The electronics-jamming EF-111A Raven is not a combat plane. But a Raven that lured an Iraqi fighter into a death trap may be credited with the first air kill of the war.
The U.S. Air Force is investigating whether the two-man crew of the EF-111A will go down in history for destroying an Iraqi F-1 Mirage minutes after the war began on Jan. 17.Capt. Brent D. Brandon, 30, of Houston, the plane's electronic warfare officer, said the Iraqi fighter rolled in a mile or so behind the EF-111A near an airfield in western Iraq and fired a missile directly at its clear canopy.
"I actually saw the missile snaking," Brandon said Thursday.
The American jet immediately dove to within a few hundred feet of the ground and released chaff and decoy flares to try to divert the heat-seeking missile from its engines.
At the same time, the pilot, Capt. Jim Denton, accelerated toward the speed of sound and made a hard right banking turn, Brandon said.
The Iraqi fighter couldn't match the maneuver.
"And that's when we see the fireball behind us ... as the guy hit the ground," Brandon said.
"We got so low he couldn't hack it and smeared into the ground behind us," Brandon said. "It can't turn as tight. . . And they can't fly as well as we can at low altitude."
The Iraqi missile sped by behind the jet, but Brandon said he didn't know how close it came.
"I was breathing pretty hard at the time," he said with a laugh. "It was a real gee-whiz thing."
For Brandon and Denton, getting official recognition for the first enemy kill of the war would be an unprecedented mark of distinction for their plane.
It can detect and identify different enemy radars observing an attack force and use electronic countermeasures to make them ineffective. But unlike fighters, the EF-111A doesn't carry any anti-aircraft missiles to defend itself.
"We'd get the first kill instead of the F-15 bubbleheads," Brandon said, referring to the pilots of the bubble-canopied F-15C fighters, which are designed to intercept enemy aircraft.
"The bubbleheads think they are really glamorous, but the real work is done by the dirt movers (bombers)," he said.
Those early morning hours of Jan. 17 are etched in Brandon's memory.
An Air Force Academy graduate, the father of four was flying his first combat mission.