Mirage pilot interview, Part 4: The tricky art of intercepting B-52s
Now a crack aerobatic pilot, Gonzalo O’Kelly was once one of the best fighter pilots in the Spanish air force. During his time in the Ejército del Aire he flew the Mirage III, a formidable and beautiful fighter of French origin. In the fourth part of our Mirage special he shares his most surprising intercept.
Mirage III versus B-52
“In four years and more than 800 flight hours, there were a lot of notable flights, but the one coming to the mind was, perhaps, a very demanding sortie that I flew in a huge air defence exercise that included USAF. Two Mirages with my friend Lieutenant Maestre and myself, were scrambled to intercept two enemy aircrafts flying high with a northeast track, south of Madrid. Manises AB is placed east of Spain so they were flying approximately towards us.
In our first communication with our interception controller, he told us two traces were flying at 45 angels! (45,000 feet, so they were not hiding at all), and flying extremely slowly at about 200 kts IAS.
We were surprised because we had never engaged such a conspicuous target, and never one so high and slow, but up we went, climbing in afterburner, and reached 45 angels in about 10 minutes.
The second surprise (a nasty one) was that we had to maintain military power to stay at that altitude and speed (250 kts IAS). Flight controls and throttle had to be handled very carefully, or we could lose altitude or speed or both…and any sudden movement of throttles could lead to a compressor stall.
The third surprise was that we had radar contact with the targets when they were 25 miles away, very unusual for the old Cyrano II.
But the biggest surprise was having a tally-ho with two ponderous big B-52Es, (with radar-guided twin 20-mm cannon in the back), flying wide abreast. They were about 10 miles leaving a trail of black smoke behind them.
We had them in our 1 o’clock, so I decided to get closer and turn right towards their 6. When I was about 1 mile, the closest B-52 made a high bank turn towards me — which I was unable to follow because of my slow speed so I had to go down and accelerate again. My wingman did the same while approaching the second B-52.
It was easy for them turn like that at such an altitude, with those tremendous wings, but not for us.
So down we went, accelerated and set afterburner to climb again. This time we approached from behind them but then our radar warning lit up showing we had been locked on by their rear cannons. So we immediately broke, and headed down again. More afterburner, another climbing and this time we closed on them from their 3 o’clock. Of course they made their defensive 60º bank turns towards us, but this time we made some nice gun camera snapshoots with the pipper right between their wings.
After flying over them, we joined in close formation with their leader and flew with them for a short while to pay them our respects (a very short time indeed because we were a bit beyond our Bingo fuel). I’ll never forget that enormous aircraft turning hard towards me, it was terrific.”
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Only 60 degrees of bank? We used to do 90 when we were playing with the F-4s up high.
Super fascinating hi-altitude interception story
Had they been MiG-21s they would have hit bingo after the failed second pass. But Su-7s? Would have got them.