Throughout military history dating back to the legendary showdown between David and Goliath, there are countless tales of an underdog defeating a much bigger, stronger adversary. In the biblical Book of Samuel the Philistine giant was defeated by the young David in single combat – and in the eons that have passed the smaller winners likely never had to buy a round at the bar again.
That was likely the case of the Fairey Swordfish pilots who sunk Germany’s Bismarck, and it is likely the case of a French fighter pilot who has the bragging rights of being the only one in his squadron to successfully have “killed” an American F-22 Raptor stealth fighter – albeit in mock combat. While not exactly unprecedented, the simulated shoot-down remains a big deal.
First, the Lockheed Martin-built F-22 was arguably the most advanced warplane to date, and the Pentagon had placed so much confidence in each aircraft that it was expected a single Raptor could take on a larger number of enemy aircraft. For that reason, every mock dogfight lost by an F-22 was seen as a big deal and the Pentagon never likes to lose, even when it is just a simulation.
Then there is the fact that since World War II, the reputation of the French military hasn’t been so good. Being defeated in six weeks in 1940 was a huge stain for the French but it was followed by defeats in Indo-China and Algeria. When one’s scorecard has as many losses as checkmarks in the win column it is hard to see that rival as a threat.
Yet, as is often the case – the best fighter pilot only needs to do something wrong once. While he or she could be right a thousand times, it is the one error that could end in defeat and possibly end their life if the fighting is real. That’s why Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen – aka the “Red Baron” – was dead at age 25. He may have been among the best of his generation, but all it takes is the other guy getting lucky when you’re having a bad day.
The French pilot’s victory over the F-22 occurred in November 2009, during an exercise involving U.S. Air Force F-22s from the 1st Fighter Wing that were operating out of Al Dhafra in the United Arabs Emirates and French Air Force Rafale fighters, as well as UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoon jets.
According to TheAviationist.com, the French Ministry of Defense released video footage reportedly taken by one of its Rafale fighters that showed an F-22 in a dogfighting exercise where the French caught the Raptor and may have scored a mock kill. The result was that the French plane had won at least one round of pretend fighting.
Where the matter is a bit trickier is that the American pilots insisted their planes had gone undefeated in the exercise and had shot down the Rafales in six one-on-one engagements, while five other simulated dogfights may have ended in draws. Yet, the U.S. pilots did admit to losing one in the war games, when an F-22 was defeated by a Mirage 2000 flown by an Emirati pilot.
Subsequent videos released online suggest that the Rafale was in a position to launch an infrared-guided Mica missile at the Raptor. The U.S. Air Force likely wasn’t trying to cover up anything, but the exact situation involving the exchange likely remained one of debate. As an actual missile wasn’t launched, perhaps it was felt the F-22 still could have had an advantage.
Yet, even two losses for the number of engagements would still be a fine record.
Moreover, the F-22 is not invincible. It may be one of the most advanced aircraft ever built, but it doesn’t give its pilots superpowers. That is why over the years, in other training exercises, the Raptor has been “shot down” by F-16s and Navy Growler jets. Likewise, more recently, German pilots flying Typhoons have determined the best tactics for combating the F-22.
“No matter how magical the F-22, any pilot can make a mistake,” admitted Lt. Col. Dirk Smith, a Raptor squadron commander.
As noted, one mistake is the matter between being the pilot who buys the drinks and being the one who might be “honored” afterwards as one of the fallen.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military