F-117A Shootdown

Andre

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Recently I was in an aviation museum in Belgrade, Serbia where pieces of a F-117A stealth bomber can be seen. This airplane was shot down in 1999 during the war in Kosovo. What is the most interesting is how the decades old russian missile system was used to shoot down at the time one of the most technologically advanced aircraft. What's even more interesting is that Dale Zelko (F-117A pilot) and Zoltan Dani (commander of the anti-aircraft battery that shoot down the F-117A) met after the war and even became friends. They even made a documentary about this- titled The Second Meeting.
Here is the story about this event:

DaleZelkoampZoltanDani_zps21b3eb1a.jpg

Dale Zelko and Zoltan Dani shaking hands

1999 F-117A shootdown

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. This was the only time an F-117 was shot down.
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.
The Army of Yugoslavia unit was equipped with a Yugoslav version of the Soviet Isayev S-125 "Neva" missile system (NATO reporting name, SA-3 "Goa").
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.

Aftermath

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, 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.


Zoltán Dani

Zoltán Dani is a former colonel of the Yugoslav Army and former commander of the 3rd battery of the 250th Missile Brigade, which shot down an F-117 Nighthawk near the village of Buđanovci on 27 March 1999, during the Kosovo War. The hit was achieved with a SA-3 Goa SAM system. He was initially unknown to the public and aliased with the name Gvozden Đukić. However, upon retiring from the military, he revealed his identity.
Dani claimed that his battery also shot down an F-16 which according to NATO was lost due to "mechanical failure"; according to the crashed F-16's pilot, his aircraft was a victim of a SAM weapon.
Since retiring from military service, Dani has been working as a baker in his native village Skorenovac. He is an ethnic Hungarian.
Preparations for the conflict
Based on experiences of the 1982 Lebanon War, constant relocation of all assets was key to survival of Dani's unit, the 3rd missile detachment of the 250th Serbian Air Defence Battalion. Although the SA-3 / "S-125M Neva" system is not a mobile SAM complex per design, its solid fueled missiles are transportable in near combat ready condition (in fact the Polish Armed Forces and Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces each created mobile versions of the SA-3 on T-72 tank and T-55 tank chassis respectively in the 1990s).
Therefore, Lt. Col. Dani trained his SA-3 unit to achieve a 90 minute equipment break-down time with minimal lighting provided for better camouflage, one hour better than the standard time. Further set-up and break-down time reductions were achieved by reducing the SA-3 unit's number of active 5P73 launchers and V-601P missiles to just 2x2 from the original 4x4 configuration.
This reduction in missile capability was justified, because of the expected strictly limited time slots and occasions where a Serbian SAM battery could open fire in face of a tremendous NATO Wild Weasel capability, with any hope of self-preservation. The lean use of SAM missiles also became a necessity later on, as the initial March 24, 1999, 20:20 NATO air strike destroyed a hundred reloads of ready to use V-601P missiles stored in two concrete vaults at the Jakovo SAM base.
Lt. Col. Dani made it a strict field rule that the SA-3's UNV type fire control radar could only be turned on for a maximum of 2 x 20 seconds in combat, after which the battery's equipment must be immediately broken down and trucked to a prepared alternative launch site, whether or not any missile has been fired. This rule proved essential, because other Serbian AAA units, emitting high-frequency radiation for any longer periods or forgetting to relocate, were hit by AGM-88 HARM missile counter-strikes from NATO aircraft, suffering radar equipment and personnel losses.
In order to train personnel to operate efficiently under such pressures, Zoltán Dani obtained access to an "Accord" electronic signal simulator, which allowed the SA-3 radar and guidance crew practice combat scenarios based on imitated engagements. Several soldiers were removed from position both during the pre-war practice drills and wartime guard shifts, when they proved unable to cope with the psychological stress of being targeted by enemy aircraft.
It was decided two missiles would be launched against any target near simultaneously, in order to maximize hit probability. Unusually, launches were to be conducted against NATO aircraft that had already accomplished their ground strike missions and were about to leave Serbian airspace. Their northern heading was pointing away from the direction of powerful NATO airborne jammer sources, thereby allowing the SA-3's un-modernized UNV fire control radar set to operate with less interference.
Dani's mobility rule was strictly observed in his unit, with the trucks relocating frequently during the 78 days of Kosovo War, as they constantly shuttled missiles, radars and equipment among the dozen alternative launch sites, most of them embankments left over from already phased out SA-2 (S-75) units.
Radar sets obtained from confiscated Iraqi MiG-21 planes were planted around the SAM sites to serve as active emitter decoys, which diverted some anti-radiation missiles from the actual targets (dozens of Iraqi MiG-21/23 warplanes, sent to Yugoslavia for industrial overhaul, were seized in 1991, after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.) Retired SAM radar sets were used as optical decoys, left at well-known military bases to lure NATO planes to waste munition on worthless targets. Owing to these measures, Dani's unit evaded 23 incoming HARM missiles, all of which impacted off-site with insignificant or zero damages.
General surveillance of NATO aircraft was provided by vintage P-18 radar sets, which used vacuum tubes and a large rotating Yagi antenna grid for meter-band illumination. Under optimal conditions the Soviet-made P-18 was able to plot large-Radar cross-section aircraft from 125 to 200 km, depending on the target's size, but with a high range inaccuracy of several hundred meters.
Zoltán Dani tuned his P-18 to the lowest possible frequency, hoping that meter band waves would reflect from the inside of targets, rendering stealth aircraft skin technology ineffective. In practice his modified P-18 provided stable plot of F-117 movements from just 25 km, which was useful when combined with the comparatively short missile range of the SA-3 air defence complex. Furthermore, the P-18 meter band radar could be kept almost constantly emitting, since most NATO radar warning receiver devices did not cover such a very low frequency band.
Zoltán Dani initially claimed that four major capacitors had been replaced in the P-18, to further increase the wavelength. However, he later admitted that that no such modifications had been made, and that his story was a "marketing trick."

The stealth kill

On the particular night of the F-117 shootdown, 27 March 1999, Zoltán Dani broke his own ruleset. He had information about unfavourable Adriatic weather conditions and Serbian spies residing near Italian NATO airbases informed the Serbian Air Defence HQ about lack of EA-6 Prowler electronic jammer and "Wild Weasel" anti-SAM aircraft launches during the late evening. Therefore any F-117s in the air on that fateful night were literally alone in the dark, but with high crew morale due to their invulnerability during previous day's sorties.
In the evening, Dani's P-18 long-distance radar set malfunctioned at 19:05, almost the same time when four F-117s prepared for take-off from Aviano Air Base to attack targets in Belgrade. The repaired P-18 radar returned to air by 19:50 and started to emit at the specially modified lower frequency. Lt. Col. Dale Zelko's plane (tail number 82-0806) and three other F-117 flying northbound were acquired at 20:40 local time and so the SA-3 battery's fire control radar went on air. The UNV radar emitted at high frequency for 2 x 20 seconds, but it was unable to obtain a lock on the targets.
Lt. Col. Dani then ordered a third illumination round, against his own rulebook, but knowing that NATO lacked immediate counterstrike capability on the particular occasion. Lock was obtained and at a distance of 13 km and an altitude of 8 km. Two SA-3 missiles were launched in short succession, with one obtaining a proximity fuse hit, as notified by an automatic radio pinger burst. The F-117 was structurally disabled by the sudden minus 6G negative load and stall-crashed in inverted position in an agricultural field, near the village of Budjanovci. The pilot ejected successfully and was rescued later on by NATO Combat search and rescue helicopters. The F-117's large kite-shaped titanium engine outlet heatshield is still kept by Dani in his garage.

Further combat activity

Zoltan Dani also claims that his unit downed the commander's F-16 plane from the Aviano-based 555th Fighter Squadron "Triple Nickel". On May 1/2, 1999 the F-16 (s/n 88-0550) had already completed its combat sortie and was flying outbound from Serbian airspace, when its on-board radar warning receiver indicated illumination from Dani's SA-3 fire control radar. The pilot, Lt. Col. David Goldfein, decided to turn back and attack, but this proved a mistake, as two missiles were already underway and one hit his plane. Dani was not actually in the combat shift (for a unit to provide 24h/day readiness the crew is divided in 3 shifts) when the shootdown occurred. The shift was commanded by Maj. Boško Dotlić.
The radio signal logs of unit 250/3 contain two further proximity fuse activation pings beyond the F-117 and F-16 shootdown events, indicating that either extra NATO aircraft were hit or ALE-50 towed jammer devices were destroyed by the missiles, as opposed to the SAM missiles simply missing due to radar jamming or chaff dispersal.
Although Ret. Col. Zoltán Dani does not comment on the allegation (although Dani's wartime second in command Lt Col Đorđe Aničić does), as of mid-2009 some Hungarian aviation journalists claim one of these two events was a real hit on a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, which was either totalled or extensively re-built after an overseas crash landing (this plane was previously believed to be another combat-damaged F-117).

In media

Ten years after the events, the Hungarian military aviation magazine Aranysas, volume 11/2009, carried an extensive article on Zoltán Dani's story, on the occasion of his visit at the Hungarian Air Defence Collection, an NGO-operated SAM museum at Zsámbék. Certain aspects of the F-117 shootdown story and general Serbian AAA activity during the Kosovo War were publicly disclosed for the first time in the article.
A documentary movie "The 21st Second" was made about Zoltán Dani. Dani also participated in the documentary movie "The Second Meeting", where he met Dale Zelko, the F-117 pilot he had shot down.
 

SpaceManMat

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As I recall the pilots were not trained properly, leaving the bay doors open for an extended time which is when they return the largest radar signal.
 

Viperfixr

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As I recall the pilots were not trained properly, leaving the bay doors open for an extended time which is when they return the largest radar signal.

As a F-117 alum, I can positively tell you this is false. In fact, the time the doors were open in flight used to be a closely guarded figure...suffice to say the doors move FAST (for these reasons).
 

cwbullet

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Mark,

Thanks for clearing that up. I have heard a lot of false info on our military gear. The F117 is one of my favorites. I wish we still had this capability.
 

BLKKROW

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My grandfather worked on the F-117 and the lunar rover and another satellite during the 1960's. He has shared little bits and pieces of information and the F-117 is an amazing machine.
 

TopRamen

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My grandfather worked on the F-117 and the lunar rover and another satellite during the 1960's. He has shared little bits and pieces of information and the F-117 is an amazing machine.


Wow! If the F-117 is 1960's Tech, just immagine the stuff that must be flying around now that we don't know about!!!!:y:
 

GregGleason

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Wow! If the F-117 is 1960's Tech, just immagine the stuff that must be flying around now that we don't know about!!!!:y:

The F-117 is tech from the mid to late 70's and came into the USAF inventory in the early 80's which covered the time of my enlistment. Only I didn't know they existed until many years after my discharge.

The SR-71 is essentially tech from the late 1950's.

Yep, Lockheed's Skunk Works was an amazing factory of innovative aircraft.

Greg
 

TopRamen

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The F-117 is tech from the mid to late 70's and came into the USAF inventory in the early 80's which covered the time of my enlistment. Only I didn't know they existed until many years after my discharge.

The SR-71 is essentially tech from the late 1950's.

Yep, Lockheed's Skunk Works was an amazing factory of innovative aircraft.

Greg

Well that is what you thought, but BLKKROW says it's from the 60's, so....
 

georgegassaway

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DARPA began the program secretly in 1974, resulting in 1977 as the "Have Blue" aircraft which were testbeds for the technology, later resulting in the F-117.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Have_Blue

The only relevant 1960's link is a Russian scientist's publication in 1964, which was used many years later in the Have Blue program, to refine the software used for predicting Radar Cross Sections of any given shape.:

"During the next few weeks, the team created a computer program which could evaluate the RCS of possible designs. The RCS-prediction software was called "ECHO 1". As tests with the program proceeded, it became apparent that edge calculations by the program were incorrect due to diffraction.[7] In 1964, Pyotr Ufimtsev, the chief scientist of the Moscow Institute for Radio Engineering, published a seminal paper titled Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction.[8] The work was translated by the Air Force Systems Command's Foreign Technnology Division; subsequently, Overholser incorporated elements of Ufimtsev's work to refine the software.[7][9] ECHO 1 allowed the team to quickly decide which of the 20 possible designs were optimal, finally settling on the faceted delta-wing design.[6] However, many within the division were skeptical of the shape, giving rise to the name "Hopeless Diamond"[10]*"

Interesting factoid, a number of rocketeers from the old MIT Rocket Society of the early 1970's, later went to work at Lockheed on the F-117 program. Including Bob Parks and IIRC "Guppy" Youngren. These guys were "rock stars" of model rocket technology, and Bob Parks has continued to help advance the hobby with his expertise, designing, and advice.

- George Gassaway
 
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BLKKROW

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Well that is what you thought, but BLKKROW says it's from the 60's, so....

Not saying when it was built, designed or created I was saying my grandfather worked on it. He also worked on the lunar rover and a satellite that went to the moon in the 60's. I am sorry if my first post did not make sense.
 
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A5tr0 An0n

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What is the most interesting is how the decades old russian missile system was used to shoot down at the time one of the most technologically advanced aircraft.

Kind of makes sense, since the F-117's background was based on a Russian mathematicians paper "Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction," published in 1964.
 
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