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Jaw-dropping footage of a US fighter pilot dodging missiles in the Gulf War

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Ever wondered what modern air combat is like? The above real-life footage, from the cockpit of a US F-16 during the Gulf War — which was picked up on Thursday by James Clark at the news site Task & Purpose — gives a dramatic look.

The video begins with the pilot, call sign Stroke 3, taking off in a mission launched on January 19, 1991, about two days into the war. According to The Gulf War Chronicles, a book by military historian Richard Lowry, Stroke 3 was part of a 16-fighter group targeting the Iraqi Air Force headquarters, a Republican Guard installation, and an oil refinery. These were all near Baghdad, and hence well defended.

At first, the mission was smooth sailing — until about three minutes in. You can hear urgent beeping as the plane radio warns of incoming surface-to-air missiles, called SA-2s, and watch the plane's gyrations as the pilot attempts (successfully) to dodge the missiles. It's hair-raising stuff.

The pilot makes it out intact. Some of the other Stroke pilots weren't so lucky: Both Stroke 4, Capt. Harry M. Roberts, and the leader, Stroke 1, Maj. Jeffrey Tice, were hit by missiles and forced to eject.

You hear audio of this happening in the tape. "Wait, somebody got hit," someone — it's not clear who — yells over the radio at around 4:30. "Stroke 4 is hit!" another voice replies.

Both Roberts and Tice were captured by the Iraqi military and tortured, but were eventually released.

This footage isn't all that new, obviously, but it's been making the rounds online after being recirculated by redditor lanson15. It helps show that, contrary to how it is portrayed in popular culture, being a fighter pilot in combat isn't glamorous. It's confusing, frantic, and — above all — dangerous.

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