It is August 1981, and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet is conducting real fire exercises in the Gulf of Sirte because some years before, in 1973, Muammar al-Gaddafi had claimed this sea zone as a Libyan territory with the opposition of the US and most of the European countries in a movement that could be catalogued as “Diplomacy of warships”.
The 18th of August, while conducting this exercises, seventy contacts appear on the American radars. The US fleet only had fourteen planes in the air, being a combination of modern F14 Tomcats and old F4 Phantoms, which was completely insufficient to manage the situation. Luckily, after a few warnings, the Libyan planes turned back, but the Sixth Fleet wanted revenge for this scare.
The day after, an E2 Hawkeye detects two Libyan Su22 Fitter planes approaching a pair of American F14 Tomcats, 60 miles south of the limit of the Libyan-claimed sea zone under the 32º30’N parallel, which got called the “Death Line”. In fact, the two Libyan planes had fell into a trap trying to intercept a lonely and fragile S-3A Viking which was used as bait.
Surprised by the encounter, one of the Su22 threw a missile to the F14s, missing it, then the two pairs crossed in front of each other. The Tomcats managed to outmanoeuvre the Su22s, finally throwing both missiles against the Libyans hitting them (fortunately both pilots ejected and survived). After this show of force by the US Navy, the Libyans ceased their challenging attempts.
Later that day, it is told that, while trying to land on the Nimitz class carriers, one of the American pilots suffered severe stress symptoms and made several attempts before finally landing safely.
If you have read until this point, you may have noticed the references, because this event is what inspired the first part of the famous movie “Top Gun”, where the “Death Line” is called “Danger Zone” (editor’s note: a great song by Kenny Loggins) and the Mig-28 where in fact the two Libyan fighter planes. Disclaimer: Mig28 never existed and for the movie a bunch of F5-Tiger II planes were used, which were painted black, like the Rolling Stones.
So, when you watch the sequel, (which is fun actually, author recommends it) think about what the real story that inspired the saga is!