Articles

How a pilot in one of America's least stealthy aircraft saved a downed pilot from one of the stealthiest

In March 1999, NATO announced that coalition forces would begin a massive air war and bombing campaign against Serbia. Within hours after the first round of strikes, an A-10 squadron received an urgent call that one of America's stealthiest aircraft had been shot down — the F-117 Nighthawk.


It was reported the stealth pilot managed to bail out in time but was trapped deep behind enemy lines.

As rebel forces assembled to hunt down the American pilot, allied forces gathered and quickly began designing a search and rescue mission to locate their missing brother.

"One of the things I have to do as the on-scene commander is figure out if he's ready to be picked up," Air Force pilot John Cherrey explains.

Related: 5 countries that tried to shoot down the SR-71 Blackbird (and failed)

Since landing an A-10 in enemy territory was impractical, using Black Hawks to pick up the missing pilot was the only option. But with Serbian missiles on high alert, there was no way helicopters could outrun enemy defenses.

The rescue mission must be handled with extreme caution or risk losing more men, so developing a clever plan was in order.

The Warthog's commanders decided to create a diversion that would prompt Serbian anti-air missile radar to look in one direction, while the slower Black Hawks swooped in through the enemies' back door.

Also Read: That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

Their plan worked as the two Black Hawks managed to sneak their way to the downed pilot and egresses out of the Serbian air space. Once the A-10s were notified the pilot was safe, they bugged out and went home. No additional casualties were reported.

Mission complete.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel's video to see how Allied forces went on this daring rescue mission for yourself.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
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