The First Plane To Shoot Itself Down



By the 1950s, the Cold War was in full swing and the Soviets appeared to have the edge in fighter plane technology with the debut of a new plane, the MiG-15. The new fighter had a design that no one had yet seen flying. Its swept-back wingspan allowed it to achieve speeds approaching the speed of sound, and the U.S. Navy needed to figure out how to beat it in order to protect its carriers. What they came up with was the F-11 Tiger, which incorporated the latest and greatest in naval aviation technology. On Sept. 21, 1956, test pilot Tom Attridge began a shallow dive in his F-11, and as he did he fired two short bursts of the aircraft’s four 20mm cannons. He thought nothing of it until he got to the end of his dive and the bursts began to shoot up his aircraft. The F-11 began to lose power and Attridge headed back to base to land it. To make it back without shattering the canopy, he would have to slow the plane to a crawl, causing the engine to only produce 78% of its normal power. Two miles away from the runway the engine went out completely, but Attridge didn’t bail out. In the slowed aircraft, he settled into some trees and, despite some injuries, he exited the plane once on the ground and was picked up by a rescue helicopter. The plane, as it turned out, was hit in the windshield, the right intake, and the nose cone by its own rounds. The low pitch of the plane and its trajectory, combined with the trajectory of the bullets and the speed of the F-11’s descent at half the speed of sound right into the guns’ target area, meant that the plane would easily catch up with its own burst of 20mm fire. The pilot shot himself down in about 11 seconds, making the F-11 the first plane to shoot itself down.