1999 F-117A shootdown
|1999 F-117A shootdown|
|Part of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia|
Canopy of F-117, serial number 82-0806; Belgrade Aviation Museum
|Location||Near Buđanovci, Serbia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
|Date||27 March 1999
|Executed by||250th Air Defence Missile Brigade, Army of Yugoslavia|
The 1999 F-117A shootdown was an incident that took place on 27 March 1999, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, (Operation Allied Force, Operation Noble Anvil), when an Army of Yugoslavia unit used a S-125 Neva/Pechora to down a Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth aircraft of the United States Air Force. The pilot ejected and was rescued by search and rescue forces. 
The US Air Force F-117A was developed in the 1970s, entering service in 1983 and officially revealed in 1988. It saw its first combat in 1989 over Panama, and was widely seen as one of the most advanced pieces of US military equipment. At the same time, Yugoslavian air defenses were seen as relatively obsolete.
Unknown to NATO, Yugoslav air defenses operators had found they could detect F-117s with their "obsolete" Soviet radars after some modifications. In 2005, Colonel Zoltán Dani confirmed in an interview suggested that those modifications involved using long wavelengths, allowing them to detect the aircraft when the wheel well or bomb bay doors were open. In addition, the Serbs had also intercepted and deciphered some NATO communications, and thus were able to deploy their anti-air batteries at positions best suited to intercept NATO planes.
On March 27, 1999, the 3rd Battalion of the 250th Air Defence Missile Brigade of the Army of Yugoslavia, under the command of Colonel Dani, downed F-117 Air Force serial number 82-0806, callsign "Vega 31".
At about 8:15 pm local time, with a range of about 8 miles (13 km) several missiles were launched. According to Sergeant Dragan Matić, who was identified in 2009 as the soldier who fired the missiles, they detected the F-117 at a range of about 50 to 60 kilometres (31 to 37 mi), operating their equipment for no more than 17 seconds to avoid being locked on to by NATO anti-air suppression. According to Dani in a 2007 interview, his troops spotted the aircraft on radar when its bomb-bay doors opened, raising its radar signature.
The F-117 was being flown by Lt. Col. Dale Zelko, an Operation Desert Storm veteran. He observed the launch of two missiles and saw them approach his aircraft. The first passed over him, close enough to cause buffeting, but did not detonate. However, the second missile did detonate, causing significant damage to the aircraft and causing it to tumble, out of control. The explosion was large enough to be seen from a KC-135 Stratotanker, flying over Bosnia.
Zelko was subject to intense g-forces as the aircraft tumbled and had great difficulty in assuming the correct posture for ejecting. After his parachute deployed, he used his survival radio to issue a mayday call and was able to contact the KC-135 that had seen him shot down. Zelko used his survival radio while still descending as he reasoned the altitude would give his signal the best possible range. He was also sure he would be quickly captured by Serbian forces on the ground and wanted to confirm he was unhurt before this happened.
Zelko landed in a field south of Ruma and quickly concealed himself in a drainage ditch. There, he felt the shock waves of American bombs dropped by B-2 bombers on targets on the outskirts of Belgrade. He remained undetected, despite a large search carried out in the area by the Serbian army, police and local villagers. He was rescued by a U.S. Air Force combat search and rescue team in the early hours of the next morning. He was initially misidentified in press reports as the name "Capt Ken 'Wiz' Dwelle" was painted on the aircraft's canopy. The lost F-117 carried the name "Something Wicked" and had previously flown 39 sorties during Operation Desert Storm.
This was the only time an F-117 was shot down during its time in operational service. It was also the first time that a stealth aircraft has been shot down in the history of military aviation. Some American sources claim that a second F-117A was damaged during the same campaign, allegedly on 30 April; the aircraft returned to base, but it supposedly never flew again. The 250th Air Defense Missile Brigade also shot down a USAF F-16 fighter on May 2, 1999, however these were the only two successes out of the dozens of ground–to–air missiles fired during the conflict.
Photographs show that the aircraft struck the ground at low speed in an inverted position, and that the airframe remained relatively intact. Some pieces of the F-117's wreckage are preserved at the Serbian Museum of Aviation in Belgrade, other pieces of wreckage were reportedly sent to Russia and China, to be used in developing anti-stealth technology. The USAF retired the F-117 in 2008.
Zoltán Dani, now running a bakery, and Dale Zelko, now retired from the US Air Force, have met and developed a friendship in recent years.
- The S-125 was initially deployed by the Soviet Union in 1961. The V-600 or V-601 missiles launched by the S-125 were 6.09 metres (20.0 ft) long, weighed 935 kilograms (2,061 lb) at launch, could reach a speed of Mach 3–3.5 and carried a 60 or 70 kilograms (130 or 150 lb) warhead.
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