The Libyan pilot who fired a missile at a U.S. Navy jet Wednesday had virtually no chance of hitting anything, according to details of the Mediterranean dogfight reaching Washington.
The launching of that missile prompted two U.S. F14 pilots to pounce on two Libyan jets and destroy them.
According to pilot reports reaching the Pentagon, the pair of Soviet-built SU22s and the pair of F14s were approaching one another at a closing speed of about 1,100 mph, with each set of planes slightly spread out and with wingman trailing flight leader in each case.
When the U.S. pilots visually spotted the oncoming planes, the lead F14 turned sharply and swooped in slightly above and alongside the lead SU22 to further identify it. The Libyan pilot in the lead plane then fired its heat-seeking Soviet-built missile. But at that moment there was no possibility of hitting either the F14 above him or the other Navy plane, which was well to the side in front of him.
The F14s maneuvered in behind the Libyan planes, holding their fire until the sun was out of their heat-seeking missiles' sights, then fired Sidewinder missiles up the tails of the Libyan jets.
The details raise questions about whether the Libyan firing was an accident or a nervous reaction by the pilot, because earlier in the two-day Mediterranean exercise about 40 other Libyan planes had come out to probe U.S. defenses, with no missiles being fired.
The Navy yesterday released the names of the four U.S. fliers involved.
Cmdr. Henry M. Kleeman of Clinton, Ill., commanding officer of the VF41 "Black Aces" squadron based at Oceana, Va., piloted one of the planes. His radar intercept officer was Lt. David J. Venlet of Pottstown, Pa.
Piloting the second Tomcat was Lt. Lawrence M. Muczynski of Houston. His radar intercept officer was Lt. James P. Anderson of West Palm Beach, Fla.