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Retro Pic of the Day: F-15s Intercepting MiG-29s

by John Reed on February 16, 2012

Happy Thursday. Let’s start things off with this great picture of two U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagles out of Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska intercepting a pair of Soviet MiG-29s over the Bering Sea back in the day.

The shot, taken in 1989, shows the wingman crossing over the lead jet’s contrail in order to position himself behind the MiGs should he need to open fire on them with the lead fighter zooms up parallel the MiGs to get a visual ID of the Soviet planes. The wingman, now trailing both the formation leader and the Soviet planes, can monitor all the jets in the air while positioning himself to fire. The pic was taken from the gun camera of one of two other F-15s that were right behind the jets shown.

Interceptions like this were commonplace around the globe during the Cold War as NATO and Warsaw Pact jets constantly skirted the borders of their potential enemies testing reaction times and collecting intelligence. The practice still goes on, as I’m sure you know.  Russia has resumed the practice of sending long range bomber patrols to skirt borders of the  U.S. and other NATO states recently.

Remember, these intercepts don’t always go smoothly; think back to the U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries surveillance plane that collided with the Chinese fighter sent to intercept it back in 2001. The Chinese jet crashed and the pilot died while the American intel plane was forced to make an emergency landing at a Chinese airfield where it was held for a while.

Via David Cenciotti.

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Lew February 16, 2012 at 10:54 am

That is an outstanding picture in so many ways, true aviation art. Any chance of a higher-rez post?


blight February 16, 2012 at 11:06 am

From main source (though not the primary source)


Kevin February 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm
Lew February 18, 2012 at 12:26 am

Many thanks!


Dollom February 16, 2012 at 11:11 am

I thought this pic is from when Soviet fighters visited Elmendorf AFB on invitation from the USAF…?


Allen February 17, 2012 at 9:39 am

It was, just more "stellar" fact-checking from DT…….


jamesb February 16, 2012 at 11:19 am

Great Picture….
The less of this the better….
As mentioned stuff happens….
(Reminds me of the Hunt for Red October)


Prodozul February 16, 2012 at 11:59 am

Incredible photo


chaos0xomega February 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm

So, err… which plane is carrying the copy of playboy to taunt the Rooskies with?


Twidget at large February 16, 2012 at 11:25 am

You need to ask? The one going for a visual confirmation of course.


Jacob February 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm

What did the Russians taunt our guys with? Bottles of vodka?


Steve B. February 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Think "SvimVear"


Panzer April 11, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Making fun of our accents, eh?


TinkersDam February 21, 2012 at 6:46 am

I've seen late-80s/early-90s video of "Bear" intercepts with the Bear's tail gunner waving a copy of Newsweek, another where the gunner had a can of Coke.


Lance February 16, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Cool picture. Most of the time that's how western pilots got to see Soviet aircraft. The MiG-31 Foxhound is a prime example. The F-15s speed makes it the best interceptor in the world today.


Belesari February 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

And thats how most russians saw the SR-71 :)


Lance February 17, 2012 at 12:12 am

Very true.


Gerald February 17, 2012 at 7:49 am

No, they didn's see it. >:)


Stratege February 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm

SR-71 was quite vulnerable against the Soviet air defenses and aircraft (Mig-31 especially). The person who think oppositely is pretty naive. Thats why Blackbirds had never tried to deep penetration of the Soviet airspace.


William C. February 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Quite vulnerable? Not really. To have a shot at intercept required pretty complex coordination from a number of MiG-31s which usually required somebody phoning in a SR-71 long before it got close to the actual USSR. The reason SR-71s never officially went deep into Soviet territory was more a matter of politics and not wanting to take the risk.


Stratege February 21, 2012 at 2:39 am

You forget about Soviet SAM.
S-200 / SA-2 was more than enough for guaranteed kill of the SR-71 – the plane with straightforward maneuverability..

William C. February 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Now there was indeed risk, but if done right a SR-71 could probably overfly some important stuff.


Stratege March 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm

SR-71 was pretty fast… BUT:
1. Not as fast as SAM missile (S-200's or S-300's missiles)
2. It was quite detectable bird
3. It had straightforward maneuverability with literally zero chance to avoid SAM missile

Obsolete SA-2 and poor air defense in third countries are not arguments.

SR-71 is not invulnerable "wounderwaffe"

Stratege September 3, 2012 at 4:47 am

Sorry, but the MiG-31 is the best interceptor today

- The unit of four MiG-31 can protect 600 km wide air space (800-900km as stated in some sources, prob with updated radar). The targets info could be shared through data link.

- It has a top speed which is faster than F-15s speed

– It's well suited to intercept low-flying cruise missiles with its large powerful radar and AAMs with a very long range(what F-15 or F-22 can't do i believe)

- MiG-31 holds very impressive record – the world's longest kill with air-air missile – 304km (188mi)

While F-15 is a great air superiority fighter jet, it's not as a good as interceptor.


Black Owl February 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm

This picture just makes me miss the Cold War even more!


chaos0xomega February 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Ahh the good old days when the defense budget was an easily defensible sacred cow, if only I had been born a few decades earlier /sniffle


blight_ February 16, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Which parts of the defense budget? The Cold War didn't mean that the government (Hyman Rickover, for starters) wouldn't try to hit the defense industry in the face if they felt the government was getting screwed or was buying a white elephant. Though nowadays it does seem like almost any program can hit the chopping block, regardless of practicality; and that the budget seems more dependent on political sensibilities than utility.


Dfens February 17, 2012 at 8:51 am

They hit the chopping block — as soon as development is over. All the free money is gone then.


bubblehead February 16, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Wow back then I was on a submarine under the ocean protecting our country from the cold war . I got out right after the cold war ended and am a disabled vet from a torpedo
reload or I would have still been in .


submarinertooserve February 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm

I too miss the “old days”. It was an exciting time to go down and beat the Soviets at our game.


Infidel4LIFE February 17, 2012 at 11:00 am

Turns out they were more afraid of us than we were of them. Thing is, you don;t invade Mother Russia. Napoleon and Hitler found out the hard way.


Guidz February 17, 2012 at 11:16 am

Not a fan of history, Hitler?


joe February 20, 2012 at 3:24 am

No, just a man with a massive ego-trip. The worst thing (from their perspective, not ours) is that they had a decent plan, which could have worked, had Hitler not kept interfering.

Fortunately for the free world, no-one dared point out that he never got promoted beyond corporal because he had the strategic genius of a damp lettuce. Repeatedly overruling probably the most gifted general staff of the era was therefore not a particularly sensible plan…


Alex March 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Of course that they was more afraid of USa….The best example is the case of Stanislav Petrov which was Russian Officer on duty in ballistic missile base 1984 he see on his big screen 4 missile lunched from USA if him Informed that the supreme command of what he sees on the screen, the answer would be, the order for counter attack, an order that he was not going to fail to execute but he wait and wait, because on training higher officer always told to them(students) that USA attack will come in the large numbers of missiles…after several minutes missiles was vanish from screen..letter was establish that was one natural phenom( or failure in the hardware of the Russian early-warning satellites, which are reflections of sunlight rejected by high clouds, due to heat radiation , interpreted as the declined rockets of USA)
…that the same situation happened in USA ballistic missile base, I was 99% sure, that the American officer would not think more than 3 seconds . whether to fire missiles at Russia or not … and it's all woven into the subconscious of the American officers that the U.S. has " , fired "and threw atomic bomb on another nation …. and that's what the rule is a big difference in the deepest fears of Russian and American officers


anthony February 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Well shot aviation history..


Dick Willett February 19, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Has anyone got a pix of the Mig 17 or 19 that did a touch and go at King Salmon AFS, Alaska in late 1962 or early 63? I think it might have made the Seattle newspaper. I saw a copy of the news article and my roommate (I was at KSAFS from 4-63 to 4-65) was on guard duty in front of the alert hanger and saw it.


josh September 3, 2012 at 2:16 am

who has seen the top gun dog fight scene where they claim to be fightin migs byt they seem to be lookin more like f5s! can anyone comment n this i am very curious abou tit wonderin if i am right!!


Tom February 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm



McPosterdoor February 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Nice info, bu how does that jive with the wingman's repositioning to a rear firing position on the MIG's then? Doesn't seem very friendly if the Ruskies are going on vacation{ERRRRR}… I mean to a British airshow.


McPosterdoor February 16, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Cool info, but then why would the wingman reposition himself to a rear firing point if the Ruskies are on on vacation errr…. I mean going to the British airshow?


LakeCoastie February 17, 2012 at 9:38 am

@ JackBlack – very well done, Sir.


JackBlack February 16, 2012 at 6:29 pm
Fil February 16, 2012 at 10:12 pm

You know, British Columbia is not a part of Britain


Optimized February 16, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Ah, but it is part of the Commonwealth, and technically considers Queen Elizabeth II to be official Sovereign. Just sayin'


McPosterdoor February 17, 2012 at 10:57 am

Yep accidentally left off the Columbia, thx. But its all the Queens ;)


McPosterdoor February 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Thx. If that's SOP, wouldn't it have the chance to escalate if the MIG wingman wants to do that same thing? How's that handled?


JackBlack February 18, 2012 at 9:36 am

My pleasure!


Stratege February 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Russians have a active subs on duty of both types – SSBN and SSN/attack subs, diesel subs. They are building new types of strategic subs and multi-role SSN, also new diesel subs.
P.S. Akula2 is more advanced than L.A. class SSN


TinkersDam February 21, 2012 at 7:00 am

Bull. They flew over North Vietnam and Libya, both of which tried to knock them down with SA-2. The DPRK shot at them with SA-2 as well without success, a fact recored in the press at the time.


PMI February 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Depending on the sources more than 100 SAMs were launched against SR-71 missions without a single kill.


Stratege February 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm

My bad. S-200 is SA-5 (not an SA-2) and that SAM is much more formidable than S-75 (NATO: SA-2)
SA-5's missile speed = Mach 8
SR-71's max speed = 3.3


Stratege February 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm

100 obsolete SAM (export-version of the SA-2 in the best case) were launched against SR-71


UAVgeek February 27, 2012 at 3:23 pm

And yet it never actually happened that it was shot down by a SAM, so your argument is hypothetical crap.


Stratege March 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Active Russian missile subs fleet: ~10 of modernized Delta4 class SSBNs
Future fleet: 8 of 4th generation "Borei" class SSBN

"Russia intends to place two Borei-class submarines on active duty in 2012, followed by one more of the ballistic missile vessels in each of the following six years, a Russian armed forces and defense insider said to ITAR-Tass on Friday (see GSN, Oct. 26, 2011)."
The Yuri Dolgoruky and Alexander Nevsky submarines are expected to begin operations this year with the Russian strategic nuclear force." “Eight Borei submarines will be built at the Sevmash shipyard ahead of time, with two years ahead of the deadline, envisaged under the state armament program through 2020," the insider said.


blight_ March 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm

There's plenty of hypothetical to go around. It doesn't discount the severe risks associated with penetrating Soviet airspace with presumably better non-export grade hardware ("crown jewels"?)

One could argue that a Sopwith camel was never shot down by a SAM, but we all know it might be sorely overmatched (or perhaps its envelope is so pathetic that a SAM could not deal with it, like that Cessna that landed in red square?)


Stratege March 26, 2012 at 3:08 am

Cessna that landed in Moscow is nothing to do with SAM and Soviet PVO's technical fails. Cessna was detected and tracked, but nobody didn't want to be a responsible killer of unknown civilian plane and pilot.


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