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

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

[Read also the follow up story, that provides more details about the shot featured in this article, here: “We Did Barrel Rolls Around Tu-95s At The Request Of The Soviets”: F-4 WSO Explains The Story Of The Phantom Upside Down Near Bear“]

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…

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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).

    • 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.

    • 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

      • 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.”


    • 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.

    • Pepe, could you please provide the link to the final report of that investigation. When I was trained in Aircraft Accident Investigation in the UK, they told us that the Commission should include all parties involved in the possible causes.
      Russia was not only not invited, but not even heard. The only legal explanation for that has to be that Russia was not involved, otherwise the Commision would be in flagrant violation of the International law. That simple. Of course, nowadays the law is manipulated by the powers that be and by the media that misinforms the trusting people like you.

      If you don’t believe me, please read the Annex 13 of the International Civil Aviation Organization and the other documents referenced therein. Then make your own opinion.

      The Aviationist, in this case, is not the source of information, nor can he be. He simply is informing us of what is publicly available. Not even the Commission can appertain guilt to any party. It must find the “most probable cause” of the accident, to prevent its recurrence. Nothing else. I is not a tribunal. That’s why it ought to be completely independent, unbiased and untainted. Is that the case in this situation?

      Excuse my curiosity. Is your doctorate related to Aviation?

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