F-117 Nighthawk: How A Stealth Fighter Was Killed

Yes, Stealth Fighters Can Be Shot Down – The F-117 Nighthawk was a Lockheed-developed stealth attack aircraft that had its first flight in 1981 and was retired in 2008. While the F-117 does still fly occasionally to this day, it was used most prominently in the Persian Gulf ധąɾ and in the Kosovo ധąɾ, both in the 1990s.

In that latter ωɑɾ, one of the F-117 Nighthawks was shot down. A report last month told the story of the night that happened.

According to Sandboxx, Col. Dale Zelko was flying the Nighthawk during the Kosovo ωɑɾ in 1999.

F-117 Shot Down: What Happened

“Nearly invisible to radar, it was designed to be America’s silver bullet against the Soviet Union. Its primary mission was to penetrate deep into enemy territory and destroy the most heavily defended targets. Even though its first flight came in 1981, it wasn’t known to the public—and even to most in the government—until 1988. Today, many still refer to this aircraft as the “stealth fighter,” despite lacking any air-to-air capabilities and specifically filling an attack role,” the Sandboxx story said.

In 1999, Zelko took part in a mission during the Kosovo ωɑɾ, at which point his plane was fired upon by a ground-based SA-3 surface-to-air missile battery, technology that dates back to the 1950s. That was operated by Zoltan Dani, who used a strategy of moving his unit around. “On the night Col. Zelko and Zoltan met, the weather was poor, causing all NATO aircraft to cancel their missions except the eight F-117’s,” the Sandboxx account said. “Zoltan had received word of the aircraft taking off: The Yugoslavian military had spies around the NATO bases, allowing them to know the composition of the strike packages, along with a rough time frame of the attack.”

“As Col. Zelko approached his target, Zoltan ordered his radar on for 20 seconds, but couldn’t find the stealthy aircraft. Knowing the F-117 would be out of range within a minute, he ordered it back on for 20 seconds. He and his men desperately tried to find the nearly invisible aircraft as the seconds ticked by. As the clock hit zero his men, dejected, knew they had to begin the process of relocating. Instead, Zoltan, against his previous guidance, ordered the radar on for a third time—Zoltan knew the escort aircraft hadn’t taken off, and therefore wasn’t in danger of a HARM missile strike,” the account continued. The site also quoted Col. Zelko’s own telling of the story.

“They were moving at three times the speed of sound, so there wasn’t much time to react,” Zelko said. “I felt the first one go right over me, so close that it rocked the aircraft. Then I opened my eyes and turned my head, and there was the other missile. The impact was violent…I was at negative seven g’s. My body was being pulled out of the seat upward toward the canopy. As I strained to reach the ejection handles, one thought crossed my mind: This is really, really, really bad.” Zelko was successfully rescued after the plane was shot down.

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