CAIRO: “In 1956 when I was 10-years-old, I saw enemy fighter aircraft bombard Al-Maza Airbase; this scene inspired me to be a fighter pilot.”
Maj. Gen. Ahmed Kamal Abdul Hamid al-Mansouri, Egypt’s “Professional Eagle,” is a veteran of the October War, and famed in Egypt for his unorthodox tactics and daring.
His MiG-21, a Soviet-made fighter jet, is displayed in the 6 October Panorama Museum in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City. “The Russians never thought for one second when they made the MiG-21 with its limitations that the Egyptian pilots could do so much with it,” Mansouri said.
On the 41st anniversary of the October War, The Cairo Post interviewed Mansouri to ask him about his recollections of the 1973 conflict, including the story of how he once landed his jet on a highway.
Mansouri was born in 1946 in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. His father was an officer in the army and participated in the 1952 revolution as a member of the Free Officers Movement.
“When I was a child, I was living near Al-Maza Airbase; I became used to seeing fighter aircraft squadrons flying in the Cairo sky; since that moment, my eyes were engaged with the sky,” he said.
Mansouri joined the Aviation College, now known as the Air Forces College, in 1963. He graduated in 1967 with a class of 100 other pilots. He first flew a MiG-17, and then started flying MiG-21s.
Life as a fighter pilot meant waking at dawn, he said, and being ready to face an attack within just three minutes.
“After the 1967 setback we forgot our families and everything related to civil life, we only had one goal: to achieve victory over Israel,” he said.
Mansouri flew 52 sorties in the October War, including the last sortie for the Egyptian military, where he lost his friend, Soliman Diaf-Allah, in a dogfight.
Mansouri is revered as a national hero. His nicknames and call signs include “Crazy Pilot,” “Phantom Killer” and “Black Jaguars Leader.” Former President Anwar Sadat awarded him the Sinai Star Award and President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi honored him in a recent veterans celebration.
Highway from the danger zone
Mansouri is best known for a decisive battle on Feb. 15, 1973. His squadron at the Beni Suef Airbase was alerted to six incoming Israeli fighter jets in the sky. At the time, the Egyptians were under orders not to attack unless the enemy aircraft came within 30 kilometers.
“On that day the Israeli air forces crossed that limit and they were going over the 3rd Army zones for reconnaissance,” Mansouri said. “Myself and another fighter pilot named Hassan Lotfy received orders to fight; my call sign in this operation was ‘Jaguar Leader.’”
During the skirmish, the fuel in both pilots’ MiG-21s ran low, and Mansouri radioed his command to tell them the two would have to try and land by the Red Sea coast.
Lotfy died on impact in the resulting crash landing, “but I miraculously landed on the Red Sea Highway,” Mansouri said.
He added that as he landed he had to avoid a truck, whose driver fled after the crash.
“I was found by Egyptian soldiers who mistook me for an Israeli pilot, maybe because of my light eyes!” Mansouri recalled.
Some fellow soldiers began to beat him, “but Thank God an officer who was an old friend of mine recognized me. I was injured from the Egyptian soldiers’ hits, but I forgave them,” Mansouri said.
Later in the October War, Mansouri earned another nickname after a maneuver during a dogfight with Israeli fighters.
“I did a maneuver called the ‘last death maneuver,’ as I was sure that I would be killed when I started to lose fuel. I flew the plane toward the ground, and I reached 3,000 feet,” he said. “I did a half circle so that I could rise again; this movement is impossible for a MiG-21 to do at an altitude of 3,000 feet and zero speed and the Israeli pilots thought my MiG would crash.”
However, Mansouri said he “miraculously” rose again to find two Israeli jets right in his sights. Unfazed by his brush with death, he went right back to work, launching a rocket at the enemy aircraft and scoring a direct hit on one.