Eagle Profile

Phil “Hands” Handley is credited with the highest speed air-to-air gun kill in the history of aerial combat. Born on 9 April 1935, in Wellington, Texas, he dreamed of becoming an Army Air Corp fighter pilot from the first moment he saw pictures of the great piston driven fighters of World War II. He attended the University of Texas in Austin majoring in petroleum engineering and joined AFROTC. During a pre-induction flight physical he was told that his eyesight was marginal and that by the end of his final semester it was doubtful that he would qualify for pilot training. He then made a fateful decision which he has never regretted. Proceeding directly to an Air Force Recruiting Office, he joined the Aviation Cadet Program, thus forfeiting his degree and commission which were only months away. After graduating at the top of his pilot training class in 1959, and F-86 upgrade training in 1960, he was stunned to learn that his only assignment options were Strategic Air Command B-47s or C-130s. The allure of France persuaded him to choose a C-130A assignment at Evreux-Fauville Air Base, located 70 miles west of Paris. After almost four years of vain attempts to return to tactical fighters, all hope faded when he was assigned as a flight examiner to the 317th Troop Carrier Wing (TCW) at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. Fate finally smiled upon him when he was tapped as the C-130 demonstration pilot for the Lockbourne Armed Forces Day Air Show on 4 July 1965. His ensuing demonstration consisted of rotation to a vertical climb from takeoff and terminated with a landing roll of 200 feet directly in front of the reviewing stands. Upon engine shutdown, he was immediately summoned to the wing commander’s office where it was deemed that his services were no longer needed in the 317 TCW. Handley was reassigned to Williams AFB, Arizona, where he conducted functional check flights in the T-37, T-38, and F-5 and thus ended his 5-year stint with the great C-130 Hercules. Following checkout in the F-4C at Davis Monthan AFB in1969, he flew the F-4 for the next 17 years. 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. Col Handley “flew the line” for all but three years of his 26-year career, including 275 combat missions during two tours in Southeast Asia. He was the 22d Tactical Fighter Squadron Commander, USAFE Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, 1st Tactical Fighter Wing Deputy for Operations, and 405th Tactical Training Wing Commander. He is a graduate of Air Command and Staff College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and the US Army War College. Upon his retirement on 1 June 1984, his awards included 21 Air Medals, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and the Silver Star. In 2006, he wrote Nickel On The Grass, chronicling his 26-year career as a pilot in the United States Air Force. Col Handley and Solvejg, his wife of 50 years, have two children, Philip II and Andrea. Col Handley and Solvejg live in Lake Kiowa, Texas.

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2011 Lithograph

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On 2 June 1972, Major Phil "Hands" Handley made aerial combat history in an F-4E over North Vietnam. After firing all of his AIM-7 and AIM-4 missiles, which failed to guide, he destroyed a MiG-19 with a three-second burst from his 20mm M-61 gatling gun. At the time of the kill, his aircraft was traveling at mach 1.2, or almost four and one-half football fields per second, while only 500 feet above the ground, at a slant-range of 300 feet, and with a heading-crossing angle of 90 degrees. For this victory, Major Handley and his Weapon Systems Officer, 1st Lt Jack "Karst" Smallwood, were awarded the Silver Star.