Gigs and Vegas were flying routine patrol just east of Baghdad when they spotted four Iraqi planes on radar, apparently trying to escape into Iran.
The two U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter pilots were 60 miles away from the jets heading for the border Wednesday on the clear morning but took only minutes to close the distance to about 7 miles, aim and fire.It was a hit.
"It was just the most spectacular thing I have ever seen," said Gigs, the only identification he would give.
How many planes he and his partner Vegas initially shot down was unclear. The pilots reported shooting down all four jets - two MiG-21s and two Su-25s. U.S. military officials initially said they could confirm hits only on the Su-25s. On Thursday, a spokesman said all four planes were shot down.
After Gigs landed following the kill, he climbed out of his cockpit and gave Vegas an exuberant high-five on the tarmac.
"I felt kind of cautious for starters," Vegas said of the midair encounter. "We had to make sure there were no others around that we didn't see. I just ran on down there wondering whether we were going to get shot back at or anything like that. It was kind of nice when they didn't."
The Pentagon has estimated a total of 120 Iraqi aircraft have taken refuge in Iran since the war began three weeks ago.
U.S. officials said they accept Iranian pledges not to free the planes until after the war. But Gigs said that once he and Vegas spotted the Iraqi jets, their mission was to prevent the planes from leaving Iraq.
"That's what we did," said Gigs. "They were eastbound, obviously heading toward Iran, and we were able to push it up enough to go ahead and cut them off before they were able to make it."
The Iraqi planes were flying low, perhaps less than 100 feet, in an apparent attempt to avoid radar detection. The jets immediately burst into flames after Gigs and Vegas fired. The Iraqi pilots apparently had no time to bail out.
"We didn't see any chutes," Gigs said.
"They started catching fire and we got out of there as fast as we could after we shot them," said Vegas.
Gigs and Vegas's squadron commander was jubilant over his boys' success. "That was great," Lt. Col. Randy Bigum told the two pilots upon their arrival back at their base in central Saudi Arabia.
Ground crews immediately painted two 3-by-5-inch Iraqi flags below the cockpits of their planes.