The F-117 Nighthawk is the ultimate stealth fighter, virtually undetectable to radar. But on a bombing raid over Belgrade in 1999, Colonel Dale Zelko is shocked to see two missiles locked in on his plane.
On 27 March 1999, the 3rd Battalion of the 250th Air Defense Missile Brigade of the Army of Yugoslavia, under the command of Colonel Dani, downed F-117 Air Force serial number 82-0806, callsign “Vega 31
The Army of Yugoslavia unit was equipped with a Yugoslav version of the Soviet Isayev S-125 “Neva” missile system
At about 8:15 pm local time, with a range of about 8 miles (13 km) several missiles were launched. According to Lieutenant Colonel Đorđe Aničić, who was identified in 2009 as the soldier who fired the missiles, they detected the F-117 at a range of about 23 km 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.
Lt. Colonel Darrell Patrick “Dale” Zelko was the pilot of the downed F-117A. The pilot ejected and was rescued by allied search and rescue forces.
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 and China, to be used in developing anti-stealth technology. A small rubber part of the plane was shown as “a souvenir” to Western journalists by Serbian warlord Arkan during the NATO bombing. The USAF retired its F-117s in 2008.
Zoltán Dani, now running a bakery, and Dale Zelko, now retired from the U.S. Air Force, have met and developed a friendship in recent years