Designed for stealthy reliability and maintainability, the “Nighthawk”, F-117A was first involved in Operation Just Cause (love that name, right?) in Panama. They were so reliable that, due to some technical failures, the pilots one night entirely missed a barrack target.
Its reputation was redeemed as it gained notoriety during Operation Desert Storm as the first aircraft that could penetrate dense threat environments at night. The Nighthawk destroyed Iraqi infrastructure. According to Lockheed, it comprised 2 to 3 percent of coalition forces, accounted for 30 to 35 percent of first-night targets and hit rates of 75 percent in Desert Storm to over 90 percent in Operation Allied Force. The F-117 also sustained the highest mission-capability rates of any deployed fighter or bomber in both conflicts, exceeding 82 percent.
According to FAS, the stealth fighter conducted more than 1,250 sorties, dropped more than 2,000 tons of bombs, and flew more than 6,900 hours. More than 3,000 antiaircraft guns and 60 surface-to-air missile batteries protected the city, but despite this seemingly impenetrable shield, the Nighthawks owned the skies over the city and, for that matter, the country. The stealth fighter, which is coated with a secret, radar-absorbent material, operated over Iraq and Kuwait with impunity, and was unscathed by enemy guns.
A truly powerful stealth machine.
Or was it?
In the opening phase of Allied Force, aimed primarily at Yugoslavia's integrated air defense system, NATO air forces conducted more than 400 sorties. During the first two night attacks, allied troops in the air and at sea struck 90 targets throughout Yugoslavia and in Kosovo. F-117 Nighthawks from the 8th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base NM participated in air strikes against targets in the Balkans during NATO operations. One F-117 fighter was lost over Yugoslavia on 27 March 1999. A US search and rescue team picked up the pilot several hours after the F-117 went down outside Belgrade. Serbian air defenses managed to string together a series of brief sightings, perhaps starting as early as the F-117's takeoff in Italy, to project the F-117's course and loft an anti-aircraft missile at the F-117 when it was most vulnerable. (FAS)How did the Serbs track it?
With a radar dating from the 1970’s.
The next day the Serbs had fun with flyers and posters:
The pilot, by the way, was rescued.