Mahmud Zarabi: We Had Just One Way and It Was That We Must Won Gold

Memories of the Greatest Air Fight in the World

Interviewed by Mehdi Khanbanpoor
Edited by Maryam Rajabi
Translated by Rohollah Golmoradi


In the interview memories of Mahmud Zarabi, Second Brigadier General, are represented that stated in conversation with website of Iran Oral History. A man that has spent his best years of his life in cabins of warplanes without any frightening, and is always believes two factors of faith and unity led success of our nation and current generation must recognize real heroes of their country. This time, we see eight years of Sacred Defense in window of the prowess of Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.


Introduce yourself.

Pilots usually start this way: in the name of skies creator, high sky is my place.

I'm pilot Mahmud Zarabi and I was born in a crowded family in Kerman, one of the most deprived parts of Iran at that time, March 14, 1947.


How did you enter pilotage?

I was curious in childhood and one of my teachers told me: "You will do something that any one of students will not." Those days when we wanted go to dusty allies for football, because we hadn't ball and also money to buy a plastic ball, we gave textiles of old cloths our mothers so that sewed and rounded them for using them as a ball. At the other hand, because we just one shoes in a year and we must use them both for going to school and playing, so we couldn't use them continuously. Furthermore, we took off the shoes and because of it our feet touch land and stones and our nails were injured. For example, second toe of my right foot doesn't have nail and if I would martyr all knew me by the sign.



At the time, nearly once a week an airplane was crossed above us that went toward Zahedan and if stopped in Kerman we didn't see it, in fact it didn't have many passengers. When I watched sky and airplanes, I told myself: will it be really a day that I stand along the airplanes and take a photo? That is it was so dreamy for me, that I would be its passenger was unimaginable and that in a day I myself sit it as a pilot wasn't p thinkable at all; but it was in my unconsciousness that it human is Ashraf-Ul-Makhloqat (the most evolved creature) so everything is possible for him. The time spent and I graduated diploma of math in school of Kharazmi in Baharestan. Then I wanted to start a job but not provided. I entered Air Force and told myself it is the job that I wanted, so I was employed in academy of Air Force in 1968. After that I went USA and graduated, became Second Lieutenant and returned. In those days, I saw the teacher that told me you are different and asked me what do you do? I told what do you think about my job? He told you are paratrooper or pilot. I told I'm pilot. He said I knew you are curious and surely choose such a job.


How was your course in USA?

We were 43 people in pilotage academy of USA, 40 American and 3 Iranian. All 40 Americans had USA diploma, educated in the country and had graduated in BA and became Second Lieutenant; in fact, they intended educate pilotage or aerospace in MA. We also graduated diploma with 20 years old and go there to study together in English. Sometimes one may study but has a kind of cheating with him or herself in exam meeting, but our exams were in this way: we must closed the book we had studied and operated the content practically in airplane and sky so that they see it completely and cheating was not possible. In fact, our lessons were both theoretical and practical. It is need forces human to invention, people who choose the jobs are moral people, people that are hatred of monotonousness and routine, and are risk takers. Shortly, 6 of Americans failed and couldn't finish the course, but fortunately all of us (3 people) graduated.


What did you do after graduation?

We went academy of Air Force after returning from USA in 1970 and they sent us for courses of F-4, we were working in battalion F-4. Our gracious martyr Reza Razavi was the first commander of F-4. After finishing the course, it was determined that fly about 1000 hours in back cabin and then go to the front cabin. Our course was finished and after that they sent us Shiraz and let us sit in the front cabin. After a time, I became teacher of the back cabin and then land classes, and finally I became pilot of the front cabin. Pilot of the front cabin is scaled that is when one is pilot of the front cabin in fighter aircraft he/she will be first Non Leader (a pilot who is not still in level of conducting and leading flight team), then respectively Leader 4, 3, 2, and finally Leader 1. All the degrees are depended on years and hours of flight. In summary, I progressed so much till 1979 was arrived.

I was a 33 years Major that the revolution, a great and massive transformation, was realized and all know that two factors caused our success, one faith and another unity. Founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran stated if you preserve unity, you can success in everything. I remember that hospitals needed sponges for the wounded, people sent their white bedsheets in many trucks. Now situation has changed somehow, we should neglect some things, but I'm sure that we will be succeeded always because we "want" it. When we started flight in USA, the first label that gave us to put it upon our table, office or our car was written on it: "fighter pilots can do better." It means all pilots can do but fighter pilots do better. In fact all our people, one by one, had the same feeling of need to change and want to create a transformation that finally led to victory of the revolution. 


Do you remember two persons that were educating several years with you in USA?

Yes, Mr. Yadollah Javadpour that was in our Aerobatics team and had great achievement after the war and immigrated in USA or Canada during retirement. The second one was Jahangir Ebne Yamin that in Operation Kaman, in the first day of the war, at 4 in the afternoon, went to Baghdad base with the first group of Bushehr base, bombarded there and returned.


Are you in contact with them?

Yes, Yadollah Javadpour and I have sometimes a call and greet each other, but Jahangir Ebne Yamin and I are close friends and we are in contact permanently because he is chief of Air Operation of Zagros and is working there; he is one of effective and useful people.


September 22, 1980, at 2:05 (pm), you were informed that Iraq has attacked in Iran boundaries, where were you and how were you?

At the time we were in Bushehr and had two fighter battalions 62& 63 commanded by gracious Amir (Major General) Mehdi Dadpi, deputy of commander Mr. Fereydon Samadi that later came, he was my master too. We integrated two battalions into one and in the Operation, alongside deceased Ebrahim Kakavand, undertook tasks of Operation the six fighter base. In each    headquarter, there is a control room and determine positions of operation and tactics there. For many hours, in operation room which was Headquarter we had determined positions that perhaps would be threats in the future. One of the neighbors that pulled wires so much was Iraq. We identified our common bounder with Iraq, where are its strategic points; air bases, ground forces, bridges, refineries etc…. with respect to our flights in that region, we determined paths inside and always with ammunition that we decided to go, first we went and practiced. Because in training, practice is inseparable part of each pilot. As more as training during peace, there would be less blooding during war.

September 22, 1980, at 2:05 (pm), I was in operation room that the phone was dialed, someone told: "Mahmud?" I told "yes", he said: "they shot Mehrabad." Just after that I told too: "they shot here also and I hang up the phone." There was a loud voice and bombarded it. They had done in their words "Surprise Attack". They shot 5 bases of Tehran, Tabriz, Hamedan, Bushehr and Dezful at 2 pm in September 22. They attacked at 2 pm because all of our services were closed at 1:30 pm and all of our personnel were going home by bus and virtually they were neither arrived at home so that we tell them come back nor were in the base that we keep them, and all of this was assessed. Some parts of our base were destroyed, as well as a Jeep that two people were wounded in it and finally martyred. We had genteel man called Amir Major General Ghafour Jeddi that later martyred; he was Flight Safety Officer and at the time helped and furbished up destroyed positions around the airstrip. In the afternoon, at 4 o'clock, 4 armed aircraft F-4, went from Tehran to Shadravan District air base commanded by commander of Air Force and stroked the base and all 4 aircrafts and 8 pilots returned safe.


Did you attack the same day of September 22? Two hours after their attack?

Yes, just the same day at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and two hours after their attack. All 5 bases do this and it was in fact a provisional irrecusable answer. But they thought it was all our power. Next day, September 23, Kaman 99, that is an eternal epic in the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, was operated in all bases according to preset plan of martyr Javad Fakouri, Major General pilot and commander of the Air Force, and we attacked all of Iraq land, air bases, place of accumulation of their forces, strategic positions, refineries, and power plants with 140 aircrafts and we lost Mohammad Salehi and Khaled Heidari in that day. When they found that are really weak and we outsmarted them, they attacked Andimeshk and Dezful that were very near and bombarded there, however, founder of Islamic Republic of Iran had commanded the Army and armed forces don't never target residential cities and their residents and we operated exactly his command and targeted just military centers. We had 350 sorties that 140 ones could go and bombarded there and returned.


What did you do when the first bomb was stroke in Bushehr?

Those days there were great humans who were ready to participate in the defense till the last moments and sensation. I told this frequently in my interviews that when the first bomb was stroke in Bushehr refinery, I felt I was a boxer that his shoulders are fastened and one is hitting him. At the time, as a pilot of fighter aircraft, I wished the ground opened its mouth and swallowed me, if I couldn’t do anything. But as God is my witness, just after that time till now that 36 years was passed, I didn't exaggerate about the war and the sacred defense. The best and healthiest times of my life were when in cabin of fighter aircraft I was ready fight manly with everyone that was ready to fight. While I can't deny fear, because it is part of human existence that God internalized it in our spirit, but it needs factors to show it and I never remember that in cabin of fighter aircraft, during fighting, was feared, specially it was written on the label in cabin " And We have put before them a barrier"(36:9) and we believed that when we arrived them, they were deaf and blind and dumb and didn't see us while we were passing their defense, so in the situation we thought the war was finishing in a week, a week that lasted 8 years. It was called "The Greatest Air Fight in the World", it means no air fight lasted eight years.



How did you resistance while Saddam's Army was always supported?

We fought lonely. If we hit aircrafts or military and engineering equipment of the enemy, next day they got alternatives. But we fought with the least equipment. It was just 20 months after the revolution and Sepah was forming and there was just a mechanized, armed, expert, trained, resourceful, and lover of Revolution and country Army in which in fact we were both presenting internal trainings and fighting. We have repeatedly went by Phantom aircraft to tanks, that can be shot by RPG, and stroke the tank and came back, because we believed that if Iran does not, our existence is also unfruitful. Our deer martyr Hossein Khalatbari said: "it is a kind of oppression till there is a footstep of Baath on the land we bow our heads." There was so beliefs among our guys that fought manly. We fought lovely. For example, suppose Qafour Jeddi that some decided to purge him and wanted to go. He was behind the door with his vehicles in truck and he could go USA or other countries easily and enjoy his life, but he sent his car and family and begged to stay without any salary and degree in informal cloth and just help to repair damages till end of the war. Finally they contacted with commander and he ordered to return for serving. The same person was martyred November 08, 1980. Where are such men in the world?

They condemned him execution because of news of Nojeh coup plot that in my idea there were just guesses. He described me himself and said they asked me three times to write testament and I wrote all three times and I should go next day for execution that all times it delayed. Then when they wanted people who were volunteers for flight to come he came to Bushehr. After a while, we found that he already was 75 km at the time he weighed 60 km. we took care of him; In one of flights of number 3,that was my flight and Mahmud Shadmanbakht was also in its back cabin, during coming back engaged an event and they shabbily volleyed him from the ground and he martyred. They were lover and believer. Every job that we don't have in Iran can import, like doctor, engineer, worker etc… ; but one who want to fight in aircraft must has Iranian blood in his vessels; this one is not importable.

I have told frequently that chaffy heroes of the movies are not real heroes for our children, heroes of their life are pilots like Asgar Sefidmoi, Abbas Dowran, Alireza Yasini, Ali Bakhtiari and Alireza Namaki. Ebrahim Omidbakhsh in USA, where graduated Americans came to educate in MA and become pilot, would be the first pupil. Our hero is Manouchehr Mohagheghi, one of braver of air fights of Iran. We have never heard their names in history because they didn't such courage for reserving their names among us but it was because of their heartfelt conviction.


Pilots martyr Yasini, pilot martyr Dowran and pilot Zarabi


I remember that we had chosen one of pilots as Naval Liaison Officer went Omidiyeh Air Base and flied there with Navy. They were flying in Helicopter and on the water. They called our pilot which was pilot Sharifi and asked him that has he flied ever by Helicopter or every other flier in such down surface upon water? Suddenly he took up Helicopter speedily, when they asked him his reason, he said: "two Phantoms passed under aircraft!" that pilot had stated in his meeting interviews that the two Phantoms were very so near to water that fiery vapor of their exhaust was grilling fishes of the Persian Gulf!

They sacrificed themselves, because their goal was sacred. People such as Abolfazl Mahdiar, Mahmud Shadmanbakht, Naser Dejpasand and Mohammad Mir have done really great services. Naser Dejpasand's mother says I grew Naser without father. Naser entered Navy. When he became pilot, October flied and never returned and became eternal. His mother still preserves Naser's cloth and says: "a day my Naser will come back."


Who were your best friends?

Seyed Alireza Yasini was one of my friends and we flied together. If I want also name the best in Air Force undoubtedly one of them is Abbas Dowran and one is Yasini. Asghar Sefidmoy Azar, Manouchehr Mohagheghi, Alireza Namaki and friends like Yadollah Javadpour, Samad Balazadeh and deceased Hasan Bani Adam sacrifice themselves in order to we could do main and important measures.


Introduce some of the pilots in tableaus (behind you)?

Martyr Alireza Yasini, genteel martyr Abbas Dowran (he is unrepeatable in history of Air Force), Amir Fereydon Samadi (deputy of base commander of that era), Fereydon Zolfaqari (That on an aircraft F-4 passed House of Saddam, Council of Iraq and other locations and gave us photos at the lowest height), Asghar Imanian (the first commander of Air Force after the Revolution), martyr Fakouri, deceased Mashallah Omrani, deceased Qorbanzade (training operation of Air Staff) etc… these great men are also serving in General Staff: Brigadier General Darebaghi (former deputy of  Air Force commander) and Brigadier General Seyed Reza Pardis. (that is currently of the higher adviser of the Air Force) these dears also played a main role in establishing  Pilots' Association: captain Seyed Jalal Sheikhani and other my master Nosratollah Abdollahi Fard that he flied with Acrojet in 1961 and is one of great character in Iran Aviation. Since end of the war to now 140 pilots went to heaven.


Do you think during operation in the Air Force, who or what unit had heavier responsibility?

Air Force is a team work that is of keeper soldier to commander of Air Force all engage in order to do an operation. In an operation, controlling battalion, motor rider, transportation, Helicopter and Aircraft Refueling are engaged. We had 4000 km flight in low height and 4 times aerial refueling with giant Aircraft Refueling 747 in H-3 airstrike. The enemy thought it was thunder and lightning! Any one can't strike us in Jordan border. But our superman went, stroke and came back.


Did you have facilities to improve affairs during operation?

We had a device that was installed under the wing of our aircraft and when we got into the enemy territory, said that all antis must be lighted. In fact, the device task was that showed hundreds, instead of one, white spots on the enemy's radar that was on a green page and it was not clear that which one is the main target among the white spots. We got enter enemy territory with such devices, stroke target and came back, but sometimes we crashed.


Martyr Dowran has a memory in his manuscripts that a night you were commanded to go a place, you didn't have anyone except martyr Dowran and he while had two flight in a day, accept the flight and finished your worry.

I remember that a Flag (detailed instruction of operation) came from Tehran that our forces in Shadgan and Omidieh (upper than Aghajari) have some problems and want to fight against the enemy. But because now is night and dark, they can't, if we have a flare and be enlightened, our ground artilleries act better. We decided send them an aircraft with flare so that they arrived the region vent the flares. Deceased Ebrahim Kakavand and I were thinking to what to do and to tell whom in the time of night. One was sitting in darkness and was smoking. He said with sweet Shirazi accent: "brother (kaku) what is your problem? I go." I told: "no, you had two flights since the morning. I send now a minibus to Ashianeh, dormitory." When I sent the minibus, pilots said Zarabi has sent death minibus and if they were awake, pretended themselves sleepy in order to see whose leg shook, so sent him to fly. Dowran said: "no, don’t wake them up, I go myself." In summary, we found one and sent with Abbas and put flares on the aircraft. We always when arrive in front of the airstrip, had no longer contact, because our frequencies spread in air and due to they identified us and knew who and from where is doing what. We decided to fly silently, he flied and went and after half an hour or 40 minutes they informed us that the aircraft is returning. It was rare or perhaps unique, but Aircraft F-4 had missed all of electricity system and due to it couldn't do anything without electricity, came back in emergency. We fastened the antis and flares on another aircraft and it was decided to send two other pilots that Abbas told: "brother who did the task? One that finished it", I accepted. The braver and unforgettable man of history of air fights, rode the aircraft, went there, and poured the flares and returned. Next day they informed us that our forces acted best and the mission has finished surely. I want to say the man did everything that he could do for the country. He believed that he can, so he would do. He and fear were never friends.


Pilot Darioush Abdolazimi had an accident and you went hospital to see him, then he asked you Zarabi, am I coward or it will happen to you too? He said when I enter Iraq territory, my mouth would be bitter, you answered it happens for me too; what is the story?

Darioush Abdolazimi was one of fighter pilots of F-4 and of pure and sincere guys that had an accident in a flight and many points of his body were broken and hospitalized in Air Force Hospital. I went to greeting also to do my duty that I saw his body was in plaster from neck to toe and the room is also full of friends who all expressed their thanks. When they went, he told me: "can I ask a question? At the time he was captain and I was major, he like Yasini and Dowran thanked me a lot; they were really polite men. He said, "Whenever I enter Iraq, I feel it." I asked: "how?" he stated: "immediately my mouth would be bitter. I asked it Saeid Fereydoni, he said this too." I said: "Darioush I'm also has the same feel." I asked it a doctor later, he said it is very natural; when your blood adrenaline is high, there are some interactions in the body that in fact try to threats you that you are in abroad.

Those dears who go to the Olympics, both win a gold, silver or bronze medal, and some money which is for them. But when we wanted to fly they gave us some Iraqis money and a pistol that if we were able to return successfully they took money and pistol and if we fell down those were for ourselves. In fact, we didn't have space for silver or bronze in air fights and we had just one way and it was that we must win gold. When we fought with another fighter aircraft, this was the procedure: this aircraft want to strike you and you must strike it and if you strike it, you give money and pistol but won the gold and if not, you must lie in the cemetery with a flower. Here you are given just gold and the people in the photos you can see behind me, are harbingers of eight years of sacred defense.

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