25 Years Ago Today: An U.S. F-117 Stealth Jet Is Shot Down Over Serbia

F-117 shot down


F-117 shot down
F-117 as seen via the NVGs (A1C Greg L. Davis, USAF, by way of Nationwide Archives)

OTD in 1999, “Vega 31” was shot down close to Belgrade. Right here’s the way it went.

On Mar. 27, 1999, in the course of the fourth evening of Operation Allied Force (OAF) over Serbia, a U.S. Air Power F-117 Nighthawk (#82-0806), flown by Lt. Col. Darrell P. Zelko, was shot down whereas returning to Aviano airbase, after a strike mission in opposition to a goal close to Belgrade.

The F-117, callsign “Vega 31”, was hit by considered one of a collection of missiles fired by a S-125 “Neva” missile system (NATO reporting title, SA-3 “Goa”) belonging to the third Battalion of the 250th Air Defence Missile Brigade of the Military of Yugoslavia, at a distance of about 8 miles.

In accordance with Sergeant Dragan Matić, the soldier later recognized because the operator who fired the missiles, the stealth airplane was detected at a variety of about 50 to 60 kilometres and the surface-to-air missile radar was switched on for not more than 17 seconds.

F-117 wreckage in Serbia.

The pilot efficiently ejected and was rescued between 5 and eight hours later (relying on the sources): AFSOC (Air Power Particular Operations Command) dispatched MH-53M, MH-53J and MH-60 aircrew together with Particular Techniques Airmen responded to the emergency and, coordinated by E-3 AWACS and supported by a number of specialised platforms, together with an EC-130E ABCCC and A-10 in Sandy function, rescued the F-117 pilot.

Whereas the shootdown of the F-117 #82-0806 marked the primary ever and solely downing of a stealth plane in fight, how the Serbians managed to attain the then virtually unbelievable kill continues to be open to debate.

On one aspect, the Serbs declare they’d discovered a strategy to detect stealth plane through the use of barely modified radars: the modifications concerned using lengthy wavelengths to attempt to “paint” the goal at brief vary, exploiting the second when the low observability of the Nighthawk was degraded by the opening of the bomb bay door.

Furthermore, the Serbians had been extraordinarily cautious in working their SAM batteries, dispatching messages with out utilizing cell telephones or radios, in order to not danger to be intercepted and geo-located, and relocating the batteries throughout the nation.

F-117 taxies at Aviano AB throughout Operation Allied Power (USAF)

In the long run, in addition to the profitable techniques utilized by the Serbians, the shootdown of the F-117 was additionally the results of a collection of different contributing elements:

  • using the identical route for the third day in a row, making the flight path of the stealth plane predictable
  • the dearth of devoted SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) help
  • the truth that the F-117 approached the Belgrade space flying at low stage, jinking and banking
  • the Serbs knew that the F-117s had been coming, as a result of, they monitored U.S. and allied radio comms on UHF and VHF frequencies, which, on the time, had been principally unencrypted; were also able to intercept NATO plane’s ATO (Air Tasking Orders) that enabled them to place anti-aircraft batteries at positions near the bottom targets; relied on a community of spies who operated outdoors the Italian airbases recognizing plane taking off and others, close to the Serbian borders, who offered particulars concerning the incoming raids.

Anyway, the achievement of Colonel Dani Zoltan, who commanded the SAM battery of the third Battalion and used a SAM system launched in 1961, is spectacular particularly contemplating that, after capturing down “Vega 31”, “Hammer 34”, an F-16C of the thirty first Fighter Wing piloted by Lt. Col. Dave Goldfein (future Chief of Employees of america Air Power) was additionally shot down by the 250th Air Protection Missile Brigade on Might 2, 1999.

Furthermore, it has additionally emerged that one other F-117 was damaged by Serbian air defenses throughout Allied Power.

A Yugoslav propaganda poster, stating facetiously “Sorry we didn’t comprehend it was invisible”.

The F-117 as we speak

25 years after the well-known and fairly stunning, at the moment, downing, the enduring F-117 proceed to fly, regardless of being formally retired in 2008.

As we report fairly continuously right here at The Aviationist, F-117s are nonetheless flying not just for training purposes as adversary aircraft and cruise missile surrogate, but additionally for analysis, growth, take a look at and analysis, presumably associated to next generation programs.

In accordance with of the Nation Protection Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2007 (PL 109- 364, Part 136), 52 F-117 plane had been retired and relocated to the Tonopah Check Vary (TTR). Beneath the necessities of the NDAA, the USAF preserved every F-117 plane in Sort-l000 (T-1000) storage, which maintains the plane in a situation that enables recall for future service. On 30 November 2016, Part 133 of Subtitle D of the Nationwide Protection Authorization Act repealed the requirement to protect the F-117 plane in a recallable situation and the USAF supposed to declassify, demilitarize, and disposition 4 F-117 plane per yr.

F-117 Fresno
An F-117 Nighthawk lands for the primary time on the Fresno Yosemite Worldwide Airport, Sept 13, 2021, to conduct coaching missions with the native Air Nationwide Guard unit. Two F-117 Nighthawks are collaborating in dissimilar air fight coaching missions this week together with F-15 pilots from the 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno, Calif. (Air Nationwide Guard picture by Capt. Jason Sanchez)

The plane continued to be noticed, much more than it had occurred till then, with the Nighthawks additionally deploying to a number of U.S. bases to hold out Dissimilar Air Fight Coaching with different U.S. sorts. Then, in 2021, the U.S. Air Power printed the first official images of the type nonetheless concerned in flight operations on the DVIDS (Protection Visible Data Distribution Service) community.

In September 2022 the Air Power Check Middle printed a Request For Data (RFI) a couple of attainable 10-year contract, anticipated to start out from January 1, 2024, for upkeep and logistics help providers for the F-117A fleet on the TTR airfield, acknowledging that the U.S. Air Power is prepared to maintain the plane flying at least until 2034. Curiously, the U.S. Air Power is about to finish the certification of the F-117s to refuel from the KC-46: an indication that the service plans to maintain the Nighthawk flying for a lot of extra years.

One of many two F-117s flying low over the Sierra Mountains on Apr. 21, 2023. (Picture credit score: @stinkjet)


David Cenciotti is a journalist based mostly in Rome, Italy. He’s the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of many world’s most well-known and skim army aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for main worldwide magazines, together with Air Forces Month-to-month, Fight Plane, and lots of others, masking aviation, protection, battle, trade, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown a number of fight planes with completely different air forces. He’s a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Power, a personal pilot and a graduate in Pc Engineering. He has written 5 books and contributed to many extra ones.


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