Odyssey of an A-4 Skyhawk Pilot during the Falklands War: Captain Alberto Jorge Philippi’s story

Whilst much has been written about the British involvement in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict a short story was written by an Argentinean pilot who was involved in the attack on the beach head at San Carlos.

The article written a year after the conflict finished describes how Captain Alberto Jorge Philippi took off from the Rio Grande naval base as a three ship A-4 Skyhawk formation and headed towards the Malvinas at 27,000 feet.

Once Philippi and his colleagues were 100 miles from the islands they dropped to an altitude of 100 feet. Philippi describes how the weather was poor with low clouds and rain as they followed the coast to the southern entrance to the San Carlos sound where they dropped to an altitude of 50 feet.

[Read also: This impressive image was taken 30 years ago today: Argentine A-4B Skyhawks low level attack on HMS Broadsword]

Even though the radar altimeter was set to sound at 30 feet, Philippi mentions how it went off numerous occasions as they sped up the sound towards the British fleet which was in the process of landing thousands of troops from amphibious landing craft.

Philippi then spotted the masts of a ship amongst the rocks at his 11 O’clock and signalled to his colleagues this was to be their target. After closing to the rocks to hide his aircraft and confuse the frigates fire control radar, Philippi turned hard wing tip skimming the wave tops to bring the target onto his nose.

Once Philippi was 1,000 – 1,500 meters from the Frigate (HMS Ardent) he performed a pop-up delivery from around 300 feet, waited for the cross hairs to meet over the bow of the ship and released his weapons.

Once the bombs were away, Philippi turned hard to the right whilst loosing the altitude he had gained to deliver his weapons back down to the 50 feet he was at prior to release.

Seconds later, Philippi’s colleague Jose Cesar Arca’s voice came over the radio and said “Very Good Sir” as the bombs impacted the back of the ship. Arca’s bombs also found their target even though Arca had flown through the debris and smoke kicked up by Philippi.

The pilots had decided to escape using the route they had used to get to the target area but, within minutes, Marcelo Gustavo Marquez, the third pilot of the same formation, shouted “Harrier! Harrier!” down his radio.

The A-4 pilots immediately jettisoned their external stores to escape and seek safety in the clouds. Whilst in the process of ejecting the external stores, Philippi felt an explosion at the back of his jet and immediately felt the nose of the jet rise uncontrollably. As he wrestled with the increasingly unresponsive stick he took a look over his right shoulder to see the Sea Harrier at some 150 metres away.

Image credit: Imperial War Museum

“I am going to eject, I am well” Phillipi said over his radio and with that he opened the speed brakes to reduce speed, placed his hand on the ejection handle and pulled. The force of the ejection knocked Philippi out and he came to hanging from his parachute within cloud: he had lost his helmet and mask during the ejection, but thanked God he was still alive.

Whilst still hanging from the chute Philippi removed his boots, inflated his life jacket and loosened his harness before making a slash into the sea some 100 metres from shore.

After a rather hard swim to shore the Skyhawk pilot did what any downed pilot does and activated his distress signal and waited to be picked up. He then witnessed one of the British ships bombard a grounded Argentine ship thinking it was still a threat.

Phillipi headed south and was alone for three days before coming across a sheep farm where the farmer fed him, gave him some clothes before he was picked up by helicopter and flown to Darwin, where Philippi’s problems didn’t end. There he witnessed the attacks by the Harriers and British Army and eventually flew out on the last helicopter to Puerto Argentino (Port Stanley).

A couple of days later Philippi was flown back to the mainland on a C-130, which did the whole trip at 50 feet.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

10 Comments

  1. amazing account of this pilot’s story. i hope this wont stir a massive debate about the falklands etc, pilots are after all “tools” of the politicians in charge and merely execute order…great tale!

    • Argentine pilots didn’t and don’t see themselves as a political tool. The belive and still belive in what they where fighting for.
      Malvinas is not a 1982 war. Malvinas is a national cause.

      • I think I just wont respond to this post….i’ve been a pilot for 4 years and i’ve just joined the French air force. I’m from a family of pilots of all sorts, some French, some English and most fighter pilots will tell you the same thing: we love flying but its not our call to engage a “hostile target”, please, i love this website, so much, don’t ruin my fun by responding with nationalist comments. If you love the Falklands/ Malvinas so much go ask the habitants if they want to be Argentinian or English, its not your call.
        p.s: i wont highlight the fact you asked David to call the islands Malvinas/ Flakland and didn’t do it yourself.

        • About how I called the Islands. I expect the British to call them Falklands, You can expect Argentine people to call them Malvinas. I also expect the french to call the Malouines.
          Then I expect the rest of the world to call them using both names (obviously that doesn’t happen, deppending on the country using one or another.)
          About asking the kelpers, that topic is just political and I thought that is what you don’t want to discuss.
          Check ONU declarations about self determination not applying to the islands if you want to know about that in detail.

      • I truly appreciate debate, but not when it becomes unproductive.

        I think that few blogs/media outside Argentina have published articles highlighting the braveness of some Argentine pilots and it’s not TheAviationist’s fault if for the large majority of the world, that conflict is known as “Falklands war” and not as “Malvinas war”.

        Hence, you can’t blame us for using Falklands in the title, especially since, as a sign of respect, we (I and the British Richard Clements) have mentioned the islands as Falklands/Malvinas.

        Some times, nationalist comments don’t do justice to a nation, nor to its heroes.

        • Hi David. I know Richard is british. I found his entries quite interesting as his posted some details I didn’t knew and I commented with some info to fix the mistakes or to improve in some details.
          The world you know it’s not the large majority. your blog, your rules.
          I hope you improved this entry with what I commented on may 29 below this post.
          Also, the Phillipi flight leader had a interesting history to, his plane was hit by guns in San Carlos, on his way to Puerto Argentino was hit again by another Sea Harrier. Ejected over a bay an his pilotless aircraft almost hit him. Then an army helo without sling had a rought time triying to get him out of the water.

  2. Philippi was flying an A-4Q, a Navy Aircraft and you pictured an Air Force A-4C.
    Some pics related
    Phillipi’s son flickr album where you can see his father and the farmer
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/guillephil/sets/72157616262087726/

    Phillipi and Arca after the war http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_OtaF6NjMGrY/SrY069XbMdI/AAAAAAAAAAM/vabfneTnU-4/s400/arca.jpg
    http://www.elarcadeple.com/Donde%203.jpg

    Art:
    http://fotos.subefotos.com/39cb13320f6a2eecc220b93c4f68f6e9o.jpg
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_OtaF6NjMGrY/SrY1nubw1ZI/AAAAAAAAAAc/A3n0UDXYWNU/s400/FinalStoke.jpg
    http://www.soldadosdigital.com/images/2010/junio/aviador_02.jpg

    Once again: Please mention the islands as Malvinas/Falklands
    And again: let me know if a can help you with stuff related to Argentina.

  3. Interesting to read an Argentine pilot’s story from the 1982 conflict. The professionalism of the pilot concerned (and his colleagues) deserves great credit. I’m certain this was privately accorded them at the time by their British opponents.

    Let us hope that the Falkland islanders of three decades later, who apparently are determined to remain British, are left unmolested by further political misadventure.

  4. I’ve read David Morgan’s “Hostile skies” about Harrier in Falklands/Malvinas and also Sharkey Ward’s “Sea Harrier over the Falklands”. Both speak with great respect about Argentinan pilots and their achievements, politics aside. I don’t rember in which book it was- but it said that he (pilot) hoped that his adversary survived his ejection after shootdown- so he can shoot him down again. So it reflects their attitude- not for kill but for fair fight and being the best. And also – Sharkey met with one pilot who he had shot down in Pucara and they’re still friends:)

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