Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Sloe Gin 01

By Doug Jenkins

Early morning on 26 July 1978, during my tour of duty flying F-4s in Iceland, I was pulling alert. I was the lead ship in a flight of two. My call sign was Sloe Gin 01. The day before, when we first had come on alert, had been a quiet day with little or no air activity. We had eaten supper, watched a movie and gone to bed around 10:00 p.m.

We were in a sound slumber when the claxon went off indicating we had ten minutes to be airborne in search of an unidentified aircraft penetrating the Icelandic ADIZ from the east. As we scrambled to suit up, we noticed that thick fog had rolled in, creating nearly zero ceiling, zero visibility weather conditions. We ran out to the aircraft, started the engines, did our before takeoff checks and took the runway. In just a few seconds, we heard on Tower frequency, “Sloe Gin 01 and 02, this is an active air defense scramble. You are cleared for takeoff.”

My backseater, Jim Uken, worked the radar and read the climb-out checklist. We were in total IFR conditions, with cloud tops reported at around 30,000 feet. Soon Jim reported a bogey at twelve o’clock, 50 miles east of our position. As we continued our climb, he locked on to the target and gave me vectors to set up for an intercept and a join-up.

At 30,000 feet, we were still in the soup. It was still dark, although some light was visible to the northeast. We made the intercept and join-up entirely on radar, approaching the lumbering bomber from behind. Finally, about 1000 feet back, I caught a glimpse of the outline of the aircraft. There he was, skimming through the tops of the clouds, completely blacked out. We carefully drew to within 500 feet, directly behind and below the aircraft.

I could hear the roar of the engines, but I could not make out the door number we needed to report back to ground control for tracking purposes. “Sloe Gin 01, say door number!” my ground controller commanded. “Ground Control, this is Sloe Gin 01. Unable. Visibility precludes.” Again, the ground controller commanded, “Sloe Gin 01, say door number!” We were now approaching minimum fuel and the bomber was about to exit Icelandic airspace. We moved in as close as we dared, to a point directly under the big Russian bomber. I’m sure the pilot was no more comfortable having us immediately under his aircraft than we were being there. We could feel the prop wash and turbulence from his airplane washing across our own. Jim had a big flashlight which he shined up through the top of our cockpit canopy in an attempt to illuminate the elusive two digit number on the nose wheel door of the Bear. Still, we couldn’t make it out for sure.

“Sloe Gin 01, say door number!” our ground controller commanded, his voice an octave higher. “Ground control, this is Sloe Gin 01. I still can’t make it out. I just wish he’d turn on his exterior lights!” Immediately, the exterior lights came on! “Ground control, this is Sloe Gin 01. Door number is 38.” “Roger, Sloe Gin 01,” the controller replied. “Good job! You’re cleared to return to base!” We returned to Keflavik through thick clouds and fog, performing an instrument approach and landing. Ceiling at the base was 200 feet and visibility was ¼ mile. Wow, were we glad to be back on the ground. Thank you, Lord, I breathed as we rolled down the runway and taxied back to parking. I was convinced we had cheated death again, but not by our own skill and cunning.

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