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Gulf of Sidra incident (1981)
Artist's depiction of Fast Eagle 107's AIM-9 Sidewinder about to hit a Libyan Su-22
Date August 19, 1981
Location Gulf of Sidra, Mediterranean Sea
Result U.S. victory
Flag of Libya.svg Libya United States United States
2 Sukhoi Su-22 aircraft 2 F-14A Tomcats
Casualties and losses
2 aircraft downed; pilots ejected & assumed alive none.

In the first Gulf of Sidra incident, August 19, 1981, two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter attack aircraft were shot down by two American F-14 Tomcats off of the Libyan coast.



In the 1970s, Libya had claimed a 12 mile extension zone of its territorial waters in the Gulf of Sidra, which prompted US naval forces to conduct Freedom of Navigation operations in the area, the so-called "line of death". These operations intensified when Ronald Reagan came to office; in August 1981, he authorized a large naval force, led by USS Forrestal and Nimitz, to deploy off the Libyan coast. The Libyan Air Force responded by deploying a high number of interceptors and fighter-bombers. Early on the morning of August 18, when the US exercise began, at least three MiG-25 'Foxbats' approached the US carrier groups, but were escorted away by F-4 Phantom IIs from Forrestal and F-14s of VF-41 and VF-84 from Nimitz. The Libyans tried to establish the exact location of the US naval force. Thirty-five pairs of MiG-23 'Floggers', MiG-25s, Sukhoi Su-20 'Fitter-Cs', Su-22M 'Fitter-Js' and Mirage F.1s flew into the area, and were soon intercepted by seven pairs of F-14s and F-4s. The situation was tense, but neither side fired any weapons, even in at least two cases when MiG-25s tried to breach through the American fighters by flying high and fast.


On the morning of August 19, two VF-41 "Black Aces" F-14As, "Fast Eagle 102" (CDR Henry Kleeman/LT David Venlet) and "Fast Eagle 107" (LT Lawrence Muczynski/LTJG James Anderson), were flying combat air patrol to cover aircraft engaged in a missile exercise. An E-2B Hawkeye from VAW-124 made radar contact with two Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters which had left Okba Ben Nafi Air Base near Tripoli.

Kleeman and Venlet's F-14 Tomcat from the incident is on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

The two F-14s were ordered to intercept. Only a few seconds before the crossing, at an estimated distance of 300 m, one of the Libyans fired an AA-2 "Atoll" at one of the F-14s, which missed. Then the two Sukhois flew past the Americans and tried to escape. The Tomcats evaded and were cleared to return fire by their "rules of engagement", which mandated self defense on the initiation of hostile action. The F-14s turned hard port and came behind the Libyan jets. The Americans fired AIM-9L Sidewinders; the first kill is credited to Fast Eagle 102, the second to Fast Eagle 107. Both Libyan pilots ejected.

The official United States Navy report states that both Libyan pilots ejected and were safely recovered, but in the official audio recording of the incident taken from USS Biddle, one of the F-14 pilots states that he saw a Libyan pilot eject, but his parachute failed to open.[1]

Less than an hour later, while the Libyans were conducting a search and rescue operation of their downed pilots, two fully-armed MiG-25s entered the airspace over the Gulf and headed towards the US carriers at Mach 1.5 and conducted a mock attack in the direction of USS Nimitz. Two VF-41 Tomcats and one VF-84 Tomcat headed towards the Libyans, who then turned around. The Tomcats turned home, but had to turn around again when the Libyans headed towards the US carriers once more. After being tracked by the F-14s' radars, the MiGs finally headed home. One more Libyan formation ventured out into the Gulf towards the US forces later that day.[2]

See also


  1. ^ "USS Biddle Ship's History 1967–1993 (Audio recording from the dogfight and a short text transcript)". United States Navy. 1981-08-18.  
  2. ^ Libyan Wars, 1980-1989, Part 2 By Tom Cooper.

External links



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