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Vengeance for the Ostfriesland?

[ 59 ] January 5, 2013 |

I’ve heard of inter-service conflict, but…

In 1987, while flying off the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, a Lt. j.g. Timothy W. Dorsey fired a missile at an Air Force F-4 reconnaissance jet piloted by then-Lt. Ross. He and his backseat officer ejected as the F-4 plunged into the sea.

Navy investigation called Lt. Dorsey’s decision an “illogical act” that “raises substantial doubt as to his capacity for good, sound judgment.”

“The September 22, 1987, destruction of USAF RF-4C was not the result of an accident, but the consequence of a deliberate act,” the investigator wrote. “His subsequent reaction [to the radio command] demonstrated an absolute disregard of the known facts and circumstances.”

The Navy banned him from flying for life.

The Senate adjourned without considering Dorsey’s promotion to Admiral. The USAF crew survived, but the pilot has experienced severe back pain since the incident. To say the least, the story of Dorsey’s later career must be remarkably… interesting.


Comments (59)

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  1. Ian says:

    From this article:

    “The Navy banned him from flying, a punishment that at the time would seem to have ended the career of the Navy admiral’s son.”


    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Note too that after the unfortunate illogical act he reinvented himself—as, among other things, a Navy intelligence agent.

    • Linnaeus says:

      Well, that answers my question as to why he was allowed to continue to have a career in the US Navy at all.

      • cpinva says:

        that was the first thing that i thought of:

        Well, that answers my question as to why he was allowed to continue to have a career in the US Navy at all.

        he should have been in the brig, not at a desk, or in the navy at all.

    • MosesZD says:

      Back in the early 1980s I had a friend get an Article 15 because he’d written some checks against his payroll deposit that was supposed to go in on that day. But CBPO failed to get it in for another week (even though his LES said it was in on the right date) on the right date and so three checks bounced. (All of which he made good without anyone up the CoC forcing him.)

      He was reduced in rank to E-3 from E-4 (with a promotion to E-5 scheduled within two months), was denied re-enlistment and was discharged with a discharge code that prevented his reenlistment for a two-year period.

      His dad wasn’t a general or an admiral. Go figure.

  2. Ken Houghton says:

    The Navy “banned him from flying for life,” but “re-invented” him as a key cog in the GWoT.

    Wonder what would have happened if his father hadn’t been a 3-star Admiral? Anyone not know which way to bet?

    His father should have done the honorable thing. But he clearly never has.

    The entire conceit of Top Gun has been shown to be a lie. Good thing Tony Scott doesn’t have to see this.

  3. Leeds man says:

    Did Dorsey give an explanation? Shouldn’t the outcome have been charges of attempted murder? WTF?

  4. Leeds man says:

    A bit more background here.

    • rea says:

      Although . . .

      Dorsey admitted he had forgotten that the Phantom had refueled from a National Guard tanker only minutes before.

      • LosGatosCA says:

        Seriously? ‘I forgot’ stopped working for me at 14. And that was just on taking my shoes off in the house.

        But I guess if your dad is an admiral (mine wasn’t) you don’t get those kind of extended privileges.

        • rea says:

          Well, it took a series of screwups to cause this–the people on the carrier who loaded the plane with live ammunition, the controller on the carrier who ordered him to shoot, and his rear-seat observer (who substantially outranked him) who also told him to shoot. But, yeah, we don’t want officers, and particularly not admirals, who obey direct orders they know are foolish and illegal.

          • Julia Grey says:

            It was a war game.

            Yes, they shouldn’t have loaded live ammunition. But that’s what they did, and they apparently did it on all the Navy gamers that day. Nobody was supposed to use it, but they all had it on board in order to “maintain readiness,” or some such nonsense, I suppose.

            SO, when they were in the process of playing the wargame, all the other people in the chain of command didn’t have a clue that he would think they were ordering him to actually shoot that live ammunition,


            He was supposed to put the AF plane in his sights and the “shooting” everyone else thought they were ordering would be some kind of game “mark” punched in at a certain point so that he’d get CREDIT for the (mock) shoot down.

            But he for some reason was suddenly caught up in the idea that he was involved in something real (RUSSKIES!!!) even though he’d seen the “enemy” aircraft refueling from our own tanker just minutes before.

            So he took the GAME command as a REAL one, and used his live ammunition to deliberately shoot the other aircraft down.


            Like they said, the judgment and decision making capacity he demonstrated was… there are no words. I wonder…did they take a blood test for drugs?

          • efgoldman says:

            The Navy is continuing its investigation of the incident, and its report is not yet available. But a lengthy Air Force report of its investigation, which included interviews with the fliers, details how an apparently unrelated series of minor glitches and misunderstandings mushroomed into disaster. The following reconstruction is drawn from that report.

            Two Navy F-14s left the Saratoga at midafternoon on a clear day. Both were armed with live missiles, which was contrary to an agreement on war games with the Air Force.

            Fuck ups at 30,000 feet. Some Navy commanders, as well as Dorsey, should have been court-marshaled.

            • They had to negotiate a no-live-ammo agreement? Do they normally do pistols at dawn?

              • cpinva says:

                i believe it’s swords.

                They had to negotiate a no-live-ammo agreement? Do they normally do pistols at dawn?

                yeah, i have never heard of live ammo ever being used in war games, period. because, well, um, they’re games!

                btw, having an admiral for a daddy helped john mcain out, lots, from gaining admission to the naval academy (he didn’t qualify, academically), to gaining entre’ to the naval aviator program (again, didn’t qualify). being shot down over north vietnam was, at least in part, the consequence of his failure to follow orders (apparently, from interviews with fellow officers, not an unusual event), which put him where he shouldn’t have been.

                so yeah, having an admiral (or senator, etc.) for a daddy (or mommy) covers up a host of sins.

                • Julia Grey says:

                  The agreement was probably that there’d be no live ammo used under any circumstances IN THE GAME (sometimes it is used in war games, within certain guidelines/safeguards).

                  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was some kind of Thing in the fleet during the Cold War which dictated that Navy aircraft never left a carrier without some kind of ammunition loaded.

                  In any case, yes, agreements were needed regarding live ammunition because sometimes it is used. The location and circumstances of the use have to be negotiated pretty carefully.

            • Cody says:

              Question: Why was he allowed to keep his wings if he was never allowed to fly again?

              Isn’t that what they’re for? I’m guessing it’s just a prestige thing in the Navy. Now he’s an Admiral he has his wings (he even has combat experience! Does he get a star for shooting down a plane?)

              Also, I’m really impressed everyone was okay in this incident. I would have though getting hit by a missile would kill you, without time to bail out. Guess my knowledge on missile damage is pretty much null.

  5. Rennie says:

    Isn’t there something about this story that reminds one of John McCain and his father?

  6. ZekeNY says:

    I can’t decide how to react. Either:

    (a) I’m surprised the Republicans haven’t (yet) nominated him for Vice President;


    (b) Finally, we’ve found someone who hates the Air Force more than Farley.

  7. LosGatosCA says:

    On the other hand this guy seems perfectly suited for military intelligence where screw ups can just be stamped ‘Super Duper Secret’ and nobody needs to know much of anything about what you do, how much it costs, or if it even needs to be done at all. How else can we get to a $800B budget with no oversight?

  8. lawguy says:

    I’m curious do general’s sons get the same kind of “benefits”?

    • cpinva says:


      I’m curious do general’s sons get the same kind of “benefits”?

    • Major Kong says:

      Back when I was a T-38 instructor we had a general’s son go through the program.

      He really wanted to fly the F-16 but based on his performance in pilot training there’s no way he was qualified to do so.

      The general called the commander of the training unit and said in no uncertain terms that his son was going to fly F-16s.

      Sure enough the kid ended up punching out of a perfectly good F-16 because he got disoriented in the weather and ended up heading straight down through the overcast.

  9. Julia Grey says:

    People are asking why he’s even being considered for promotion. Isn’t the “up or out” policy still in effect? Since they let him stay in for 25+, hasn’t he gotten to the point of longevity where he either has to be promoted or he has to retire?

    I say, make the guy retire. Let’s allow that his long service in (*choke*) Naval Intelligence has made some recompense for the aircraft he destroyed and the men he injured. Fine. Now he should do the honorable thing and take his cushy O-6 pension and SCRAM.

    (I thought the little detail about how he never apologized to Ross until his promotion was up before the Senate was…interesting, too.)

  10. Colin Day says:

    Didn’t the Army sink the Ostfriesland? The US didn’t even have an independent Air Force in 1921?

  11. montag2 says:

    When does Dorsey dump his wife, move to Arizona, marry a beer heiress and run for the Senate?

  12. i.boskone says:

    I’m surmising that the USAF balking at aircraft carrying live ordnance during exercises may stem from this incident.

    • jon says:

      Wow. That makes Dorsey’s shootdown seem like an even greater act of depraved indifference. It seems to be an inherent problem of the training and readiness regimen – much of the repetition is undertaken to develop followthrough and muscle memory so that actions can be completed under the stress and disorientation of combat. The training also seeks to overcome humans general reluctance to kill other humans. Repetitive training exercises helps to mentally distance you from the reality of the action. Perhaps Dorsey learned a little too well?

    • Cody says:

      Wow, that Staff Sergeant sounds hardcore.

      “I’m not sure how I got out” (Read: I jumped out of that mother%!@$$# like a boss!)

      Then, after jumping out of a shot B-52 he made himself a crutch and found someone to play cards with for 36 hours.

      Someone get this man a drink.

  13. Do the other services have the same “aristocratic bloodlines” attitude that the Navy seems to have?

  14. Woodrowfan says:

    don’t read the comment son the Wash Times article. It doesn’t take long for BENGHAZI! OMG! FAST AND FURIOUS!

  15. grouchomarxist says:

    Anyone else reminded of that scene from The Bedford Incident?

    Captain Finlander: Now don’t worry, Commodore. The Bedford’ll never fire first. But if he fires one, I’ll fire one.

    Ensign Ralston: [launching the rocket] Fire One!

  16. Major Kong says:

    The USAF crew survived, but the pilot has experienced severe back pain since the incident.

    I know people who have ejected. The chances of injury during an ejection are 100%.

    The seat hits you with 17 G’s and then you hit the air going however fast the plane was going when you ejected.

    It beats crashing and burning but it’s not something you’d want to do.

    • ajay says:

      IIRC, if you eject once, you lose an inch in height, permanently, and can apply for your Martin-Baker Club tie. (Criterion for admission: to have had your life saved by a Martin-Baker ejection seat.)
      If you eject twice, you lose another inch in height and your wings – third and subsequent ejections are just too risky.

  17. ajay says:

    Then again, if he’d shot down an airliner and killed everyone on board, they’d probably have given him a medal.

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