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snopes 04 April 2010 08:17 PM

Fighter shoots itself down
Comment: For years after I enlisted in the USAF in 1964 and to now there is a
legend about an aircraft, usually said to be an F-104 Starfighter,
shooting itself down by outrunning his fired bullets and running into
Is this true?

Eddylizard 04 April 2010 08:45 PM

Different aircraft, similar tale veracity unknown.

And another (PDF warning)

JoeBentley 04 April 2010 09:07 PM

As EddyLizard said, a incident like this did occur.

E. Q. Taft 06 April 2010 12:35 AM

In Chuck Yeager's autobiography, IIRC, he says that the first time they test-fired heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, they headed straight for the sun...

Troberg 06 April 2010 09:19 AM

Sounds a bit like this story:


Cyrano 12 April 2010 02:35 PM


Originally Posted by JoeBentley (Post 1191460)
As EddyLizard said, a incident like this did occur.

The story with the F11-F Tiger has been cited by the French magazine "Le Fana de l'Aviation", one of the most serious aviation publications I know. I'd say at least this one's real.

Dweezil Dwarftosser 18 February 2011 10:35 AM

While such things do not rise to 'legend' status, most fighter aircraft with internal guns (20mm Vulcan M61-A'x' standard in USAF) do indeed have the capability to shoot themselves down. Since the projectiles slow down after firing (and begin tumbling after a few thousand feet of travel), 'target fixation' is a real problem for low-experience pilots firing against ground targets.

They forget to stop firing when they 'pull up' from the target. Worse yet, some may continue in a straight line past the target, neglecting to turn away from the projectiles that are (relatively) 'just hanging in the air' waiting to intercept his path.

It wasn't much of a problem flying out of Korat during the Vietnam War, but was a real danger over the ranges of Florida for 'students' in replacement training units at MacDill during that war.

There were quite a few F-4Es that returned with holes that weren't there when they took off. Had they been using something other than TP ball ammunition (a non-explosive round; essentially a lead bullet) they could easily have shot themselves down, when they flew into their own projectiles. (Either fired while pulling up, or a stray ricochet from the ground.)

The physics were different for Air-to-air gun runs against a towed aluminum dart (precluding almost all contact with fired ammo) but the answer is 'Yes". A fighter aircraft could indeed shoot itself down, if the 'stick actuator' badly screws up.

DD - former Msgt, USAF, and career F-4E Weapons Control Systems tech.

DesertRat 19 February 2011 01:41 PM

Thanks for the info, and welcome to the board, MSgt!

mouse goddess 21 February 2011 04:01 PM

We have a family friend who was a POW during Vietnam. His story was that he shot off his live ammo before a carrier landing. One of the missiles malfunctioned exploded in front of the plane (A4) and was sucked into the engines, sort of shooting himself down.

Here's a link.

This one says that he was shooting at something specific, but the story I'd always heard was that he was dumping his live ammo.

Smoke & Mirrors 09 March 2011 04:26 PM

DOH! Dweezil Dwarftooser beat me to it.


Onetap 22 November 2011 10:02 PM

There was an incident, I think in the '70s, in which a UK aircraft (I think it was a Bucaneer) was firing at targets on the ground on a range. One of the rounds ricochetted off a metal object on the ground and bounced back up into the air, hitting the aircraft after it had passed over the targets.

Lost_Cavalier 01 December 2011 02:07 PM

I've heard this quite a few times about an SR-71 Blackbird that was modified as a fighter jet. However, while there was a few SR-71s (or its predecessor, the A-12) converted for testing as a fighter (the YF-12), they were only ever armed with missiles, not guns.

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