On a fateful day of 1st May 1983, a collision between an F-15D and an A-4 Skyhawk saw some outrageous turn of events during an air combat session held by the Israeli Air Force in the Negev. As expected, both of the planes were damaged, and while the Skyhawk pilot gave up on the plane and managed to eject, Ziv Nedivi (pilot) and Yehoar Gal (navigator), the men in the F-15, decided to try and save the plane.
In all the blur from the leaking fuel and other vapours, the pilots did not see that the plane’s right wing was torn away from its body only 2 feet from the main fuselage. This made the plane go into an uncontrollable spin, making it nearly impossible to regain flight.
Still the pilots were adamant to recovering the plane, and after the use of afterburner to gain speed; they somehow did gain some control back. The sharp thinking of the pilots came into play, and they used the large surface area of the stabilators, fuselage the remnants of the wings to keep the engines from stalling and maintain plane’s lift.
The pilot described the event as follows,
“At some point I collided with one of the Skyhawks, at first, I didn’t realize it. I felt a big strike, and I thought we passed through the jet stream of one of the other aircraft. Before I could react, I saw the big fireball created by the explosion of the Skyhawk. The radio started to deliver calls saying that the Skyhawk pilot had ejected, and I understood that the fireball was the Skyhawk, that exploded, and the pilot was ejected automatically.”
In all this madness, they kept their composure and managed to divert the aircraft to the Ramon’s airbase where it landed at twice the normal landing speed. As a result plane’s tailhook completely ripped off the craft, and just like in those action films, the pilots managed to stop the aircraft merely 20 feet from the end of the runway.
The pilot added on,
“There was a tremendous fuel stream going out of my wing, and I understood it was badly damaged. The aircraft flew without control in a strange spiral. I reconnected the electric control to the control surfaces, and slowly gained control of the aircraft until I was straight and level again. It was clear to me that I had to eject. When I gained control I said: “Hey, wait, don’t eject yet!” No warning light was on, and the navigation computer worked as usual; (I just needed a warning light in my panel to indicate that I missed a wing…).” My instructor pilot ordered me to eject
The wing is a fuel tank, and the fuel indicator showed 0.000, so I assumed that the jet stream sucked all the fuel out of the other tanks. However, I remembered that the valves operate only in one direction so that I might have enough fuel to get to the nearest airfield and land. I worked like a machine, wasn’t scared and didn’t worry.
All I knew was as long as the sucker flies, I’m gonna stay inside. I started to decrease the airspeed, but at that point, one wing was not enough. So I went into a spin down and to the right. A second before I decided to eject, I pushed the throttle and lit the afterburner. I gained speed and thus got control of the aircraft again.
Next thing I did was lower the arresting hook. A few seconds later I touched the runway at 260 knots, about twice the recommended speed, and called the tower to erect the emergency recovery net.
The hook was torn away from the fuselage because of the high speed, but I managed to stop 10 meters before the net. I turned back to shake the hand of my instructor, who had urged me to eject, and then I saw it for the first time – no wing!
The F-15 was finally moved by road to a specialist maintenance unit located in Tel Nof. The plane was successfully repaired and even added a shared kill of a Syrian Mig-23 to its list of downing four enemy aircraft in the Lebanon War in 1982.