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USN Downs USAF

Posted by Jolly on February 24, 2012

We posted the original story a few years ago, and now the rest of the story with a new twist.  Sorry, could not resist the flame bait.  I don't know the guy, he may be a good egg for all I know, but YGBSM right?  

 Panetta Nominates Notorious Navy Captain For Admiral  

 Lt. J.G. Timothy Dorsey Intentionally Shot Down Friendly RF-4C in 1987

FUTomcatConvertible.jpgThe world of military aviation is an environment intolerant of screw-ups. You might think the career of a US Navy junior lieutenant who intentionally shot a live missile at an Air Force F-4 during a training exercise, nearly killing two airmen, would have been over. Instead, the Obama administration has nominated him for promotion to Admiral.

The Washington Times reports that among the list of nominees submitted to the Senate by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is navy Reserve Captain Timothy W. Dorsey who, on September 22, 1987, was taking part in a non-fire flight exercise over the Mediterranean in an F-14. He was reportedly given a command to simulate a missile firing, but instead armed a real Sidewinder missile without telling his radar intercept officer (RIO), and shot down an Air Force plane. Its Pilot and WSO ejected moments before the RF-4C exploded.

The 1988 investigative report was scathing. The Associated Press got a copy through the Freedom of Information Act. It reads, in part, "The destruction of USAF RF-4C was not the result of an accident, but the consequence of a deliberate act. His subsequent reaction demonstrated an absolute disregard of the known facts and circumstances.

“He failed to utilize the decision-making process taught in replacement training and reacted in a purely mechanical manner. The performance of Lieutenant Timothy W. Dorsey raises substantial doubt as to his capacity for good, sound judgment."

Vice Admiral Kendall Moranville, who had headed the 6th Fleet, added, "We necessarily rely on the self-discipline and judgment of pilots to prevent such incidents...Nothing, in my opinion, can mitigate Lieutenant Dorsey’s basic error in judgment."

Retired F-14 pilot Jon Ault tells the Times, "I would never have guessed he’d ever make it to commander, much less admiral...I thought his career was over back when the shoot-down happened. He refused to accept any blame...I mean, the guy did it on purpose."

In the nearly 25 years since the missile incident, Dorsey has built a resume which includes becoming a reserve intelligence officer, then inspector general. He's also earned a law degree from the University of Richmond. But how did his career survive that 1987 incident, and the harsh reviews which followed?

It's probably just coincidence, but at the time of the incident, Dorsey's father, James Dorsey, was commander of the aircraft carrier USS America. A year later, he became assistant deputy chief of naval operations at the Pentagon and later became a three-star vice admiral.

Captain Dorsey currently serves as inspector general for Navy Reserve Detachment 106 in Norfolk, VA. He declined to discuss the 1987 incident with the Times, saying he's about to take a Navy Reserve intelligence post, and a high profile in the press would be inappropriate.

 

THE INCIDENT

On an early fall afternoon in September, 1987, Vodka 51, an RF-4C, departed Aviano Air Base in Italy bound, for the Mediterranean. Their job that day was to find the US aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. Of course, part of Exercise Display Determination, a joint USAF, USN and NATO exercise, taking place in the Med, was for Navy assets to defend the carrier and stop detection of its location.  The search for the carrier and the defense of it, as always, were to occur within the exercise ROE. 
 
Vodka 51 was flying a special RF-4 TEREC that day. TEREC, Tactical Electronic Reconnaissance, was the AN/ALQ-125, which enabled detection of electronic beeps and squeaks that could emanate from various sources, one being an aircraft carrier group. That’s how Vodka 51 planned to find the Saratoga.

RF-4C Phantom II Gunter Gronstein

USAF RF-4C Phantom II
Photo by Gunter Gronstein

 
After the flight across Northern Italy and into the Mediterranean, the first order of business for Vodka 51 was to hit a tanker for airborne refueling. Join up and hook up with the tanker was routine and uneventful. While taking gas the RF-4 crew noticed a Navy F-14 had joined on the tanker’s wing. Thinking nothing of it Vodka 51 concentrated on the task and hand and, once topped off, disconnected and left the tanker track to start their search. As they turned away, Vodka noticed the Tomcat did not stay with the tanker but appeared to follow them.
 
Vodka 51 got their TEREC equipment up and running then started their flight search pattern to hunt for the Saratoga. As it seems to happen on occasion, the cosmic stuff decides not to work and, on this day, the TEREC gear failed to operate. However, the RF-4 guys did notice the TACAN channel that was in use on the Saratoga three days prior was up and transmitting. That would allow them to make the briefed intercept of the Saratoga. As the Vodka 51 started down to the intercept altitude they lost sight of the Tomcat. Fifteen minutes after departing the tanker. a massive explosion engulfed the RF-4. Both the pilot and the WSO were able to eject. Although ejection parameters were not ideal, 550Kts, 5500 feet and negative 2.5 G’s, it was better than not getting out at all. All the egress equipment worked as briefed and, once they regained consciousness, they both found themselves under parachute canopies that settled them down to the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Their time in the water was relatively short, 45 minutes. A Navy rescue helicopter picked them up and brought them to the carrier. Vodka 51 had finally found the Saratoga.
 
Once they had been medically checked over and given dry clothes Vodka 51 met with the carrier CO. He asked them if they knew what had happened. When they said they thought they might have had a mid-air with the F-14 that had been following them, the CO said, “No, that F-14 was one of ours and he shot you down.” The WSO’s response was, "I thought we were on the same side sir!" To which the Admiral answered, "Normally we are."
 

F-14B Tomcat Mark Wheless

USN F-14B Tomcat
Photo by Mark Wheless

 
After departing the tanker, the F-14 had indeed followed Vodka 51. The Tomcat was being flown by a young, Navy LTJG, tactical call sign "Smoke," a player in the exercise, whose task it was to defend the carrier. Apparently, this was going to be quite an atta-boy, quickly eliminating an adversary so early in the exercise It was his luck that day to see the RF-4 come on station and to be able to follow him into the exercise area after refueling. It was also his luck, or misfortune, that day to be flying with live ordinance for Fleet defense when he was re-tasked from that role to participate in the exercise. The F-14 HUD video recorded his call to the carrier asking, within exercise rules, to engage the RF-4. He was given clearance, within exercise rules, to shoot and destroy Vodka 51. On the video you can plainly hear the Navy fighter pilot call up his left missile. You can hear him say everything is good, announce he’s firing the missile and a release cue is displayed. However, the left missile had a motor malfunction and didn't fire. You can hear the pilot is somewhat confused when no missile departed the rail. Next you hear on the HUD video as the Tomcat pilot called up his right missile and announce everything is good. This time when the release cue is displayed you also see the F-14 is inside the Break X signal, that he's 2500 feet behind the RF-4 and the Air Force jet’s Zweibrucken AB, Germany tail flash, ZR, can plainly be seen. Then a live AIM-9 flashes into the HUD field of view and makes its way to the RF-4 where it impacts in front of the tail section resulting in a huge explosion. While all this is going on, you can hear the RIO’s profanity filled screams asking his pilot what has he done. Then starting a rescue effort the RIO transmits, “MAYDAY, MAYDAY MAYDAY, WE'VE JUST SHOT DOWN THE F-4 AT 060/05 FROM MOTHER, NO CHUTES, NO CHUTES, NO CHUTES.”
 
A few interesting side notes. 
 
  • One of the ROE’s of the exercise was that no participating aircraft were allowed to carry live missiles. 
 
  • The Navy LTJG, when asked later by the accident investigation board, said, yes, indeed, he intended to shoot a live missile. He was not court-martialed but put on non-flying duties and never flew again.
 
  • This very same LTJG’s father was an active Navy Vice Admiral who, when flying combat missions in Vietnam, accidentally shot down his wingman.
 
  • The pilot of Vodka 51 has ever since been known as Squidbait. He’s had numerous back surgeries as a result of the Martin-Baker ejection; the most recent, earlier this year, 2008.
 
  • The accident board determined that Vodka 51 was very lucky to have almost full fuel tanks. Had those fuel tanks been mostly empty, filled with fuel vapors, the explosion would have been much more massive, ripping the RF-4 apart and almost certainly killing the crew.

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Comments:

Posted by Splash on
Story is pretty accurate coming from someone who was not there. Who
gave the details? The USAF orthe USN? Can disuss more in detail if required.

Splash
Posted by Jolly on
Splash,

Do you have any information to add to this story? Rowdy wrote the article and got the details on line from multiple sources. I was at Ramstien when this happened and remember the shit storm that followed in close trail, but overall it was kept pretty quiet. About that same time, someone in the 526th shot down their wingman at WSEP with a heater. My personnel favorite was in Alaska when a wingman shot down his flight lead with a heater during a practice intercept on the way to alert with live missiles. The call was a classic -- "Fox 2, oh shit I forgot, lead break left with flares!" As Bluto would say --- "Holy Shitda." There's another story we will have to run.

Jolly
Posted by Redneck on
Any historian out there want to address the F4 v F4 shoot down off the coast of NC? Shit happens.
Posted by Banzai on
Note to self: when alone and unafraid, do not fly straight and level with a fighter parked at 6 o'clock, especially when said fighter pilot is fragged for live fire ex and is determined to get an X in the box.
Posted by Gomer on
Jolly,
The wingman in Alaska didn't shoot down his flight lead. Close, though. It was a BFM set-up and the lead aircraft, 0054, survived the attack and flew again in 1991. Good jet, flew it many times after the heater damage was all fixed up. Gomer
Posted by AE2MAC on
This is a story that I have personal interest in, and it is quite refreshing to read its details from someone else’s point of view.I am not a pilot, but I was a young Aviation Electrician’s mate with the F-14 squadron involved in this incident.
I was twenty-two years old, and I was on top of the world, fixing state of the art fighter jets aboard the USS Saratoga. Far from the kid I was three years prior, shoveling cold patch into potholes for the borough. As a troubleshooter for VF-74, I was often tasked with doing quick repairs between flights. On this particular day, I did a repair on aircraft number 101, a beautiful new plane that still had the original factory paint. The F-14 was not a fly-by-wire plane which links the cockpit controls to the hydraulic systems electrically. This plane linked the cockpit controls to the hydraulic systems mechanically. The turtleback section ran along the plane’s spine and was predominantly occupied with the mechanical linkage that connected cockpit controls to the control surface actuators. The repair that I performed was in the turtleback section just aft of the cockpit bulkhead. Any debris or tools left behind during maintenance in this area could have serious and catastrophic effects on the controllability of the airplane. After the repair, I accompanied the plane and its crew to the catapult for a routinely uneventful launch.
With all the planes launched, I retreated to the AE shop for quick rest break before having to receive the birds from the previous sorties. I no sooner sat my ass down when Master Chief shouted over the bitch box “One-O-One is in the water”. The thought of a new plane crashing due to a mechanical failure did not even enter into my mind, let alone the possibility of being shot down. In my mind, there were only two possible reasons for this catastrophe: pilot error or maintenance error. I immediately rechecked to see that all my tools were in their proper place. My stomach was in a knot with the thought that I may be directly responsible for the loss of a plane and its crew. A trail of black smoke against the brilliant blue sky a few points abaft the ship’s starboard beam came into view, as I climbed onto flight deck’s port side by the waist catapults. Although still very concerned for the wellbeing of the crew, I felt somewhat relieved by the image in the sky. I was fairly certain that any mistake that I may have made in my repairs to the plane could not have caused a plane to break up in such fiery fashion. I headed starboard across the deck. There were orange flames of burning fuel on the sea’s surface eight or so miles away with a column of black smoke reaching thousands of feet skyward. A crowd was gathering as I stopped at the scupper to stare in awe at the distant wreckage. Behind me, a helicopter was readying for the rescue. The voice of a shipmate called to me. “Mac,” he said, “Master Chief just called back to say that he was mistaken, it seems that 101 did not crash, but actually shot down another plane, possibly an Italian fighter jet.” Feeling much relieved, I figured I would just let the situation unfold and present the truth without rumored speculation. I proceeded forward to prepare for the next round of recoveries and launches as Air boss ordered “All non-essential personnel off the flight deck, helmets on, goggles down, float coats on, and sleeves rolled down” in preparation for the resumption of flight operations. I found myself atop another plane doing a preflight inspection as the rescue helicopter was returning. “Please God,” I said lowly, “no bodies.” The helicopter landed, the door opened, and the rescued crew of two was helped onto the deck. They walked toward the island as my cheer blended with the cheers of my surrounding shipmates. The smug looks upon the faces of these two men and the obvious removal of national insignia from their olive drab flight suits indicated to me that these were not the faces of an Italian crew.
With the flight deck in full operation, I anxiously awaited the return of 101. The plane trapped, and I could see the tell tale markings of soot from AIM-9 on the starboard side of the aircraft. My skipper, with cupped hands around his mouth, called to me from the starboard catwalk outside of maintenance control, “What’s it look like, Mac?” “It doesn’t look good, Skip,” I hollered back, shaking my head as I made my way toward him. Acquiring a more conversation permitting distance, I continued, “You’re missing a missile.” After an uncharacteristically explosive rant and string of obscenities, Skipper stormed off below deck.
Part of my duties as a troubleshooter was to follow the crews to the office of our squadron’s maintenance control and debrief them about the performance of the plane’s avionics during their flight. My experiences with this particular young pilot were not very positive, and I did not share the same admiration for him as I did for most every officer in my squadron. In fact, I can not even remember his name. He parked the plane and shut her down as two personnel from ship’s security approached. The plane captain lowered the ladder and flipped open the steps to enable the crew to deplane. The men from security moved closely alongside the crew as they exited the plane. I could not help asking the pilot as he was being escorted away, “Sir… how did she fly today?” He just shot back a snidely glare as the two men directed him and his RIO toward the island, no doubt to stand in front of the ship’s captain. That was the last I ever saw of Mister what’s-his-name.
Fast forward a month or so, and a recovered piece of the wrecked United States Air Force RF-4C sat on the deck of the ship. It was an external fuel tank with some rather large openings torn into it. Someone had placed a sticker next to the larger of the holes; it was a sticker of our squadron’s emblem. As I stood looking at the tank along with two other electricians, another shipmate approached us. As this shipmate grew closer, my two comrades turned away swiftly, and uneasily moved on. Looking up, I snapped to attention, saluted and said sharply, “Good evening, Admiral Boorda.” “As you were, young man,” he responded with a smile. The two of us had a rather candid conversation as everyone else around us kept their distance. Taps played over the 1MC as the sun set and we continued on conversing. I do not remember all the details of the conversation that followed, but I do remember somewhat defending the pilot’s actions that brought down the F-4, citing perhaps a breakdown in communication contributed to the incident. The admiral shot back with a rather colorful remark concerning the character of the pilot. The pilot’s father was also an admiral and Mr. Boorda was much more familiar with this man than I was. I laughingly agreed with his opinion of the man saying, “Yea… I’m not a big fan”. He laughed back, “Well, young man, you won’t have to worry about dealing with him anymore, for that SOB will never fly again.”
Posted by babaracus13 on
I was an AW3 flying in Troubleshooter 611 with Helantisubron Three, The Mighty Tridents. We had just switched out with another Sikorsky SH3H from plane guard to the ASW duties when I heard the Mayday. I was still dressed out from starboard D and moved toward the door with my SAR gear when I heard the unfortunate call from the PG bird: "this is troubleshooter 610"... shoot in sight." AW3 Eric Buchan picked up one of the survivors and they air taxi'd him to the other. The first thing one of them said when the swimmer asked him if he was okay was: "Are the pilots okay?". They believed that they had a midair with the F-14. In the helo, Petty Officer Buchan immediately ripped off their Name tags from their flight suits, which he later sewed on his leather flight jacket. One of the strange things I noticed was that the pictures of the F14 pilot and RIO were gone from the VF-74 picture board by the time we landed. Another humorous incedent from the wardroom that I heard was that the pilot from the F4, (wearing a brand new set of Navy Khakis from the ships store) said: "Its not that we were shot down that worries me. It's that we were shot down by the Navy."
Brett A. Moore
AW1(AW/SW/NAC)
US Navy (ret)
Posted by pilotpat on
Splash,

I remember you telling this story at Mather... thought you'd be excited to know that the shooter just got promoted to O-7. Wild True Facts, Over.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/feb/16/admiral-nominee-rose-through-ranks-despite-illogic/?page=all
Posted by ETHolm on
This story is absolutely true; I was flying Vipers with the 10th TFS out of Hahn AB Germany when that knuckle-putz, Dorsey, shot down the RF-4. As a USAFE stan eval team augentee, I later wound up TDY with both of the recce bird's crew members,and their description of the event matches the account written here to a tee. The surprise of being told by the flat-top's skipper that they'd been shot down resulted in the AF WSO having to be restrained from later killing "Mr SA" in a passageway with his bare hands. From what he told me later, I think Dorsey's RIO was actually, and admittedly deserving, to be first in line for that honor! For the honor of many excellent Navy jocks I flew DACT against over the following years, who still didn't like to acknowledge this "incident," I think the RIO should have been allowed to proceed!

"E.T." Holm
Posted by DONNY on
I was an enlisted f-16 crew chief stationed at Torrejon AB, Spain when this event happened. Aviano AB, Italy was my unit's (14th FS lucky Devils) forward operating location for cold war ops. We were TDY there for an exercise. I remember two RF-4s parked outside Transient Alert in the Sierra Loop. Although the USSR was our primary adversary at the time, tensions were running high with Libya as well. On a sunny afternoon of normal F-16 sortie launch and recovery, the word got around that we'd splashed a jet. At first I thought it was one of our Vipers, but then somebody said it was one of the TA F-4s and it was shot down! Wow! We're about to go at it with Libya big time I thought. Nope... it wasn't Libya we're told... it was our own US Navy! I still thought Libya had to be involved until my fellow crew dogs and I saw a Navy C-2 on approach for landing. We jumped in our flight line maintenance expediter van and sneaked as close as we could to TA. There was a fair amount of "brass" hanging out so we kept a safe distance so we wouldn't get yelled at. The C-2 was marshaled to a stop and the side door was opened. Out stepped what was apparently the F-4 crew. As I remember it, they were dressed in Navy tan flight suits. One Pilot had his arm in a sling. When I was stationed at Misawa in the 1990s,, Japan I worked with a Viper Pilot named TJ Perrerra (spelling?). He was an RF-4 RSO stationed at Zwiebruken, Germany, the victim F-4's home base, when this all went down and remembered it clearly. It was nice to have some "back-up" for one of my many war stories. Thanks for your article. Nice to see the rest of the story.

Don Russell
USAF SMSgt (Ret)
Posted by dwwoods on
Nice research. Ten % rule not invoked here, this account is 100% accurate!!! One of my TPS Classmates was in VF-74 with the young man at the time of this shoot down. Hey, a "kills a kil"l just doesn't seem appropriate, the Zoomies (big football players) were very lucky to escape this bafoonery.
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