F-16 pilot dodged 6 Iraqi missiles in harrowing Gulf War mission
Air Force Maj. Emmett Tullia II escaped death half a dozen times on January 19, 1991, when he maneuvered his F-16 through a firefight from Iraqi surface-to-air missiles during of a mission in which two of his fellow Viper pilots were shot down and taken prisoner.
Tullia was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for her aerobatics that day, which can be seen in a video posted to social media several years ago. Its ability to dodge six surface-to-air missiles is made even more extraordinary by the fact that its flares and bullets meant to confuse enemy missiles did not deploy during its dance over Baghdad.
Just days into the US-led campaign to push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, Tullia took part in a mission to attack an oil refinery in southern Baghdad.
“They knew we were coming, and as we got closer to the target area, the triple-A [anti-aircraft artillery] started coming in, the 35mm stuff,” Tullia told Task & Purpose. “You could see a cloud of triple A clouds going off.”
Tullia had spent years studying Soviet air defenses, which included reading classified studies on how long it took surface-to-air missiles to lock onto targets after launch.
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“I remember thinking at the time: who the hell has time to analyze reaction times?” remembers Tulia. “This time here, it has come true. When the thing moved, I could see that then the missile made a correction – and then on top of that, you could see that the missile is pointing at me, the missile is pointing in front of me. It was like, Wow, all that textbook knowledge comes right back to the point; and it was just pretty awesome to watch.
While it was an impressive sight, the Iraqis had fired so many missiles that Tullia had difficulty determining which were coming at him and which were targeting other US warplanes.
For seven nauseating minutes, Tullia made an endless series of sharp turns to evade enemy missiles. He doesn’t remember how many G-forces he was using at the time, but his blood pressure was so high he was in no danger of fainting.
Tullia jettisoned her external fuel tanks to help her steal the surface-to-air missiles. He said he remembered seeing the first missiles miss him and thinking, “That’s damn cool.”
But his radar warning receiver kept ringing, indicating he was being fired upon by even more missiles. Now Tullia had to worry about burning his remaining fuel as he continued to dodge, dive, dodge, dodge, dive and dodge.
As he flew his plane to lower altitudes, he realized he was at increasing risk of being hit by Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery. “Then I would be really happy,” Tullia joked. “I’m going: I’ve come this far; I really don’t want to walk home.
But after successfully dodging several surface-to-air missiles, Tullia engaged in a duel with a Soviet-made SA-6 missile which he was unable to shake off.
“I turned around and this thing is right on top of me,” Tullia recalled. “Every time I shoot, the response is really quick. I was getting pretty strong RAW [Radar Warning Receiver] indication on this thing. I was shooting as best I could. I say, Well, I’ll just do what I can do on this thing. This thing got so close I could hear the rocket motor go by – it was kind of unnerving. And it happened, and I was like, Wow, I’m still here. OK, back to business.
At the end of her series of heartbreaking turns, Tullia was still in the air. But two other F-16 pilots who attacked Baghdad that day were hit and forced to eject – Captain Mike Roberts and Major Jeffrey Tice – and later held as prisoners of war and tortured by their Iraqi captors. before being released in March 1991.
Tullia’s mission was not quite over yet: as he prepared to return home, he spotted two more planes which he assumed were F-16s, but when he tried to reach them over the radio, they did not answer. When he locked one of the planes on his radar, both planes abruptly changed direction and flew north.
“It turns out that later, when we came back, it was two MiG 29s that were launched to try to catch us on the way out,” Tullia recalls. “I thought: Shit! I could have been a hero.”
By the time Tullia returned to Qatar, his fuel gauge showed that he had no more fuel in his tank. He feared his plane’s emergency power pack would trip because it was using hydrazine, a highly toxic substance that would have forced the airfield to temporarily close, preventing other planes with little or no fuel from flying. ‘to land.
Fortunately, he was able to land before the emergency power unit activated. Tullia said, adding, “It’s divine intervention the thing didn’t go off.”
Tullia credited his commanders at the time for providing the kind of leadership he and other American pilots needed to accomplish their missions during the Gulf War.
“In the Air Force, we have all this leadership stuff stuck in our throats, and until I saw it in action, I was just another one of those ‘Damn, we still gotta listen to that shit “, “said Tullia, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1997. “When I saw real leadership in action, it made a huge difference. It was incredible. It was something which I wish a lot of young people who talk about leadership had the opportunity to see because it was something to see – and something I will never see again.
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