50 Years Ago: Supersonic ‘Guns’ Kill

2 June 1972: USAF Major Philip W. “Hands” Handley, 32nd TFS “Wolfhounds,” grabbed the record for the highest speed air-to-air gun kill in the history of aerial combat, smoking an enemy (NVAF) MiG-19 over Hanoi using the internal 20mm Vulcan of Brenda 01 (AF 68210), his F-4E Phantom, while in the midst of a Mach 1.2 pass.

The final run, at just 500 feet off the deck over rice paddy, was also credited as the only MiG-19 shot down by air-to-air guns during the course of the Vietnam war– as well as the world’s only documented supersonic gun kill.

The following is from the Gathering of Eagles Foundation

On 2 June 1972, while leading a 4-ship of F-4Es in a combat air patrol northeast of Hanoi, his element was attacked by two MiG-19s. With his wingman critically low on fuel and unable to engage, he fought the MiGs in a dogfight ranging in altitude from 15,000 feet to 500 feet above the ground. During the engagement, he expended all four of his air-to-air missiles, however, none of them guided.

With only 20mm cannon ordnance remaining, he closed at a rate of almost four and one-half football fields per second for a high deflection shot (high angle guns snap) on the trailing MiG. Seconds later, while 500 feet above the ground, at a heading-crossing angle of 90 degrees, and a speed of 1.2 mach, he fired a 300 round burst from his M-61 Gatling gun and destroyed the MiG-19.

Ret. Col. Handley, the holder of the Silver Star and three DFCs, passed away in 2019, aged 83, and is buried in Texas, the land of his birth.

He penned an excellent work, Nickel on the Grass, reflecting on his 26-year career, almost all of it spent in the cockpit. The cover includes the MiG-19 “guns” kill. 

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