Exclusive: all the details about the air ops and aerial battle over Turkey during the military coup to depose Erdogan

Jul 18 2016 - 28 Comments

F-16s, KC-135Rs, A400Ms: known and unknown details about the night of the Turkey military coup.

Here below is the account of what happened on Jul. 15, when a military takeover was attempted in Turkey. It is based on the information gathered by Turkish defense journalist Arda Mevlutoglu, by analysis of the Mode-S logs and reports that have been published by several media outlets in the aftermath of the coup.

Shortly after 22.00 local time on July 15th, air traffic control (ATC) operator in Akinci 4th Main Jet Base (MJB), an airbase located to the northwest of Ankara, contacted his counterpart at Esenboga Airport ATC. Akinci airbase is the homebase of 141, 142 and 143 Filo (Squadrons) of the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) equipped with F-16Cs.

4MJB operator informed that two local-based F-16s were going to take off, fly at 21-22,000 feet and coordination with Esenboga ATC could not be possible.

Shortly after, two F-16s calsign “Aslan 1” (“Lion 1”) and “Aslan 2” (“Lion 2”) from 141 Squadron took off from 4MJB.

After take off, Aslan 1 contacted Esenboga and requested permission to climb to the designated altitude, which was granted. When asked about the intention, the pilot replied “special mission, going to fly over Ankara city.”

Shortly after this communication, telephone calls from the city began reaching Esenboga, telling jets flying at very high-speed at low altitude. The time is around 22.20 – 22.25, as videos of F-16s flying over Ankara at rooftop level were filmed.

Puzzled by the reports, Esenboga ATC called 4MJB ATC for an explanation. The reply was: “They took off with IFF transponders switched off.” 4MJB also informed Esenboga that a new pair of F-16s with callsign “Sahin” (“Hawk”) also took off at very low altitude.

The Sahin pair threatened civilian air traffic, which was diverted through alternative approach routes.

Shortly after that, Esenboga ATC detected a KC-135R callsign “Asena 02” from Incirlik 10th Main Tanker Base (MTB). The presence of this KC-135R, from 101 Filo (whose radio callsign is “Asena”), is confirmed by Mode-S logs collected by a feeder in Ankara.

At this point Esenboga ATC had no contact with the mentioned F-16s and KC-135R. The Turkish Vipers began air-to-air refuelling from “Asena 02” periodically. Noteworthy, as many as 4 KC-135R reportedly flew from Incirlik (Asena 01 to 04 – the first appearing on the Mode-S logs).

It was reported that coup supporting aircraft and helicopters opened fire at:

  • Police Special Operations Forces headquarters at Golbasi (bombed by F-16. 47 policemen killed)
  • Police Aviation Division headquarters at Golbasi
  • Turkish Grand National Assembly building (TBMM)
  • Turkish Police general headquarters
  • MIT (national intelligence organization) headquarters at Yenimahalle
  • TurkSAT (state satellite operator) headquarters at Golbasi
  • Presidental Palace at Bestepe

For a few hours, coup F-16s flew over Ankara at very high speeds, often breaking the sound barrier at very low altitudes, releasing flares.

It was reported also that F-16s from both sides entered dogfight over Ankara and Istanbul, however no aircraft has been shot down according to the reports obtained thus far. Interestingly, one of the coup plotters aboard a “rebel” F-16 was the pilot who shot down the Russian Su-24 Fencer that had violated the Turkish airspace back in November 2015.

F-16s from Dalaman, Erzurum and Balikesir took off to intercept coup F-16s that according to the reports were as many as 6.

F-16 coup

Merzifon 5MJB, which is one of the closest MJB’s to Ankara was at renovation and closed. All its fighters were temporarily based in Erzurum.

Meanwhile, “Asena 02” left Ankara and climbed to max operational altitude, circling over Kastamonu. Asena 03 took over its role of supporting coup F-16s. A couple of arriving F-16s were directed to Asena 02 to shoot it down, but did not do so probably due to the fact that it was flying over residential areas.

At least one AH-1 Cobra, probably an AH-1W type opened fire with its 20mm gun to protesting crowd and TBMM. This helicopter or another one repotedly opened fire at TurkSAT (State satellite operator) headquarters at Golbasi. This helicopter was reportedly shot down by a loyalist F-16.

A S-70A opened fire at the front gates of MIT campus. Reportedly tried to insert commandos to take over the facility and kidnap Hakan Fidan, head of the service. This helicopter is reportedly shot down (not confirmed).

One or two Air Force AS532 CSAR helicopters raided a wedding ceremony of a high rank general in Istanbul which was attended by many generals. CSAR commandos kidnapped them.

8 cargo aircraft (C-160 and A400M included – one using callsign “Esem 26” was in the air when the takeover unfolded) took off from Kayseri and landed at Malatya 7MJB. They were full of weapons to be used by coup.

Coup F-16s searched for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plane, TC-ATA around Istanbul to shoot it down. According to some media reports rebel TuAF F-16s had the plane in their sights: it’s unclear whether they had a real lock-on, rather that they probably were searching the sky for the Gulfstream IV.

Furthermore, TC-ATA used a callsign THY 8456 to disguise as a Turkish Airlines airplane (Turkish’s callsign is THY) and the risk of shooting down another plane, and losing credibility too, could be a factor affecting the coup’s F-16s to shot down his plane and kill Erdogan.

TC-ATA was flying from Dalaman to Istanbul Ataturk, which was raided by coup supporters. ATC was taken over, all lights off. Shortly before TC-ATA’s landing, it was taken from rebels.

Details of Erdogan’s flight can be found here.

Early morning of 16 July, fighters (probably F-4E 2020) from Eskisehir 2MJB bombed the main runway of 4MJB whilst at least one Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 was circling to the west of Ankara most probably in Combat Air Patrol. In the afternoon on the same day an E-7 AEW of 131 Filo and an F-16 of 142 Filo were flying in Ankara area, likely ready to intercept any helicopter or small plane trying to flee towards Greece.

Update: please note that unlike what has been mistakenly reported by some media outlets, no U.S. KC-135 took part in the operation according to the information we have collected. All the tankers whose presence has been confirmed are Turkish Air Force tankers from 101 Filo, as explained in the article.

H/T to Arda Mevlutoglu for widely contributing to this post. Additional info from @CivMilAir and @Avischarf

TuAF F-16-take-off

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  • Ron Johnstone

    These guys were brave but dumb. The first rule of a takeover is to eliminate or at least physically control the ruler you are overthrowing. Second is to control ALL of the TV and media, not just one. Third is to have “friends” that think you will be better than the other guy and will recognize you as a ruler.
    They didn’t have a chance of succeeding!

    • AlexisWolf

      Perhaps it was a set up, a ‘mini coup’ easily squashed but enough of a rebellion to give the authoritarian Erdogan excuse to purge his opposition. Many have said that the fires Erdogan has been fueling will come back and burn him. Most Turks will not want to follow this slide into Islamist authority, they prefer a secular state. I predict a riot.

    • Fanfulla

      it was just a show orchestrated by an excellent puppeteer!

    • Phil Verhey

      They tried, the raided his hotel and gave chase… He just happened to have been warned of a coup possibility by dutch intelligence and fast reporting by loyalists, so his contingency was successful

  • Marco

    TuAF loyalist F-16s had the plane in their sights

    I did not catch this. Did you mean “rebel” instead of loyalist?

    Good summary. What about those helicopters? So far I am thinking the usual statement: no crash site = it never happened.

    • Scalp

      There wasn’t any f16 near his airplane…

  • gabgon

    So what happened to the rebel planes and helicopters, where did they land?

  • Dave in East Hollywood

    So basically if one of the coup plotters had gone on the live thread on reddit they could have found Erdogan’s plane and shot it down.

  • rats123

    Strange that they had locks on Erdogan’s plane and didn’t take a shot. If you’re going to stage a coup might as well go all out. Why would you hold back?

  • James Robinson

    Sounds like a really disorganized plan.

    • The Truth

      No a trial run to gauge public response.

  • Nickname23

    So F-16 of 142 Filo from Akinci 4 MJB were rebel up to morning 16th July, and then this unit flying ready to intercept any plane trying to flee towards Greece? Strange.

    • The Truth

      You do realise pilots fly aircraft. Replace the pilot and your good to go.

  • iranu

    I tracked Erdogan’s plane before it reached Mamaris (Dalaman Airport). It had taken off from Menderes. It didn’t have callsign THY 8456 on that flight. On Flightradar24 it was only showing as GLF 4.

    http://disq.us/p/1a2gbfw

    Note the time (10.27pm) I believe I was the first person to spot this.

    And watched it land at Dalaman.

    http://disq.us/p/1a2go98

    I put 2 and 2 together. Later the same aircraft took off from Dalaman, but again it did NOT have the callsign THY 8456. It was still showing GLF 4. It only gained the callsign THY 8456 when it went into the holding pattern at 26,000ft NE of Biga.

    • So what is your interpretation of these data? What was the result of you ‘putting 2 and 2 together’?

    • The Truth

      You tracked what you believed to be Erdogan’s plane. Yet Erdogan did not just travel on a plane. He also flew on a Sikorsky S-92 at very low altitude on numerous occasions that night: Call-signs: EM-002 and EM-003. The Turkish Government is not releasing all the information in relation to Erdogan’s escape as they have stated it would amount to a mosaic intelligence leak on classified procedures.

  • Digo Garcia

    Nice false flag show!
    Erdogan now can do all what he want.

    • ali cesmebasi

      so,my friend,Erdogan convinced these people,saying,look,you will do this for me,you will fail and kill about 240 people,all your career till today as a general from 1 to 4 stars will be ruined,all your family will carry on an ashamed life,you will loose everything and i will become the president,sorry,he is still the president,i will have more authority,and those generals said YES SIR ON YOUR COMMAND SIR

      Please my friend,do not ignore your brain capacity and others.
      Another point,at a meeting held in Yenikapi,the main opposition party leader,the other opposition party leader were all there,just check their relationship with Erdogan a month ago,they were literally ”enemies” to Erdogan.
      As you are not living here,it is understandable you can not see the inside of the story..

  • rats123

    Yes, a lot of things don’t make sense.

    • Scalp

      Greeks radar / airtrafic: “Erdogans airplane flew without f16 s present or any disturbance”

      • The Truth

        The Greek Air force do not know which aircraft the Turkish President was on at the time. They also fail to realize that Commanders of the KORAL systems were loyalists to the Turkish President.

  • Roland Lawrence

    Speaking to family and friends in Turkey while it was going off, the *official* version of events does seem a little far fetched. There was feeling that it was staged to get rid of the secularist supporters and turn Turkey into a muslim state. Indeed to stage a coup with that many assets and then have no plan or idea how to get the president or remove his power structure does seem exceptionally strange.

  • The Truth

    Looks like no one has bothered to search on FlightRadar where the following other Presidential Aircraft were at the time of the Coup:
    TC-TUR
    TC-GAP
    TC-ANA
    TC-DAP
    TC-KOP
    TC-LAA
    TC-LAB
    The President’s Security detail has used many methods to conceal the Commander-in-Chiefs flight path.

    • Dave in East Hollywood

      And yet everyone on reddit knew exactly where Erdogan’s plane was.

  • The Truth

    The mission did not go down poorly. The coup plotters just failed to factor in the FSB and Mr. Putin warning Mr. Erdogan about the impeding attempt on his life. They also didn’t factor in a certain Middle Eastern country giving airtime to Mr. Erdogan on their Satellites.

    http://sputniknews.com/russia/20160721/1043373832/russia-warned-turkey-coup-attempt.html

    • Phil Verhey

      Um… No, it was Dutch intelligence that issued the warning. Unsure why anyone wouldn’t fact check “info”(propaganda) on sputnik/RT ..

  • Phil Verhey

    Ask the Turkish reporter of which the article sources… If you actually care… And not just want to innuendo that the content above is be with your own hearsay

  • Roland Lawrence

    I think the “US” moniker with lobbying so prevalent these days is a bit dated. Turkey has had many coups in the last 30 years. They have the knack of what works. The speed at which retaliation with lists of 50,000+ were drawn up is rather telling. In Turkey usually doing anything takes ages.