France’s Desert Cats: Jaguars in the Gulf War

Frédéric Lert recounts the first mission by French Air Force Jaguars of the Gulf War, which proved to be a dramatic af air.

Two  formations of six heavily loaded SEPECAT Jaguars, each carrying a ton of bombs under the wings, rush towards their objective, skimming the desert floor in Kuwait on the morning of January 17, 1991. The altimeter hand is stuck on the left of the dial, below the first graduation – the Jaguars are less than 50ft (15m) from the ground, with an indicated airspeed of 480kts. Callsign ‘Jupiter 11’, Capt Alain Mahagne, ‘Charly’, is part of the second formation and spots tanks, trucks and groups of men; everywhere there were flashes that he quickly learns to recognise: AK-47s firing at him. Suddenly, a terrifying thump hits him on the temple, like a blow from a baseball bat. The outside world disappears from his field of vision. He is blind! At the same time, two other pilots radio that their aircraft are badly hit and burning.

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