This is What It’s Like to be Attacked by SAMs in an F-16

Ever wonder what it’s like to be painted by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) while flying inside a fighter jet? This incredible video gives you an idea of what happens when a fighter pilot’s world comes apart and faces down not one or two, but SIX radar-homed missiles streaking his way. The footage was taken from the heads up display camera of a US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon during the infamous Package Q Strike on January 19th, 1991, two days into Operation Desert Storm.

Package Q was the largest airstrike mission carried out during the Gulf War, flown by 56 F-16 Vipers (the largest F-16 strike in history), 6 Wild Weasel F-4 Phantom IIs, and 14 F-15C Eagles. The target was the Tawaitha nuclear reactor, just southeast of Baghdad. The gargantuan strike force would be facing hundreds of surface-to-air emplacements, including anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and modern SAMs that could easily take out an Eagle or Viper if the conditions were ripe.

Major Emmett Tullia of the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing was in one of Vipers attached to the strike force; his callsign, “Stroke 3”. He was tasked with dropping munitions on one of the predesignated targets during the operation. The below footage comes from his aircraft.

Package Q proved to be a colossal mess right from the very beginning. Scheduled aerial refueling went awry due to inclement weather, and four F-16s had to return to base. Constant engagement by SAMs and high-altitude AAA was to be dealt with by the Wild Weasel F-4s, who peeled off to tackle the problem. However, they were confronted with fuel issues of their own, and their component of the larger mission was mostly incomplete.

With the strike flight entering disarray, guided SAMs were being fired off as soon as Iraqi soldiers on the ground could get a good read on the aircraft above. Soon, the F-15Cs, originally supposed to be flying top cover, left the flight, and the entire force egressed Baghdad airspace, still dodging SAMs and AAA fire. Two F-16s were hit by SAMs during egress, and both pilots were able to successfully eject, though they were captured by Iraqi Republican Guard troops soon after.

As I said earlier, Major Tullia, in his F-16, was on the receiving end of six guided SAMs, all of which he somehow evaded after dropping his bombs on-target before safely returning to base. The missile warnings begin (in the video) around the 3:00 minute mark, and you can hear constant radio chatter all the way through, as the strike force ducks and weaves while trying to sort through the confusion. Tullia’s breathing becomes noticeably heavier as he sustains considerable G-forces, twisting the Viper through the sky while attempting to dodge the SAMs coming his way. At certain parts of the video, smoke trails are visible from the SAMs, as well.

What I find even more incredible (than that Tullia beat six SAMs), was that upon landing, his F-16 was inspected and it was discovered that he never deployed any of his countermeasures while engaged. That means that his chaff and flares were still in their dispensers, and he dodged every single SAM on flying skill and determination alone. Tullia was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his superior airmanship in the face of frightful odds.

The remains of one of the F-16s lost during the Package Q Strike. Photograph: CW2 Kevin Belanger, public domain.

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