The Spy Planes That Israeli F-4 Phantom Fighters Were Never Able to Shoot Down

Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Security,

A crazy story. 

The Spy Planes That Israeli F-4 Phantom Fighters Were Never Able to Shoot Down

The reason the Israeli Air Force (IAF)worked so hard to obtain the F-4 in the late 1960s, and relied on it for so much, is clear. The big jet’s range, payload, and bombing accuracy were superior by orders of magnitude to anything they had operated up to that time.

In fact, after having been acquired in 1969 the Phantom quickly became the backbone of the IAF.

By October 1973 the IAF claimed 11 kills to the Phantom’s credit.

However, there were some adversaries that the Phantom would never be able to catch. During 1970 the Soviet Union began flying Yak-26 Mandrake high-altitude reconnaissance missions over Israel. This aircraft proved unreachable. Soviet MiG-25R (X-500) photo-recce flights, as fast as Mach 3.2 and 73,000ft (22,250m) altitude, were also conducted from Egypt by Soviet pilots beginning in March 1971. The first ‘Foxbat-B’ flights, parallel to the Canal and perhaps into the Sinai, may have occurred in October 1971. As explained by Bill Norton in his book Air War On The Edge: A History of the Israel Air Force and its aircraft since 1947, the most worrisome reconnaissance flight occurred on Oct. 10 when a pair of the jets flew parallel to the Israeli and Sinai Mediterranean coastline, 17 miles (27km) offshore, at Mach 2.5 and extreme altitude. Attempts to intercept the intruders were fruitless. Although initially only able to respond with recce overflights of their own and booming Cairo, by the time of the second MiG-25 intrusion (all flights with pairs of jets) over the Sinai on Nov. 6 the Israelis had a plan for meeting it.

They had stripped several Phantoms of non-essential gear to improve performance and were armed only with AIM-7 Sparrows. Sitting alert, it was hoped that the jets could be launched with sufficient warning to perform a zoom climb from Mach 1.4 to 44,000ft (13,410m) and launch their missiles in a high nose-up attitude and leading the target. However, the proximity fuse of the missiles and the Phantom’s fire control computer were not suitable for such engagement conditions and the warheads detonated too late. This failure and US experimentation in answering the ‘Foxbat’ threat resulted in the more advanced AIM-7F being delivered to Israel in 1974. Two more flights over the Sinai were made on Mar. 10 and May 16 of 1972. These flights were quite worrisome for the West, not for the intelligence they might gather but merely because of what they revealed about the performance of the MiG-25. For Israel the frustration of having their installations photographed with impunity ended when President Sadat ordered the Soviets out of his country in July.

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