F-117A aircraft on night duty.  Photo: USAF.

The US nearly lost its second stealth aircraft in Yugoslavia in 1999


The former US officer admitted that Yugoslavia wounded an F-117, but it managed to escape instead of sharing the same fate as the stealth aircraft before.

On the evening of March 27, 1999, the F-117A Nighthawk codenamed Vega 31, controlled by Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Zelko, went down in history when it became the first stealth aircraft in the United States to be shot down in combat. Falling into the “ambush” battlefield of the Yugoslav air defense, the F-117A was shot on fire, Lieutenant Colonel Zelko had to parachute escape and was rescued after 8 hours.

Rumors suggest that this is not the only F-117A hit by Yugoslav air defense, but this information has only been confirmed recently by former Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Hainline, one of the F-117A pilots participating in the operation. The Yugoslav air raid lasted 78 days and nights early 1999.

F-117A aircraft on night duty. Image: USAF.

At that time, Hainline was assigned to the 9th Fighter Squadron stationed at Spangdahlem base in Germany. The missions of this unit usually last up to 6 hours and consume a lot of energy. The F-117A took two hours to fly from Spangdahlem to a refueling plane over Hungary, infiltrated Yugoslav airspace and dropped bombs for a total of 30-45 minutes, then returned to refuel to return to the base. just.

Each Nighthawk can only carry two laser-guided bombs in the body and often use them to attack a target. In Operation Allied Force, the targeted targets included communications facilities, including radio stations, as well as bridges, factories, high-value targeted buildings and oil and gas facilities.

Hainline’s “Interesting Night” saw the mission of two F-117As with parallel flight paths, aimed at two individual targets at a distance of 15 km. He did not disclose the date, but it took place after the downing of the Vega 31. Some unconfirmed rumors suggest that the event described by Hainline took place on the night of April 30, 1999.

“That night the Yugoslav air defense mainly fired anti-aircraft artillery, with some missiles,” recalls Hainline, adding that a variety of missiles were deployed, including the S-125 system that shot down the Vega 31.

F-117A aircraft are always on duty with the support of electronic warfare aircraft such as the EF-111 Raven and the EA-6B Prowlers. The Nighthawks have no defense system other than radar stealth, and pilots cannot grasp the threat due to the lack of radar irradiation warning systems. Even radio communication is impaired because the antenna has to be retracted inside the body to increase stealth.

Radar and S-125 launchers belonging to Brigade 250 shot down Vega-31.  Photo: Wikipedia.

Radar and S-125 launchers belonging to Brigade 250 shot down Vega-31. Image: Wikipedia.

The downing of the Vega 31 is the only time NATO has admitted that the EA-6Bs were unable to depart due to bad weather, and it is not clear whether the same situation happened with the events described by Hainline.

That night, the F-16CJ fighter squadrons were responsible for the detection and suppression of Yugoslav air defense, relying on the AGM-88 HARM radar-destroying radar and warning system. An F-16CJ pilot warned an anti-aircraft missile to fire only 30-40 seconds before Hainline hit a target west of Belgrade.

“I looked at Belgrade on the right and I saw a giant rocket going up, like a Saturn V rocket sending a man to the Moon. I knew my teammates were nearby. Then I saw it again. Another bullet. The large halo can be detected from a distance, you can see details like a pillar of smoke before a giant ball of fire hits you, “Hainline said.

F-117A pilots are trained to maintain autopilot in this case, as gliding or tilting the aircraft can increase the area of ​​radar reflection and make the missile easier to stick to the target. “While I was flying towards the target, one bullet exploded while the other continued to plunge into the sky. I don’t know if they will hit my comrades,” Hainline recalled, adding that he continued. keep flying and bombing destroying your target.

Hainline left Yugoslav airspace to join the refueling aircraft, but the remaining F-117A did not show up as planned. Hainline and the KC-135 hovered in the air for a long time, and he also had to persuade the refueling crew to maintain their position instead of returning to base, forcing both planes to save fuel as much as possible.

The KC-135 flight crew then discovered an F-117A approaching in the dark without a recognition light. “It’s in pretty bad shape,” he said.

The aircraft quickly lost altitude right after refueling, surprising Hainline and the KC-135 crew. He asked the crew to release the flaps to slow down, allowing the remaining Nighthawk to approach. She refilled the tank after that and the F-117A squadron began to return to base.

F-117A aircraft landed at Spangdahlem on 3 April 1999.  Photo: USAF.

F-117A aircraft landed at Spangdahlem on 3 April 1999. Image: USAF.

“It disappeared again on the way back to Germany, but both F-117A planes safely landed in Spangdahlem,” Hainline said. He was awarded the Air Force Medal for his efforts to ensure his comrades returned to the safe base.

Hainline also stressed that air defenses are always a real concern for the F-117A in all combat situations. Flights are well prepared to avoid the range of systems such as the S-300, while the outdated S-75 and S-125 systems are also seen as a serious threat. “The F-117A has low radar reflectivity, but not invisible aircraft,” admits Hainline.

Vu Anh (Follow Drive)

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