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The Engagement

A short story by Major Rob Robinette

Captain Rob, callsign "Rotor," was halfway through a high yoyo maneuver when his day really began. A high yoyo is a fighter maneuver used to gain a firing solution on a bandit in a one-circle fight. Rob was pulling the nose of his F-15C Eagle down and right at 9g toward the Iranian Mig-29 Fulcrum when he felt a sting in his left foot. He thought that strange and frowned under his oxygen mask at the untimely distraction.

Aircraft A pulls up into a High Yoyo maneuver to gain a firing position behind aircraft B.

A low frequency shudder pushed into his consciousness as his oxygen mask began to lift away from his face, pushed by the air forced from his lungs by the rapidly decompressing cockpit. "Shit, someone shot a hole in my Eagle," he realized. He whipped his head around to check his 6 o'clock but it was clear so he pressed on for a shot. Instinctively he added left rudder to counter an increasing right yaw as he switched the radar into vertical scan with his right thumb for a quick lock and AIM-9L missile seeker slew while fighting the squeeze of his g-suit with short bursts of breath in an effort to stem the g induced loss of peripheral vision. A low frequency growl from his helmet speaker confirmed he was in heat seeking missile mode.

The F-15C Eagle was designed for air-to-air combat.

While straining to keep the Mig in sight he noticed his right wingtip rip away as he heard the Engine Fire warning horn in his helmet speaker. "Shit," he said aloud as he attempted to roll wings level and reached for the flashing number two Engine Fire handle. His hand never made it to the handle due to the high g yaw/roll caused by the failing wingtip. Even now with multiple warning alarms assaulting his ears and a possible loss of control the Captain wasn't out of the fight. He figured if he could get level enough to pull into the vertical while dropping airspeed he could get some distance from the bandit, maintain energy, handle the emergencies then pull over the top for a snapshot at the Fulcrum or the lucky bastard who put lead into his Eagle and burning foot. "Will the gun function with the loss of hydraulic number 2?" he thought as the smell of smoke filled his nostrils, "This is getting interesting." He keyed the mike and said, "Two, I'm hit, do you have the shooter in sight?"

Using full right rudder and full right stick he was able to level the wings and begin that climb into the vertical while twisting around to check 6 and find the "lucky bastard." "Rotor, you're on fire! Bail out! Bail out! Bail out!" screamed his wingman.

"Not so fast, Chuckie," he thought to himself, "These Migs aren't going to shoot themselves down." He pulled the fire handle, silenced the alarm and reset the Master Caution while scanning for bandits. "How's the fire look now, Two?"

"Smoke is gone, negative on the bandit!" reported Two. As the airspeed dropped to 100 knots Captain Rob gently pulled the nose down and found the bastard. It was an SU-27 Flanker maneuvering for a shot on Two. "Two, bandit at 7 o'clock, jink!" he shouted over the radio. "Since when did the Iranian Air Force have SU-27s? This may be a Russian fighter pilot I'm up against here," Rob thought as a shot of adrenaline kicked his mind into the next gear.

Rob corkscrewed the nose down and around for an easy bore sight heater lock on the target fixated Russian. Rob keyed up the radio and reported, "Fox two," to let his wingman know of the missile shot. The missile came off the rail and intercepted the bastard in a beautiful arc of smoke and flame. "Splash one!" screamed Two over the radio. "No shit," thought Rob, "Now where'd that Fulcrum go?"

About the author: Major Rob Robinette began his flying career just after high school in the US Army. He graduated from Aviator training as a Warrant Officer 1 in February '79 and flew his first assignment as a UH-1H Huey pilot with the 2nd Infantry Division in northern South Korea. He became an aircraft commander while in Korea at age 20. Upon return from Korea he was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas. He soon transitioned to the OH-58A Kiowa (Bell Jet Ranger). In 1981 he became a pilot member of the World Champion United States Helicopter Team which competed in Poland against teams from the Soviet Union, Poland, East and West Germany, France and Britain. The team won the individual and team world championship. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robinette separated from the Army in January '82 and attended college and Air Force ROTC at the University at Texas at Austin. Second Lieutenant Robinette graduated and was commissioned in May of '85. He attended Air Force Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training at Sheppard AFB, Texas. His first assignment after graduation was an F-15 Eagle to Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Rob also flew two tours in the C-141 Starlifter in addition to a four year tour as an instructor at the Air Force Academy. He attended the Air Force Flight Safety Officer Course in 1995. In May '96 he earned an MBA in Finance from the University of Colorado. After retiring from the Air Force in 2002 he began flying for Southwest Airlines and retired in 2023. Rob also holds an FAA Powerplant Mechanic and CFII (Certificated Flight Instructor Instrument) rating.

Read about Rob's most dangerous assignment in the T-3A Firefly.


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