On June 2, 1972, Col. Phil “Hands” Handley and three other F-4E Phantoms were supporting a search and rescue mission for a pilot who had been shot down 23 days before.
The Phantoms flew out of Thailand’s Ubon Air Base by Hanoi. When two of them ran low on fuel, they left to meet with an aerial tanker.
However, Handley kept flying with his wingman. Then, two MiG-19s appeared out of thin air. The two pilots stuck together, but his wingman went high, and Handley turned his Phantom toward the MiGs-19s getting ready to fire.
The Phantom carries four missiles, two are AIM-4 heat-seeking missiles, and the other two are AIM-7 Sparrow missiles. The Sparrow had a 10% kill rate, and the AIM-4 had a 5% probability of hitting its target. All four missiles missed their targets, but Handley still had a 20mm cannon. But, the cannon’s capabilities were largely untested.
Handley had no choice, though. Since he was flying at Mach 1.2, the gap between the planes was quickly closing. So he shot a three-second burst at the MiGs.
When the rounds hit the MiG-19, it exploded. The other fighter turned around after the first MiG became a fireball. Handley’s wingman met with the tanker for fuel, and they all went back to Ubon Air Base.
Handley’s battle with the MiG was the first time a cannon was used to fight the enemy. Once they reached base, they were told the pilot had been located.
Handley served in the Air Force for 26 years and held the record for the highest-speed gun kills and the first and only supersonic gun kill.