WASHINGTON, (BM) – The Serbs did hit two US F-117s, one of the pilots confirmed. During Operation Allied Force in March 1999, Serbian air defense managed to hit not one, as reported so far, but two F-117 Nighthawk bombers. He admits it in the podcast memoir Afterburn, Colonel Charlie “Tuna” Hainline, who almost lost his winger over Belgrade. The case was described in early December by The Drive portal.
The United States commissioned the F-117A in the 1980s. At the time, it was a secret superweapon, capable of penetrating the Soviet air defense, thanks to the low effective reflection area of the radar radiation. These planes could pass closer to enemy radars than the standard planes of the 3rd and 4th generations. This peculiar “rapier” could slip through the “armor” and precisely hit the command posts and radar stations. All these weakened the enemy’s defense system, resulting in much larger gaps than before.
One through which conventional air force could pass, crushing the rest of the resistance. It was used in a textbook way in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. The F-117A became its symbol, along with the AH-64 Apache helicopter and the M1 Abrams tank. For many years, the plane also became the embodiment of the American technical domination over the whole world, including the Soviet Union and then Russia, unable to create anything similar.
It didn’t take many planes to precisely penetrate enemy territory. No wonder that only 59 machines were built, serving in two and then three-line squadrons plus a test unit. The excellent streak of the F-117A ended during the 1999 raids on Serbia as part of the so-called Wars in Kosovo. As it is commonly known, on March 27 of that year, the bomber with the calling code Vega 31 fell victim to the S-125 system belonging to the 250th Air Defense Missile Brigade of the Yugoslav Army, commanded by Lt. Col. Zoltan Dani. Today, a Serbian national hero and a baker.
The Serbs took advantage of the fact that the Americans flew a similar route every night and tried to lock on the target by activating radar for a maximum of 17 seconds – before being jammed or targeted and strafed by the North Atlantic Alliance air force. They hoped that they would track the target and fire rockets during this time, then immediately disable the system and move from the exposed area. This action happened in Vega 31 case, which was noticed during such a “window” lasting several seconds. Perhaps when he opened the inner weapons compartment and made him more visible.
The Serbs may have been lucky, but on the other hand, there are reports that the Americans disregarded the enemy and flew “on schedule” every day. So it was more or less known when and where they would be expected. The plane was hit and fell to the ground, and its pilot – Dale Zelko – managed to catapult and – evacuated – survived.
For many years, however, information was available that the Serbs managed to shoot down more than one F-117A. There was talk of a second plane hit, and there was even a theory about a hit B-2 Spirit supposedly crashing in Croatia or making it back to base with difficulty. Its loss [the US has built only 21] was allegedly camouflaged by the 2008 “Spirit of Kansas” bomber accident. According to this theory, the Serbs did not destroy the actual bomber during this accident, but only the old hull. This theory, however, seems to be far-fetched.
However, it turns out that there was at least one grain of truth in the revelations about the Serbian shootings. On December 30 last year, the Afterburn podcast featured Lt. Col. Charlie “Tuna” Hainline, who recalled a night over Belgrade. He did not give a date, but so far, Serbs have claimed that they hit the second “invisible” target on April 30, 1999. On that day, he and his wingman’s F-117A came under fire from anti-aircraft missile defense.
As he said, two missiles flew to the place where his wingman was (the planes were about 15 km apart). One rocket exploded, and the other passed on. As he said, the Nighthawks – perhaps due to being shot down in March – no longer ignored the enemy and flew by a carefully prepared flight plan to avoid the enemy’s advanced weapons in the form of S-300 systems, which were considered a real threat.
“Tuna” lost contact with the winger and continued the mission on his own. The second plane is expected to meet after the airborne assembly point near the air refueling plane. But the wingman was gone, and Hainlin had to convince the tanker crew to save fuel and wait. Finally, the missing F-117 has appeared.
The machine’s lights were off and in deplorable condition. We can assume that the aircraft shredded it with a cone of debris from a rocket launched over Belgrade. The injured Nighthawk was flying so slowly that the tanker had to lower the flaps and slow down to the fullest possible fuel supply.
The F-117 barely returned to base at Spagdahlem, with Hainline accompanying her, for which she was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. As he said, the damaged plane managed to touch down but was then canceled. The aircraft lost in this way belonged to the 9th Flying Knights Squadron, in which “Tuna” served.
This post was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
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