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John Peters: The Tornado was doing 540 knots fifty feet above the desert when the missile hit. A hand- held SAM-16, its infra-red warhead locked onto the furnace heat of the aircraft's engines. Some lone Iraqi's lucky day. Travelling at twice the speed of sound, the SAM streaked into the bomber's tailpipe, piercing the heart of its right turbine. Five kilograms of titanium- laced high-explosive vaporised on impact, smashing the thirty-ton aircraft sideways. It shuddered, a bright flame spurting from its skin; fifteen million pounds- worth of high technology crippled in a moment by the modern equivalent of the catapult. The computerised fly-by-wire system went down, transforming the aircraft instantly from thoroughbred to cart-horse.

We had just completed our attack run on the huge At Rumaylah airfield complex, in southwestern Iraq; I was pulling the Tornado through a hard 4g turn, with sixty degrees of bank, to get onto the escape heading. The aircraft was standing on one wing, at the limits of controllable flight. The fly-by-wire loss sent it tumbling- , the stick falling dead in my hands - a terrifying feeling for a pilot. I was pushing the controls frantically, the Tornado falling out of the sky, the ground ballooning up sickeningly in my windshield.


The battered faces of the two British airmen which appeared on the world's television screens in January 1991 (see photo) are lasting images of the suffering and brutality of war.

RAF Flight Lieutenants John Peters and John Nichol were shot down over enemy territory on their first airborne mission of the Gulf War. Their capture in the desert, half a mile from their blazing Tornado bomber, began, a nightmare seven-week ordeal of torture and interrogation which brought both men close to death. Please click here to ask a question
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  • Seller location: Waitakere City, Auckland, NZ

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