How a Soviet MiG-21 downed an Iranian F-4 using this dangerous tactic 45 years ago

Forty-five years ago today on November 28 1973, a Soviet MiG-21 downed an Iranian F-4 Phantom (then one of the most advanced fighter jets in the the world) over Soviet airspace whilst it was traveling at supersonic speed.

The MiG-21SM, piloted by Captain Gennadii N. Eliseev, had been sent out to intercept the Iranian RF-4C, piloted by Major Shokouhnia with US Air Force officer John Saunders as the co-pilot, after Soviet airspace had been breached.

For the pilot, the odds could have been any more against him. The Iranian jet he was trying to catch was traveling comfortably at Mach 1.4 whilst his MiG-21 was straining to catch up. Due to the unreliability of air-to-air missiles at the time, both missiles fired by Eliseev missed and an attempt to make an attack with his cannon failed because the gun jammed.

In the end, Eliseev accelerated to top speed and rammed the Iranian F-4; it cost him his life and he was posthumously awarded Hero of the Soviet Union for his deed.

The Iranian and American pilot on the other hand survived the clash, were captured by Soviet forces and then released after 16 days.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Imperial Iranian Air Force and US Central Intelligence Agency engaged in a joint operation to map-out, by means of aerial reconnaissance, Soviet military sites opposite Iran’s northeastern border. The operation was known as Project Dark Gene.

Using US-built aircraft designed to fly at high altitude and at very fast speed (such as the F-4 Phantom), Iranian aircraft were generally able to survey Soviet territory with relative impunity, quickly entering hostile airspace, gathering data and then exiting before air defenses could effectively respond.

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