Rare Photo Shows F-4 Phantom Flying Inverted While Intercepting A Russian Tu-95 Bear Bomber

Dec 04 2017 - 42 Comments

“Because I was….inverted!”: Top Gun stunt performed near a Russian strategic bomber.

In the last few years, we have often reported about “unsafe and unprofessional” intercepts conducted across the world by Russian (and Chinese) fighter jets scrambled to identify and escort U.S. spyplanes flying in international airspace.

Barrel rolls, aggressive turns that disturbed the controllability of the “zombie” (intercepted aircraft in fighter pilot’s jargon), inverted flight: if you use the search function on this site you can read of several such incidents that made the news on media all around the world.

The last episode involved a Russian Su-30 that crossed within 50 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon’s path over the Black Sea during an intercept mission, causing the American maritime patrol aircraft to endure violent turbulence, on Nov. 25, 2017.

However, as a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models, told us a couple of years ago:

“Prior to the end of the Cold War interceptors from a variety of nations managed to get into tight formation with RC-135s and EP-3s. Smaller airplanes like MiG-21s made it easy. The challenge with the larger airplanes like the Su-27 and MiG-31 is the sheer size of the interceptor as it moves in front of any portion of the intercepted plane.

At least the Su-27 pilot has excellent all-around visibility to see where the back-end of his own airplane is as he maneuvers adjacent to the RC-135.

The U-Boat crew took video of the intercept, which has not been released but shows the precise extent of how close the FLANKER really was. Recent movies taken by a PRC aircraft that was intercepted by a JASDF F-15CJ suggests that the Eagle was very close—until the camera zooms out and shows the Eagle was 70-100 feet away from the wingtip….

Finally, although the number of Russian reactions to Western recon flights has been increasing recently, for 15-20 years (certainly from 1992 through 2010) there were almost no reactions on a regular basis. As such, what passes for dangerous and provocative today was ho-hum to recon crews of my generation (although we weren’t shot at like the early fliers from 1950-1960).”

Therefore, these close encounters were a sort of routine in the skies all around the world during the Cold War. And “reckless” behaviour did not only involve Russian pilots, as the top image seems to prove.

The blurry photograph (courtesy of our friends at the Global Military Strategy & Statistics FB page) shows an F-4 Phantom (probably from the U.S. Air Force, even though the quality of the shot does not help identifying the nationality), flying inverted during an intercept/escort mission on a Russian Tu-95 Bear: a stunt that may remind one of the most famous scenes in Top Gun movie.

We don’t know when nor where this photograph was taken (if you have some details or hints, please let us know), still a proof that some (dangerous) maneuvers have been part of such close encounters for decades and have seldom made the news. At least, until a few years ago…

H/T Global Military Strategy & Statistics for the interesting photograph.

  • Paul Rain

    Is the story behind the paywall?

    • cencio4

      What paywall?

      • Ronster

        Part of article is not visible, last line I can see is “However,as a former…couple of years ago:” and that’s the end.

        • cencio4

          sorry guys, html issue.
          Fixed the code, you should see the whole story now.

      • Lasse

        This ad for A10 ceeps popping up when you star read the article, and cover the article, i can just read some lines of it.

        • cencio4

          Yeah, I’ve noticed now. html cut and past issue.
          Fixed the code, you should see the whole story now.

  • rdenham

    “F-4 Phantom (probably from the U.S. Navy” – The F-4 is in SEA camo which means if it is a US Phantom it is a USAF bird.

    • Rocco

      You got better eyes than I do. Can’t even blow the picture up. !

    • NOR

      I think this Pic was taken in the Mediterranean 1973 by a squadron aboard the USS John Kennedy (CVA 67). I remember when the plane landed the aircraft had a crack in the right rear staberlizer

    • Bob Sihler

      Actually, no. It was a USAF F-4C from the 57th FIS, Keflavik NAS, Iceland. I actually took the picture myself in 1974. I just posted a few shots of the event.

      • El Kabong

        That’s what he said…

  • Hadeer Khalid

    Nicely explained.

  • leroy

    Because all kinds of missions used to be classified, the public never heard of these types of incidents occurring but trust me – they used to happen all the time. Up to and including shoot-downs.

    These dangerous air maneuvers (not by our side btw) when operating close-aboard Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries, and during CVN ops in international waters, took place all around the globe on a daily basis. To the general public this is all novel and seemingly something new, but by no means are they. These type incidents are carbon-copy of things the Russians did during the Cold War. It’s just that now you know.

    Note that the F-4 is not flying OVER the Tu-95 in a threatening manner. BIG difference!

    • Ethan Mclean

      LOL, su much for the “threy’re undisciplined jokers and NATO pilots are professional” standpoint.

  • 4444

    Old news.

  • Victorinox

    Is this article showing up correctly for anybody else? All i can see is half an article ending in “However, as a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models, told us a couple of years ago:”

  • Tomas Rodriguez

    As expected, Leroy concocted an usual “blame-the-Russians” eggs-plantation for “impossible” Western sins. For him reckless behaviour was only Soviet or Soviet motivated, inspired by Putin’s grandpa. Unfortunately for Leroy and his fans, History is a stubborn witness and cannot be changed completely.

    What in the past was ho-hum, today is motive of loud histeria. The most hair-raising episode was performed by two U.S.Navy aircraft intercepting on Bear in 1966. It was also a feat so skilled, that one of the Bear pilots gave a big smile and a thumbs-up to one of the American pilots involved. This was a big contrast with today’s cry-baby pilots that call the Pentagon or Brussels screaming “Mama, Mama, the Russians are staring at me”. The Phantom pilot in the episode – John Newlin – was a real master joy-stick jock and I tip my hat in deep respect for him. He, also, was very honest; a quality extinct in most of today’s conversations.


    Lets hope Leroy does not report him as a Putin’s troll. Don’t hold your breath.

    • leroy

      Unfortunately (or should I say fortunately for you) angles on photos taken at a distance mean everything. The F-4 is well low of the Bear, A-3 well above. Too bad you can’t analyze intelligence photographs, but regardless, neither aircraft flew in front of the Tu-95 and went into AB. Nor did they barrel roll over it. That stunt was and is reserved for far-from-professional Russian pilots. Yesterday’s as well as today’s.

      • leroy

        “Nor did they barrel roll over it.”

        I neglected to add the word “safely”. A barrel roll done at safe separation, perhaps to take photos, isn’t a dangerous maneuver (assuming the pilot is well trained. American and NATO pilots are). But any maneuver performed with unsafe separation is not standard ops for any U.S. or NATO air arm. Russia? They did it and still do it.

      • Tomas Rodriguez

        So your infallible mind knows what went on there better than John Newlin! Next time, for your mental benefit, read and analyze the sources completely. I simply posted a link to the horse’s mouth. Read the article!

        Get a Jane’s (not Wikipedia, which sadly is being edited almost daily by dedicated propagandists, often not completely literate) and check both aircraft’s dimensions. Phantoms are big, but still smaller than the Skywarrior. Since both look close in size that clearly means the Phantom is closer to the camera. But that is not the point. You are accusing a reputable Navy Officer of lying, and inventing the history of “the sandwich”. Obviously, for you and your acolytes, the only “reliable” facts are the ones that you creatively create.

    • sglover

      No fan of Leroy here, but in general it’d be a good thing if *everybody* kept the cowboy antics to a minimum during these intercepts. Seems like basic navigational safety to me.

      I don’t understand this phrase: “The U-Boat crew took video of the intercept….” Umm, is somebody flying U-boats these days? The old Type VII’s, or the more capable Type XXI’s?

      • Tomas Rodriguez

        Completely agree. Nobody should. Could you remind me where I mentioned U-boats? I can’t recall.

    • Holztransistor

      “For about an hour that day, we weren’t cold war enemies—just airmen enjoying the shared good fortune of flying some pretty awesome aircraft.”

      This is the best part and we should memorize it. The main reason for most people to become a pilot is to be able to fly these planes. Not to go to war. That decision is always made by someone on a desk who couldn’t be farther away from the dying.

  • Tomas Rodriguez

    The Phantom in the Aviationist article’s photo seems to be completing a slow barrel roll, or some maneouver. It is flying downwards relative to the Bear, which is cruising. The Phantom is not escorting the Bear straight and level. To keep station inverted, at the Bear’s cruise speed of 400+ mph the Phantom would have to fly nose up, at a very high negative alpha necessary to create enough lift to sustain level flight. Especially with a lot of fuel onboard (initially it used the drop tanks). Also, interceptors do not keep station higher than the target. In those times, if a Soviet pilot did, what Russian pilots do today, he would have been severely disciplined for following American practices, a sign of weakness against “ideological diversionism”. Still, things happened. On all sides. Like today.

    • leroy

      “In those times, if a Soviet pilot did, what Russian pilots do today, he would have been severely disciplined …”.

      Patently false.

  • leroy

    I’m guessing you and your lead (wingman) kept good separation. I have no problem with rolling over an aircraft to snap photos, I do take issue with getting so close as to almost cause a collision. My objection is to threatening maneuvers, not safely executed ones.

    • Tomas Rodriguez

      How do YOU know this barrel roll was safely executed? How do YOU know the Russian barrel roll was unsafely executed? Nobody should do barrel rolls around uncollaborating aircraft. Not all-evil Russians. Not angelic Americans. Not NATO saints.

  • NoMeansNo

    A certain magazine which I can’t remember the name stated – in the eighties – such manoeuvres used to happen as evasive actions after the fighters pilots notice a possible threat due the remote controlled gun turret on the Bear’s tail. Does it makes any sense?!?

  • leroy

    Lest anyone fail to question the professionalism and safety of air tactics employed by past (and seemingly present) Russian/Soviet pilots, I remind you of the shootdown of Korean Air Lines Flight 007. The Russian pilot visually ID’d it as a civilian airliner, but he went ahead and shot it down anyway. Mass murder by any reasonable standard.

    And I don’t want to hear about the Vincennes incident. The Captain and crew thought they were engaging an Iranian F-14 that was not in visual range, and of course there was a war going on and the U.S. ship was under attack. So don’t try comparing the two incidents. There were no similarities other than both incidents were shoot-downs of civilian airliners, one accidentally by a ship (Vincennes) the other on purpose by an aircraft (KAL 007).

    • Tomas Rodriguez

      Did you ever read the other side of the KAL 007 story and the personal account of the pilot involved? Did you ever read the Iranian conclusions about the Vincennes tragedy? Obviously not. I did. There is always at least two sides to every story. KAL and the Soviets made mistakes, they accepted it. The captain of the Vincennes made mistakes. He accepted it. The Iranians say they did not make any mistakes. Nor the Soviet pilot, nor the American captain wanted to deliberately kill innocent civilians. But the omniscient Leroy is enlightening us with his infallible verdicts.

    • Scar

      Russians havent identified it as civilian airliner, it id as US spy plane crossing CLOSED border. Feel free to read more on that before you type here your own imaginary things

      • leroy

        The intercepting pilot reported seeing lit-up windows with people inside. And the U.S. recorded the voice transmissions which heard the pilot say he saw a commercial airliner. Nice try. Now you read (if you can):

        “In a 1991 interview with Izvestia, Major Genadi Osipovich, pilot of the Su-15 interceptor that shot the 747 down, spoke about his recollections of the events leading up to the shootdown. Contrary to official Soviet statements at the time, he recalled telling ground controllers that there were “blinking lights”. He continued, saying that “I saw two rows of windows and knew that this was a Boeing. I knew this was a civilian plane.”


    • Holztransistor

      KAL 007 was shot down on purpose but not with the intend to kill civilians. The Soviet command was sure it was a spy plane and that was the reason for the order.

  • George Salvesen

    Thanks for your comments and your post. ..very interesting. ..

  • Daniel Nichols

    What if… the picture is upside down :-O

  • Is this good enough for you? Never forget the Malaysian plane shot down by the Russians.


  • Holztransistor

    Thank you for the additional pictures and clarification.

  • cencio4
  • mikhas

    What endanger you most is being were you shouldn’t be and provoke foreign lands thousands of miles from your “own” shores. Best way to starry safe in Syria is to stay out of it unless you’r invited and that you most certainly are not.