war in europe

captain thad darger

how it was fought
ethnic cleansing
for moral values?

U.S. Air Force, Stealth bomber pilot
Talk me through a mission and what it was actually like.

Well to actually attack a target we have a image of the target area and usually what we do is we have three images, we call them an overall, a medium and then a blow-up. And what it is, it's just a picture of the building or the area that we're gonna attack and as we go into the target area we compare that image to what we're seeing on our sensors to find the target. We deploy in and as we get closer and closer to the target, the image gets clearer and larger in our display and we flip through photos that are provided to us to find the actual target.

And the plane meanwhile is flying itself?

The plane is flying itself. The auto-pilot on the Stealth fighter was made to take us to the target, to get there on time. There's pilot inputs that are put into the system, but when it comes down to the end game of finding the target, the pilot is looking at a sensor and guiding the cross hairs that put the laser spot on the target . . . .

So at that point you're not actually worried about how the plane is performing, you're worried about finding and locating and destroying the target?

Absolutely. And that's the most important thing to us. . . .

What was it like as you began to approach Belgrade the first time?

Well that's probably the strangest time. You see the lights of this huge city that's displayed out before you and as you're tracking your target, as much as we need to stay focused on looking at the target area through the sensors in the aircraft, you grab those quick glimpses outside the aircraft to see if there's anything coming up towards your airplane. So that's probably the toughest part, is right when you can see those city lights for the first time.

Now we've all seen the images out of Baghdad during the Gulf War, with just the whole light to the sky, the night sky being lit up by anti-aircraft fire. What were you seeing?

That's what I expected, and the sorties that I flew I didn't see that intensity of Triple A. I know that there are some fellow pilots of mine that would disagree with me, but on the particular nights that I flew I saw resistance but it wasn't as heavy as that, it wasn't as heavy as I expected. . . .

Tell me about your last mission ... you always tend to remember your first and last mission.

I remember my last mission very well, as a matter of fact. . . . I was given a target, specific to the one 1-17 community, we call it a "non-collateral damage target," where we couldn't accept anything besides the target itself being destroyed, and it was extremely bad weather on the night that I went to that target. So there was a real decision that I had to make in my mind and I end up dropping on the target and guiding both the weapons into the target. But it was probably as nervous as I've ever been in my life for the last 60 seconds. It was exciting.

And what was making you nervous was the risk that it could go astray?

Absolutely. . . . I felt like I had a heavy burden on my shoulders as I went into this target with the weather obscuring the target, to make sure that those weapons didn't go astray.

How much of a difficulty was it, the weather? How much of a factor was it in your ability to perform your mission?

The weather was tough. We knew that the weather would be tough. . . . We had nights when we would get marshalled up and get ready to go in country and we receive a code word and you'd be sitting in the cockpit all ready to go, all refuelled, and you would just drop your hands in frustration and turn around and go home. That happened to me four nights in a row. The weather was difficult. That's the best way to describe it. If it would have been clear nights there would have been a lot more damage done earlier in the conflict.

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