Saturday, 12 May 2007

Landing an F15 with only one wing.

What do you do when a wing is torn off your F15?

If you are Captain Zivi Nedivi, of the Israeli airforce, you break off from your training exercise and return to base. You've only got one wing, but you make up for that by flying twice as fast.

This really happened, on May 1 1983, over the Negev desert. The F15 Eagle collided with an A4 Skyhawk. The Skyhawk was destroyed, though I understand that the pilot ejected automatically and survived. The Eagle had a wing torn off, but the pilot incredibly managed to regain control and return safely home.

There's a great video reenactment of this, and I've added a partial transcript of the pilot's own account. The video was made by the history channel. All the moving pictures are reconstructions of some kind, but there are authentic still photos of the F15 after landing, at the end of the clip.

I've made a rough transcript, with a few "um" and "er" omitted. Portions in italic are spoken by the pilot.

Captain Zivi Nedivi experiences a pilot's worst nightmare when a training exercise goes horribly wrong.

He is flying a simulated airfield defense mission and is tasked with intercepting hostile aircraft, when disaster strikes

I saw what in hindsight was the number three, which is the leader of the second, the rear air, and he was upside down and I was around thirteen, fourteen thousand feet and I shot a missile.

Even though he was upside down, he continued to go up, and I was like this so it was stomach to wing, we couldn't see each other, and, uh, we collided.

Big commotion, big bang. The A4 basically fireballed immediately and I found myself with maybe thirty degrees nose down attitude and the aircraft was spinning.

Right after the crash I told my navigator "Prepare to eject, we're going to eject".

I opened afterburner, which is a totally opposite instinct when you're spinning towards the ground. Then the roll slowly stopped and slowly I was able to bring the nose back up.

I told my wingman to come close and to inspect me. There was a huge spray of fuel that was being drawn out of the wing, and it basically camouflaged what was going on there.

Nedivi survives the midair collision. He is ten miles out from the nearest airfield and hopes to still land safely. The pilot cannot see what has happened behind the spray of leaking fuel. His F15 has been so badly damaged in the collision that he is flying on just one wing.


After a devastating midair collision, Captain Zivi Nedivi finds himself flying a seriously damaged F15. Somehow he is able to regain control over his aircraft, and attempt a landing.

I approached the airfield. I crossed the threshold. Where usually in an F15 you cross at 130 knots, I crossed at anywhere between 250 to 260 knots.

He was landing at approximately twice the normal landing speed.

I put the tailhook down. There was a cable at about a third of the runway, and we went into that cable. But because of the speed, the hook is not built for those speeds and the hook basically tore off the aircraft.

We stopped maybe twenty feet short of the barrier.

As I was running the last fifty knots, bleeding off, my wingman said: "You're not going to believe what you flew on."

And I opened the canopy and I reached back to shake the hand of the navigator. And as I was reaching back, that was the first time that I looked and I saw that I didn't have a wing on the right hand side.

It's highly likely that if I would have seen it clearly I would have ejected, 'cause it was obvious you couldn't really fly an aeroplane like that. I don't think any other aircraft could have taken that amount of damage or that portion of its flight surfaces removed and continue to bring us home safely.

The best testament was a good friend of mine who was an F16 pilot, and he crossed and he saw that there was no wing, and his first words was "Can I transfer to F15s?"

It should be aerodynamically impossible for an aircraft to fly with one wing missing. McDonnell Douglas sends a team to investigate the incident.

Their first inclination was it was a taxiing accident. It couldn't happen in air in the aeroplane, and only when they later went to analyse it and said: "OK. The F15 has a very wide body, and you fly fast enough and you're like a rocket. You don't need wings."

The story has been told in various other locations. Here is another widely cited article: Mission Impossible. Apparently, the aircraft was repaired, with a few new parts (like a wing, for example) and restored to active duty in two months.

I found this just mind blowing. Hope you enjoy it as well!


  1. That's an amazing story, and well told by the pilot and the History Channel.

    There's an excellent account of the design process of the F-15 in the biographical book "Boyd" by Robert Coram - John Boyd was a pilot in the US air force who ended up in the Pentagon and was involved in the defense-contractor selection process and design process for the F-15 and some other aircraft. It's an interesting take on how a pilot views a new aircraft.

  2. Megalicious! You did a good job on the transcript.

  3. Indeed, there was enough wing left on this aircraft to support flight, but I do have one question. How come the video contains images of the F-100D which is obsolete??, and who shot the video??

  4. The video is from a reconstruction made by the History channel. You can see how they have whited out the missing wing in the reconstruction. What aircraft they used, I don't know; but some of the still photos at the very end are of the original aircraft. The video sequences are exciting, but could be using anything as far as I know.

  5. there are some flaws in the reconstruction video, like the pilot and the background rotating, while the camera is a fixed one...