|NATO PLANE DOWNED|
March 28, 1999
A U.S. Air Force F-117A fighter-bomber went down north of Belgrade Saturday, becoming the first NATO aircraft lost during strikes against Yugoslavia.
Although the plane was destroyed, U.S. search units were able to enter Yugoslavia and rescue the American pilot within six hours of the crash.
Although Serbian television said Yugoslav air defenses brought the plane down, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said it was premature to say why the Nighthawk had crashed. He also emphasized the loss of the plane would not affect further air strikes.
"This operation will continue," Bacon said at a late-night press conference Saturday. "Nothing that happened today will dampen our resolve."
The downing came on the fourth day of bombings by U.S. and other NATO forces. It also comes on the day that NATO vowed to intensify its efforts to target Yugoslavia's military units.
The plane was reported missing at approximately 3pm Eastern Standard Time around the village of Budjanovci, north of Yugoslavia's capital of Belgrade.
Yugoslavia has claimed it shot down eight other NATO aircraft, but the F-117A downing was the first to include broadcast images of the wreckage on government-controlled TV (see image at right).
The single-seat fighter-bomber was operating out of the Aviano air base in Italy. According to the Department of Defense, there are 12 F-117A Nighthawk Fighter-Bombers participating in the NATO strikes. (Click here for a full background report on the F-117A from the Federation of American Scientists)
While the Nighthawk was the first NATO plane lost in the operation, five Yugoslavian MiGs have been knocked out of the sky in combat with allied forces over the last four days.
Although Saturday's downing of the F-117A was the first stealth aircraft lost in combat, the aircraft has had its problems in the past. In September 1997, a Nighthawk crashed after losing one of its wings while performing a simple maneuver at an air show outside Baltimore.
The following is background information on the F-117A Nighthawk from the U.S. Air Force:
The unique design of the single-seat F-117A provides exceptional combat capabilities. About the size of an F-15 Eagle, the twin-engine aircraft is powered by two General Electric F404 turbofan engines and has quadruple redundant fly-by-wire flight controls. Air refuelable, it supports worldwide commitments and adds to the deterrent strength of the U.S. military forces.
The F-117A can employ a variety of weapons and is equipped with sophisticated navigation and attack systems integrated into a state-of-the-art digital avionics suite that increases mission effectiveness and reduces pilot workload. Detailed planning for missions into highly defended target areas is accomplished by an automated mission planning system developed, specifically, to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the F-117A.
The first F-117A was delivered in 1982, and the last delivery was in the summer of 1990. The F-117A production decision was made in 1978 with a contract awarded to Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, the "Skunk Works," in Burbank, Calif. The first flight was in 1981, only 31 months after the full-scale development decision. Air Combat Command's only F-117A unit, the 4450th Tactical Group, (now the 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.), achieved operational capability in October 1983.
Streamlined management by Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent development and production to rapidly field the aircraft. The F-117A program has demonstrated that a stealth aircraft can be designed for reliability and maintainability. The aircraft maintenance statistics are comparable to other tactical fighters of similar complexity. Logistically supported by Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan AFB, Calif., the F-117A is kept at the forefront of technology through a planned weapon system improvement program located at USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, Calif.
Primary Function: Fighter/attack
Contractor: Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co.
Power Plant: Two General Electric F404 engines
Length: 65 feet, 11 inches (20.3 meters)
Height: 12 feet, 5 inches (3.8 meters)
Weight: 52,500 pounds (23,625 kilograms)
Wingspan: 43 feet, 4 inches (13.3 meters)
Speed: High subsonic -- 640 mph
Range: Unlimited with air refueling
Armament: Internal weapons carriage, usually two 2,000 pound bombs
Unit Cost: $45 million
Date Deployed: 1982
Inventory: Active force, 54