Are you ready to have you fucking mind blown? Top Gun is based on a true story.
Yes, Top Gun.
Sure, it’s more “inspired by true events” than “based on a true story” but that shit was ripped from the damn headlines of August 19th, 1981, when a hardcore pair of the most totally-rad fighter aircraft of all time went ballistic on some fuckin’ enemies of Democracy and splashed a couple Soviet-constructed Sukhois in the Mediterranean during the first live-fire combat experience the Grumman F-14 Tomcat would see in its long and illustrious career of turning state-of-the-art Russkie tech into heaping chunks of white-hot garbage.
There’s a reason friggin’
G.I. Joe used this as their preferred
air superiority fighter.
So I went into this week with every intention of writing about the first time a pair of badass F-14 Tomcats planted the righteous heat-seeking Fist of Freedom up the tailpipe of some America-hating enemy pilot’s fuselage, but honestly the entire engagement lasted literally forty-five seconds and I think I can sum that shit up for you in like a paragraph and a half.
Basically, in the late 1970s, evil dictator and well-known insane-person Muammar Gaddafi seized power over Libya and declared a no-fly zone over a huge stretch of International Waters off the coast of North Africa. So, naturally, in 1981 US President Ronald Regan launched Operation NOBODY GIVES A FUCK WHAT YOU THINK MUAMMAR GADDAFI and parked a pair of 110,000-ton aircraft carriers right in the middle of the place Gaddafi told him to stay away from and dared the Libyan dictator to do shit about it. Gaddafi was nuts, but he had balls, and he sent out two Su-22 Fitter attack aircraft to engage the Combat Air Patrol of the USS Nimitz – a pair of U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats from fighter squadron VF-41, better known as “The Black Aces”.
The F-14s, callsign Fast Eagle 102 and Fast Eagle 107, did something awesome, kicked it into overdrive, accelerated at zone five afterburner, and closed head-on to within 1,000 yards of the Libyans at a speed of 540 knots (621 mph). The Libyans responded by firing a missile that sort of vaguely arced in the Black Aces’ direction, which triggered the American “don’t fire until fired upon first” protocol. The Tomcat squadron leader, Commander Hank Kleeman, dove in at the first Su-22, waited for him to break out of his turn, and annihilated it with a Sidwinder missile. The second Tomcat, flown by Lieutenant “Music” Muczynski, fell in behind the Libyan flight leader, who went into a climb and roll to try and evade. Music stuck with him, then unleashed a fucking Sidewinder from such a close range that Music had to crank a 6G straight vertical climb to avoid crashing into the wrecked fuselage and accidentally teamkilling himself. Both Libyan pilots ejected into the water and shook their fists angrily at the sky while the exceptionally-sweaty radar tech dudes in the Nimitz CIC clapped and high-fived each other.
And that’s basically it. Mav and Iceman returned to base, somehow miraculously landed their supersonic fighter aircraft on the deck of an aircraft carrier (this is by far the most difficult part of the Top Gun video game), and it was all big smiles, high fives, you can be my wingman any time, bro fist bump, and sail off into the sunset to bang Kelly McGillis and convert to Scientology.
And that was basically going to be my entire article this week. That is, until I started digging into the operational history of the F-14 Tomcat and came across some seriously insane shit that BLEW MY MIND EVEN HARDER THAN THE FUCKING TOP GUN THING.
You ready for this shit? The top-scoring fighter pilot with the most air-to-air kills from the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat is an Iranian dude named Jalil.
And he recorded all of those kills while flying for the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.
And he looks like this:
what up ladies
I don’t know, maybe this is common knowledge or some shit, but I had no idea that friggin’ Iran was the only other country in the world that operates the F-14 Tomcat, and that they still have twenty-something operational aircraft to this day.
Apparently, back in the early 70s the pro-western Shah of Iran had a big problem with the fucking Soviets flying bullshit recon flights over his airspace, so he went to the USA and asked if we had anything capable of blasting a MiG-25 Foxbat out of the sky. The US was like, “well, we got F-14 Tomcats and F-15 Eagles, you pick,” so the Shah bought two billion dollars’ worth of F-14s and a missiles and other stuff to go with it. Then he sent a bunch of his best pilots and mechanics to the states to be trained by US Navy personnel in the operation and maintenance of the aircraft. By 1979, Iran had almost 80 F-14s and over 120 qualified pilots to fly them. The crazy thing is that some folks think this two billion in funds actually kept the F-14 project alive, because military high command was considering just scrapping it.
We’d given him all this shit because we wanted him to use it to kill Russians. Instead, he got his ass overthrown by a radical Shi’a Muslim cleric known as the Ayatolla, who pretty much hated the USA and everything it stood for but kept the Tomcats for himself anyways because, let’s be honest, they’re really fucking cool.
Iranian Air Force Major Jalil Zandi was a daredevil, balls-to-the-wall fighter pilot with an awesome ‘stache, a badass love of awesome aviator sunglasses, and a reputation for taking the Highway to the Danger Zone and doing the sort of awesome coffee-spilling Ghost Rider requesting fly by shit that got Maverick in trouble like all the time. A daredevil asskicker who pulled three Gs every time he threw on a pair of shades, Zandi had been one of the pilots hand-selected to visit the United States and train on the Tomcat with the most badass pilots the US Navy had to offer. So, naturally, when the Ayatolla came to power and declared a new ultra-conservative Islamic republic, Jalil Zandi was one of the first guys arrested at gunpoint in the middle of the night, thrown in jail, and sentenced to ten years in prison for disloyalty to the new regime. Because apparently the fact that this guy had once set foot in the United States far outweighed the benefits of having a highly-trained F-14 Tomcat pilot on his flight roster.
This happened across the country. Many of the F-14 pilots and techs who had trained in the states were arrested or killed, but not before some of the techs sabotaged the aircraft and missiles on their way out the door.
In 1980, however, when a massive rampaging Iraqi tank army under Saddam Hussein launched a full-scale invasion of Iran, the Ayatolla changed his mind and had his former pilots released from prison to save their country from utter destruction at the hands of an Iraqi madman.
Amazingly, Jalil Zandi walked out of prison, dusted off his flight suit, clenched his teeth, and resolved to fight for his country no matter what.
For the next EIGHT YEARS, Jalil Zandi was in pretty much constant combat against the MiGs and Mirages of the Iraqi Air Force. Flying at the head of an ever-shrinking operational force of F-14 Tomcat fighters (the United States refused to ship replacement parts, missiles, or weapons for the Tomcat, so by 1986 the operational strength of the Iranian Tomcat fighter wing had dropped from 80 to 25), Zandi constantly took to the air and flew straight-on into ever-increasing swarms of enemy fighters that vastly outnumbered him. Blasting left and right with missiles and his 20mm Vulcan gun, Zandi shredded enemy MiGs without mercy. He was tasked primarily with defending Iranian oil fields, sometimes taking to the air against entire squadrons of Iraqi Air Force units.
In one of his first engagements, Zandi blasted a pair of MiG-23s on his own, nailing one with a long-range Phoenix missile and the other with a Sidewinder. In another engagement he escorted a massive Iranian oil tanker plane on a dangerous run deep through Iraqi airspace and found himself tangling with a squadron of MiGs. The plane he was escorting survived.
Counting air-to-air kills has always been an exercise in making yourself completely fucking insane, and it’s especially true with a war like the Iran-Iraq War where every side is run by an intense Orwelllian propaganda machine that claims every single battle was won because their guys ran out and killed ten thousand of the enemy with their bare hands without losing a single soldier. Iran officially credits Major Jalil Zandi with destroying eight enemy aircraft, with three more listed as “probable” to bring his total to 11 – making him a two-time fighter ace. Iraq claims he only shot down three, which, incidentally, would still be enough to tie the number of kills earned by the United States’ top-scoring fighter pilot of the supersonic age. We’ll never actually know the truth, but I’d argue that the fact this dude survived eight years of non-stop war in the cockpit of an F-14 despite limited repair facilities, no backup, no ability to replace his missiles or ammunition, and being constantly outnumbered by huge margins is more than evidence enough that this guy fucking kicks ass.
Major Zandi’s final fight took place in October of 1988, when he found himself going up against eight badass French-built Mirage F1 fighters. Zandi fought hard, scoring two unconfirmed kills in the engagement, but eventually was shot to shit and had to bug out of there. He somehow limped his aircraft (which by this point looked like Charlie Sheen’s plane at the end of Hot Shots) across the Iranian border, then ejected when his second engine shut down on him. His F-14 crashed and burned, but he made it back to base in one piece and spent the rest of the war running things from the ground as a General. Which ain’t bad. He retired in 2001.
Cooper, Tom. Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat. Osprey, 2012.