And you thought McHale’s Navy was cancelled back in 1966. It was one of the most bizarre stories Battleland ever covered. And incredibly, the perpetrator – the young Navy officer who mistakenly shot down a U.S. warplane 25 years ago – is being promoted to the rank of admiral (granted, it was an Air Force plane the Navy pilot shot down, but even so…).
Here’s the top of the story, from the April 18, 1988, front page of the Chicago Tribune:
The war game ended abruptly when the Air Force RF-4C broke sharply to the left and dived threateningly toward the USS Saratoga. Hot on its tail, the pilot aboard the F-14 Tomcat, the Navy’s hottest warplane, sought advice from the aircraft carrier.
“Red and free on your contact,” the Saratoga told him.
The phrase “red and free” stunned the pilot.
“Jesus!” he exclaimed to his back seat radar officer. “Do they want me to shoot this guy?”
“Yeah,” the radarman said. “Shoot!”
The pilot squeezed his trigger.
“I saw the Sidewinder dip low and to the inside of the turn,” he said later. “I saw it hit, probably around the stabilator on the port side, and then a big fireball.”
Moments later, two parachutes opened and safely deposited two bruised Air Force officers into the Mediterranean.
The triggerman was Lieutenant (j.g.) Timothy Dorsey. Here’s the end of the story (you can read the amazing middle here):
Later, Dorsey reflected on the day`s events. “Under no circumstances do I consider myself trigger-happy,” he said.
“If called upon to do so, I`ve been trained to react decisively and smartly. In this most unfortunate mishap, I believe that I indeed reacted decisively and, at the time, with the information I had received and interpreted, believed I was acting smartly.
“If flying tomorrow, I`d have a heck of a lot more things I`d do differently.”
But Dorsey won`t get that chance. The Navy ruled that he will be allowed to keep his pilot wings, but he never again will be allowed to fly a Navy aircraft.
So they’ve made him a rear admiral instead (click to enlarge):
The Washington Times reports that Dorsey became a reserve Navy intelligence officer following the shootdown, before getting a law degree and becoming an inspector general. It also probably didn’t hurt his career, the paper’s Rowan Scarborough notes, that his father, James Dorsey, was the skipper of the aircraft carrier USS America, and himself an aviator, at the time of the shootdown.
“I’m going to have to decline to talk right now, based on the kind of job I’m going to be taking,” the admiral-to-be told the newspaper. “I’m not really big on talking to press for anything.” Can’t imagine why.