Col. Jeff “Claw” Hwang

493rd EFS “Grim Reapers,” F-15C
2 x MiG-29s
26 March 1999
Call-sign: DIRK 21

Col. Hwang Graduated UPT at Laughlin AFR in 1990. Upon completing F-15C training at Tyndall AFB, he spent six years flying the Eagle and T-37 prior to being assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron of the 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath. “Claw” had been in the squadron for two years, and had flown one Operation ALLIED FORCE mission prior to this engagement. The following account is from an email he sent just days after the event to fellow Eagle Drivers.

Well, I’m finally back in England after being Temporary Duty (TDY) since the end of January 1999 at least for two weeks anyway. Got sent direct to Cervia AB, Italy, from Operation NORTHERN WATCH in Turkey after being at Incirlik AB for over seven weeks (“Luv the ‘Lik” no ‘mo!). My house and yard are a total mess!There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight in the Kosovo situation, but the war is over for me, at least for a while. Some of you have probably already heard through the grapevine about what happened to “Boomer” and me. Here’s the proverbial “Rest of the Story.”

“Boomer” and I were tasked as Bosnia-Herzegovina DCA on 26 March 1999, Vul time (Vulnerability Time, or station Time) from 1500Z to 1900Z. We were established on CAP over Tuzla for about an hour after the initial refueling. At 1602Z, while eastbound approaching the Bosnia/Yugoslavia border, I got a radar contact 37 nm to the east, 6K’ (Altitude 6000 feet), beaming south at over 600 knots.
Of course AWACS had no clue, and did not have any inkling someone was flying on the other side of the border (although he was real good at calling out every single friendly WEST of us!)
I called out the contact, and “Boomer” was locked same. Without an ID, and not being tactically sound to cross the border at the time, I elected to pump our formation in a right hand turn through south and called, “PUSH IT UP, BURNER, TAPES ON!” (We were initially flying .85 Mach at 28,000 feet, and rolled out heading west/southwest.) At that time I didn’t think anything much would happen. I figured the contact would probably continue south or turn east, and remain well on the eastern side of the border.

Nevertheless, I called the flight lead of the south CAP over Sarajevo and gave him a craniums-up on the position of the contact, altitude, and the heading. This entire time AWACS still had no radar contact, even after I called it out on the radio. Man, running away with the contact at our six o’clock with AWACS not having any clue was NOT comfortable!
“Boomer” and I continued west for a total of 60 seconds (about 10 nm) before I directed the formation to turn back hot, again turning through south in an attempt to get some cut-off. “Boomer” was on the north side of the formation (left side, as we rolled out heading east). We both got contact BRA 070 degrees for 37 nm, 23,000 feet, target now heading west (hot towards us). AWACS finally woke up and starting seeing the same thing. Now, I’m starting to think Sh!T IS GONNA HAPPEN (evident with the increase of about two octaves in my voice!).
It was fairly obvious this guy originated from FRY (Former Republic of Yugoslavia), and there were no OCA missions on at the time. We still needed to get clearance from AWACS to engage, so I requested (codeword) and got no reply from the controller (pretty sure he had no freakin’ clue what that codeword meant!). About this time both “Boomer” and I got good ID on the target in our own cockpits, and with threat hot towards us inside 30 nm I decided to blow off the AWACS/clearance to engage restriction and go for it!

Target was now inside 30 nm, and I directed “Boomer” to target the single group. I broke lock, and went back to search in 40 nm scope and 120 degree sweep. The target then check-turned to the right towards the northwest (about 14L aspect) and descended to high teens. “Boomer” and I checked about 30 degrees left to the northeast for cutoff. This check-turn slung me aft in the formation so I stroke it up to full afterburner to get more line abreast. I called COMBAT 1, ARM HOT, and saw “Boomer”s wing tanks come off with bright flames under the wing. Pretty impressive!
I was well over the Mach when I punched my tanks off, and the jet jumped up abruptly (you can see it in the HUD). I took a quick look back to check and see if my stabs were still intact… I rolled my radar elevation coverage down, looking from about 5,000 to 21,000 feet, and no kidding, stayed in search for at least one full frame (believe me, I wanted to go back to single target track SO DAMN BAD!). AWACS started calling out two contacts, lead – trail. Sure enough, I was starting to see the break out on my scope!
At about 20 nm “Boomer” called “FOX 3, 18K! 1 saw the cons/smoke from his jet and thought SONOFABITCH! I gotta get me some!
I commanded miniraster on the leader, and as soon as the radar locked, I immediately thumbed forward to HD TWS. My first shot came off inside 16 nm from the leader. When I pressed the pickle button, it seemed like an ETERNITY before the missile actually launched, but when it did…WOW!!!! I have never shot an AMRAAM or AIM-7 before at WSEP (and I don’t think I have a chance in hell of shooting more missiles at WSEP after this!). The missile came off with such a loud roar/whoosh, I not only heard it clearly in the cockpit above the wind noise, radio comm, ear plugs, and helmet, I actually FELT the rocket motor roar!
In the HUD, you can see the flames shooting out from the tail end of the missile, and the smoke and cons following it! I stepped immediately to the trailer in HD TWS, and pressed and held the pickle button for at least three seconds. Again, thinking COME ON, DAMN IT! LAUNCH!
The second missile came off just as impressively as the first after the same painful delay. I yelled, “Dirk 1, Fox six, lead trail! (I was later critiqued on my comm as incorrect 3-1 terminology… WHATEVER!)
Since “Boomer” was the primary shooter I assumed he was locked to the leader, so I kept the trailer as the PDT. Didn’t want to screw with a good thing, so I stayed in HD TWS inside 10 nm (our Weapons Officer promptly criticized me for NOT going STT inside 10 nm upon reviewing my VSD tape; thus, I still have to pass my IPUG Tactical Intercept check ride!). Both targets started a left check-turn to the southwest (14L to H to 16R aspect) and continued to descend to low teens. Approaching 10 nm, checking RWR to make sure we weren’t targeted: “DIRK 1 naked !” DIRK 2 naked !” “DIRK (flight), let’s go pure!”
From 30K, both of us rolled our jets inverted, pointed nose low directly at the TD box on the HUD, and pulled throttles to idle. I think my heart rate at this time was reaching my aerobic limit for my age (you know, that formula: 220 minus age…)! Against a broken cloud background, I saw a tiny dot in the TD box about seven to eight nm out. I called, DIRK 1, tally ho, nose seven nm, low!”
Realizing I saw the trailer, I was praying “Boomer” would soon follow up with a tally call on the leader. Approaching five nm, I’m scanning in front of the trailer for the leader, but no joy. Sh!t! The trailer continued his left turn to southwest, and I was looking at approx 14R aspect. Inside of five nm I thumb aft to AIM-9, and tried twice to un-cage, but the tone was not there.
Just then, between the HUD and the canopy bow (about right 12:30 to 1 o’clock position), I saw the leader explode! The best visual description I can think of is if you held a torch from one of those Hawaiian Luau parties and swing it through the air. The flame, with an extended tail trailing the torch, is exactly what I saw! Turning my attention back to the trailer, the trailer exploded into a streaking flame seconds later just as I tried to un-cage the missile the third time! Never mind!

“DIRK 1, SPASH TWO MlG-29s, B/E035!!!” I’m ashamed… I was screaming like a woman! I didn’t really bother to keep an eye on the fireballs, so I didn’t see any chutes. Later reports confirmed both pilots ejected safely.
Anyway, I called for “Boomer” and me to reference 080 heading and short range radar. Thumbed aft to AUTOGUNS, plugged in full afterburner, and accelerated to 460 knots at 20K (20.000 feet). My cranium was on a swivel, and I was breathing like I just ran a full sprint!
DIRK 2, blind! Crap!!!! I looked north, and it took me a few seconds to find “Boomer” (about 3.5 nm left and stacked high). I tried to talk his eyes back to me, but “Boomer” called out to west in a right turn. I waited a few seconds to sanitize and turned west as well. During the turn I immediately pulled into double beeper due to airspeed and Gs (looking back, I should’ve over-G’d so the mission would’ve been more impressive…).
Rolling out. I was three nm in trail of “Boomer,” so I had him shackled to the south to pick up line abreast. The fun wasn’t over yet, “Boomer” got an AUTOGUN snap lock less than 10 nm south of us, low altitude, with no ID. I told him to press for VID while I followed him three nm in trail. We were diving back down to the low teens, and I saw ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on my radar!

“Boomer” all of a sudden pulls up and yells, “DIRK 2, unable ID!” That’s BAD!!! I just about sh!t in my pants! I saw nothing, and after a few seconds I asked “Boomer” if he saw ANYTHING at all. “Boomer” said he didn’t see anything, so we just stroked it up and separated to the northwest for a while, then came back for a second look. Nobody home! “Boomer” thought it may have been a bad radar lock. I sure hope so!
The rest of the sortie was one excitement after another. While on the boom, AWACS controller started calling out every single ground traffic as possible contacts crossing the border into Bosnia. For a while it sounded like a mass attack on Tuzla! By now it was night, and “Boomer” (in an offset 3-5 nm trail) and I were still running around with our hair on fire!
One time AWACS called out contacts very low alt moving towards Tuzla westbound. I didn’t see squat on my tube, and neither did “Boomer.” As the position of group started getting closer to Tuzla, I expected to see a burst of explosion from the airfield underneath! “Boomer” and I were gonna go from “heroes to zeroes” real soon!
AWACS later called out MiG CAPs just 15 nm northeast of the border! “Boomer” and I were ready to “Pop a cap in their ass” across the border as soon as we got contact and ID! Again, nothing on the radar. We even did two iterations of a grinder with a two ship of Vipers, and no one got a solid radar hit.
That night we committed and armed hot THREE MORE TIMES after the MiG kills based on ridiculous AWACS calls! No kidding, by the time our replacement showed up (four hours of vul time later), I was totally exhausted and drained!
The flight across the Adriatic was uneventful, and “Boomer” and I finally had a moment to think about what happened. After I landed and pulled into de-arm, I saw a freak in a flight suit wearing a reflective belt, jumping up and down. Sure enough, it was “Freak” welcoming us back!
Taxi back to the chocks was like having a bunch of kids following an ice cream truck! Everyone came running out, and waited at the parking spot for “Boomer” and me. “Boomer” taxied in front of me as I pulled into my spot. Losing all professionalism and radio discipline (yada yada…), I called out on Ops freq: “‘Boomer,’ You’re the Sh!T!!!” Getting out of the jet and greeting all the bros and maintainers was THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY CAREER!!! Our Ops Group Commander was first to shake my hand, followed by the mob!
We were laughing, shouting, hooting, high-fiving, and hugging! It was awesome! Couldn’t wait to review the tapes, so we all piled into the “Turtle” (a deployable secure debrief facility, aka a small trailer) and watched my HUD tapes. Thank God it recorded everything clearly, including the fireball from the trailer.
More of the squadron bros almost knocked me over when they came storming into the Turtle! We were all screaming and jumping so hard in the Turtle I thought it was going to fall over! Too bad “Boomer’s” VSD tape did not run, and his HUD tape was washed out due to a high aperture setting. “Boomer” and I were laughing and high-fiving the entire car ride home! We weren’t even supposed to fly that day!
Some afterthoughts… No kidding, it took over a day for this to finally sink in. It felt almost surreal that day/night. Our Maintenance Officer said it best when he saw me hours after I shut down engines, “So “Claw have you landed yet?” Only a few words can describe this event: F***ING unbelievably LUCKY! Not the fact we shot them down, but that they were airborne during our watch. Any Eagle driver could’ve easily done what “Boomer” and I did, but as one person said, “You guys won the lottery!”
The sequence of events happened in our favor like the planets lining up. The jets, missiles, and radar (well, at least mine) performed marvelously! Our Maintenance dudes deserve the bulk of the credit. We had no spares that day. The crew chiefs and the Pro Super absolutely BUSTED THEIR ASSES working red balls and launched us on time! “Boomer,” my wingman – what can I say? Regardless of whose missile hit which MiG, WE shot down two Fulcrums that afternoon. We succeed as a team, and fail as a team (good thing it was the former)!

“Boomer” did an OUTSTANDING job of finding the group, working the ID matrix, and targeting according to plan. If I didn’t have faith in him, I would not have broken lock and broken out the lead trail formation. Of course, I’m proud of what we did, but there’s one thing I’ll really stick out my chest for: to everyone who taught me and influenced me on my tactical flying and gave me long briefs (though painful at times), especially (names omitted), I DID NOT LET YOU GUYS DOWN!!! It doesn’t get much better than this, guys! Well, maybe two more kills would be pretty cool… That’s all I have to say.

Col. Jeff Hwang watches as aircraft maintenance crew members perform post flight procedures after his Fini Flight in the F-15 Eagle, Sept. 19, 2014, at the Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. Hwang, 142nd Fighter Wing vice commander, retires soon from the military after more than 26 years of service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel)