decided to establish a 24-hour screen between the Iranian and Iraqi border, preventing the escape of Iraqi MiGs. Among the different aircraft and crew staffing the screen were F-15 Eagles of the then-32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (“Wolfounds”) out of Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands. The last time the Wolfhounds had seen combat action was more than forty years previously, around the European theater in World War Two. That, however, was about to change.

On the 28th of January, a little over 11 days after the initial campaign began, a group of four Wolfhound Eagles, callsigns Bite 1/2/3/4, had taken off from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on a BARCAP* mission to keep an eye out for any Iraqi jets attempting to cross over into Iran, and shoot them down if the need arose. Without much success in spotting bogeys or fleeing hostiles, the four-ship flight made contact with a tanker cell and formed up for a refueling. Towards the end of the refueling, an AWACS** reported four bandits on their powerful radars, vectored towards Iran. Breaking away from the tankers after completing their gas intake, Bite 3 flown by Captain “Bagwan” Baughan, the flight lead, acknowledged the controller aboard the AWACS and soon, Bites 1-4 had their Eagles screaming southward through the sky towards their unwitting Iraqi prey.

USAF Photograph
USAF Photograph

Approaching their quarry, Bite flight enacted a textbook interception upon the bandits and soon Bite 4, flown by Captain Donald “Muddy” Watrous, locked onto a MiG while Bagwan’s radar went inoperative. Cleared to give chase and engage, Muddy came down on his MiG from over five miles above to the rear. Deciding to jettison his external fuel tanks to build speed, Muddy went through the procedures to do so but only realized too late that his Eagle was past the speed limit for a proper jettison. Therefore, as the left tank came off, it nicked the left wingtip, damaging it slightly. Nevertheless, Muddy, now accelerating smoothly past the speed of sound, was committed to the pursuit.

At Rmax (maximum weapons range) for his AIM-7M Sparrows, Muddy loosed four separate shots at the MiG, who by now had probably wised up to the presence of the American Eagles in the area. Muddy, now within Rmax for his AIM-9M Sidewinders, was ready to mail another missile toward the MiG, but a huge fireball blossomed in the sky. The Iraqi jet took one of the Sparrows to the right side of its fuselage, effectively blowing it out of the sky. By now, most of Bite 4 was at bingo fuel*** and had to turn home. In addition, Muddy and the remaining jets were getting dangerously closer to Iranian airspace, which they were not cleared to enter at all, so they broke off the chase and pushed back towards a tanker cell. After Muddy and Bagwan filled up their tanks, they returned to Incirlik, followed soon after by Bites 1 and 2. Several days later, Muddy’s kill was confirmed and the jet he shot down was identified as a MiG-23 Flogger, a variable-geometry Soviet fighter export.

What better way to celebrate the birthday of the mighty F-15 than with a story of success?

1991 32 TFS group photograph. Capt D. "Muddy" Watrous is in the front row, farthest on the right. USAF Photograph.
1991 32 TFS group photograph. Capt D. “Muddy” Watrous is in the front row, farthest on the right. (Author: A.G. Sevinga)

* BARrier Combat Air Patrol

** Airborne Warning and Control System

*** Minimum fuel level at which an aircraft can return to base safely.


5 thoughts on “Wolfhounds and Floggers

  1. You guys make sound so easy to get a Mig. I am from the Indian military and we have all kinds of aircraft including the flogger. We constantly go against other “types” including from other countries. The Mig 21 or a 23 is hard to get at flown by a good pilot. Recent exercises like Cope India have shown the US that their Tomcats and Eagles can get their ass handed to them by these aircraft. Forget about the Mig 29 and the Su 31’s; these are even tougher to get at. Our neighbor has F16’s and F14’s. Your Sabre (F86 ) famously known as the Mig killer was outgunned and outmaneuvered by a diminutive home made Indian aircraft called the Gnat..which earned the name “Sabre killer” in the 1971 Indo Pak war.

    Most aircraft are good these days. the avionics and on board systems are great, but it is also the pilot that matters most. Just sharing with the viewers that it is not all that easy


    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      On the subject of 2nd/3rd generation MiG-21s and MiG-23s pitted against modern 4th generation fighters outfitted with advanced radars and weaponry, even if the pilot’s relatively well-trained with a good number of hours in the airframe logged in the books, he’s still sorely disadvantaged.

      With regards to Cope India exercises between the United States Air Force and the Indian Air Force, I believe you were referring to the inaugural Cope India EX, back in 2004 when 18 IAF aircraft achieved a 9:1 kill ratio over 6 USAF aircraft in mock aerial combat. In discussing this particular EX, a few incredibly important factors that seem to be forgotten very quickly are that A. None of the F-15Cs participating had been equipped with the newest long-range, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and were scheduled to have them outfitted at a later date, and, B. Due to an Indian request, USAF commanding officers participating in the exercise agreed to simulate aerial combat at 3-to-1 odds and without the use of simulated long-range, radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAMs that would greatly even out the odds, opening the door to BVR kills inflicted by the Eagles. American pilots immediately heaped praise on the Indian pilots they faced, and the inverse was also true from Indian pilots to the American ones. I think that factoring in the aforementioned variables, however, would drastically change the outcome of the EX. I also think you’re being more than a little unfair in not realizing the removal of these variables did give the IAF a significant advantage, and your criticism could be tempered. Additionally, I don’t believe that India faced F-14s at that time, due to the fact that Cope India was strictly between the USAF and the IAF. The F-14 was operated by the United States Navy, a non-participating entity at the time.

      Furthermore, the Su-31 is an aerobatic single-engined propeller aircraft built by Sukhoi. The only reason they’d be tougher to get at is because their top speed comes near the landing approach speeds of the fighters they’d mostly likely be unable to attack.

      As for your nearest neighbor possessing F-14s… I’m not entirely sure if there’s any credibility to that statement, as Iran is the only country other than the United States to have ever actively flown the Tomcat.

      On the subject of the Canadair Sabre Mk6 versus the Indian-piloted Folland Gnat, you’re right! The IAF did fly the Gnat quite brilliantly against the Sabre, but you do realize that the MiG Killer moniker was from the Korean War, 20-odd years previous to the Indo-Pak War of 1971, right? That’s back when they faced MiG-17s. The next aircraft to earn that nickname was the F-4 Phantom II, thanks to the Vietnam War. I wonder what the outcome of a fight between a Phantom and a Gnat would look like.

      I think the issue here is the fact that we tend to give a ton of credit to the pilot more than we do the systems the pilot flies with. It’s the demonstration of an interesting shift in thought from back in the day when the defense industry’s leaders thought that technology would surpass the pilot, to today, where we think it’s the human element that is far more vital to air combat operations. What we should be seeing is a balance between the two, slightly favoring technology over the human factor. Pilots can only do so much in the way of BFM during ACM to get themselves a firing solution before deploying missiles. It’s up to their radars, targeting computers and weaponry to do the rest, and in that regard, the United States Air Force is undoubtedly home to the most technologically-advanced gear around.

      I’d like to share with our viewers that while it isn’t all that easy, technology strives to make it so.


  2. Hi, I’m a bit surprised to see the 32nd TFS group photograph credited with USAF photograph while I was the one who took this picture. I have no idea where you got this picture, and it’s fine with me to illustrate this very nice article but it is ‘fair-play’ to add my name.


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