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Desert Storm

On August 2, 1990 Saddam Hussein moved three divisions of Iraq's elite Republican Guard into the small neighboring country of Kuwait. On August 6th an agreement was reached that allowed US and Coalition troops on to Saudi soil to protect Saudi Arabia from invasion under the name Operation DESERT SHIELD.

On August 19,1990 22 Black Jets from the 415th and a dozen KC-135Q tankers from Beale AFB left Tonopah for Langley AFB where the stealths would stay overnight. The next day, KC-10A's of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing from March AFB joined up with the F-117A's for the 15 hour trip across the Atlantic that required 7 refueling. Four spare F-117As returned to Tonopah, leaving 18 to continue to Saudi Arabia for Operation DESERT SHIELD. On December 2, the second installment of 20 F-117As of the 416th took off for Langley AFB. The next day 18 of the 20 continued to Saudi Arabia. As a note: despite the aircraft's popularity at air shows, a fair degree of secrecy still shrouded the plane. Crews of the KC-135Qs refueling F-117As on the first stage to Langley AFB were not given refueling data on the airplane.

At 2:51 am (Saudi time),January 17, 1991, Maj. Greg Feest, like in Panama, struck the first blow to start Operation DESERT STORM. Although he was actually behind the stealth force flying into Baghdad(Khamas Mushait was 650 miles due South of Baghdad), he was the first to bomb Iraq when he destroyed his first target-the center that controlled all of the air defense radars in the Baghdad area.

The following is a published account of that first night of the war.

"As Maj. Joe Salata skimmed over the desert of Iraq, flying his F-117A Nighthawk in the initial wave of stealth fighters to bomb Baghdad the first night of Desert Storm, one thought nagged at him.
Did he leave the lights on?
No, not the lights in his dorm room back at Khamis Mushait Air Base, secluded high in the mountains of Saudi Arabia, but the exterior lamps on his black, bat-winged jet. When properly primed, the F-117A's stealth technology aids the jet in foiling enemy radar, but if its outside lights are on, the Nighthawk becomes about as covert as a used car salesman wearing a white suit.
"Some fighters have a pinkie switch for selecting missiles to guns, but on the F-117, it controls the lights, showing you just how important it is," said Salata, now a lieutenant colonel at the 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. "During the war, the switch's three positions were up for bright, down for dim, and in the middle for off. I'd turn it off when I was 'stealthing up' by pushing up first, then down and finally to the middle. But then I'd second guess myself. 'Did I push it up too high? I better check again.' I must've checked it 20 times before each combat mission." After Desert Storm, the Air Force fixed this design glitch, modifying the switch so that "off" was down instead of in the middle.
Salata bombed Baghdad's sector operations headquarters, which directed all of the Iraqi air defense fighter aircraft, at H-hour-3 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1991-and a few minutes later he razed a radio relay station on his way out of the city. The first raid, carried out by 10 Nighthawks, was so unexpected the city's lights were still on when Salata released his first bomb.
"Those early attacks along with the next few waves, knocked the eyes and ears out of the Iraqis, so they were blind and deaf," said Salata, 38, who flew 21 combat missions by war's end. "Saddam's forces were quickly into a backup mode in their air defense system, meaning the normal chain of command was totally disrupted. They had many bases and a lot of air defense sites that were working autonomously for a while. That really paralyzed them. Those initial attacks were crucial to the war's outcome in the next few weeks."
Salata described that first mission into Baghdad as surrealistic. "None of us, except the DO (deputy commander for operations), had ever been in combat before, so we didn't know what to expect," Salata said. "The first time I saw triple-A [anti-aircraft artillery], I wasn't quite sure what it was. I thought something in the city was on fire. The flak was still fairly light, but after we dropped the first bombs, the city lit up like a Christmas tree.
"Triple-A was coming from all directions, some of it in streams and some of it heavy stuff going up over the cockpit and exploding," he said. "It was an amazing sight. I nearly forgot about my second target because I was watching the display outside the window."
"There were times when the Iraqis were firing triple-A from one end of the city to the other, and it would be dropping on their own residential areas ... it was that thick," Salata said. "It wasn't just on the outskirts, it was everywhere. It looked so dense I thought it would be impossible to fly through without at least getting a couple of hits. But we didn't.
"I guess it always looks worse than it really it is. That's, at least, what I always tell the guys. You get through it anyway," said Salata, who is now the 49th FW chief of weapons and training. "You try to block the triple-A out of your mind for a moment and hit the target. You don't want to get hit by anti-aircraft flak or by a SAM, but at the same time, you don't want to go back to the squadron with a miss because you were looking out the window. It's actually not as tough as you think to pull yourself back into the cockpit to do what you have to do. Right after you hit [the target], you can look out and get scared again."
According to Salata, squadron scuttlebutt said only half the pilots in the first wave of 10 would survived the Baghdad raid. "When I saw the triple-A, I also didn't think we'd all make it through," he said. "And after I hit my targets and was on my way back, I listened to the check-in frequency with AWACs [Airborne Warning and Control aircraft] to see who would report in. Initially, I heard only five of the 10 guys check in. So when I landed back at Khamis Mushait, I thought we'd lost five guys. It was a real relief when I went around the squadron and saw everybody there. Fortunately, we didn't lose anybody the whole time."
"I can remember one target in Baghdad [later in the war]-it was a bridge. My objective was to drop the bridge into the water. It wasn't to kill everybody on the bridge," Salata said. "But I saw a car starting to drive across the bridge, and I actually aimed behind him, so he could pass over the bridge. If I had hit the left side of the bridge, he would've driven right into the explosion. Instead I hit the right side. You can pick and choose a little bit in the F-117. In any other type of aircraft, I would've never had the opportunity to move my spot. I would've missed everything, and then I wouldn't have been able to see what happened anyway. Stealth allows us to look longer at the targets before release, as well as after release.
"I think the guy made it safely across the bridge, but you can't really think about that when you're at war. You could drive yourself crazy, thinking of those kind of things. If you have a target to hit, you hit it," the colonel said."

At 4:00 AM, the second wave of F-117A's reached Baghdad. Following shortly was a third wave of eight Black Jets. Of the 60 LGBs carried by the F-117As that night, 11 were not released because the pilots were not able to get a positive identification of the target or were not confident that their weapons would guide properly. Of the 49 LGBs dropped, only 28 actually hit their aim point. Most of the misses were at outlying targets, away from densely populated areas. However, the F-117As had taken out the most heavily defended strategic sites and cleared the way for unstealthy Coalition aircraft to operate with some degree of safety.

Weather began to plague the operations in the gulf. On the second night there was a severe storm (the worse weather in 14 years) and only 23 hits were achieved. Despite this, one pilot bagged one of Iraq's three Adnan-2s' (Soviet Il-76s converted to AWACS).

The following is an account from the Oct/Nov issue of Air and Space Magazine of Major David Horton, a KC-135 pilot flying on that night:

"There was a severe storm on the second night and Horton picked up a distress call from an F-117A. Returning late from an attack on Baghdad, the stealth fighter had missed its scheduled tanker and was critically low on fuel. Refueling the F-117A required special procedures. For security reasons, most refuelings were accomplished with minimal communications, but for a tanker to achieve a visual rendezvous with a stealth fighter at night is tricky, to say the least. Further, the F-117A pilot has a limited field of vision through the cramped windscreen. Luckily, Horton and his crew were qualified for F-117A refuelings and had a full load of gas. "We called AWACS and told them that we had gas if he had enough time to get together with us," Horton says. They headed for the Iraqi border. "I found out afterwards that AWACS was contemplating turning us at that point to keep us from going into Iraq, but better judgment prevailed," he recalls. "By the time we hooked up, we were about 60 miles deep in Iraqi airspace, lit up like a Christmas tree because we had to [be] in order for him to see us in the weather we were in." Conditions were so severe that Horton's boom operator couldn't even see the F-117A at the end of the boom.
By the time they finally hooked up, Horton says the F-117A had less than 100 pounds of gas left on board. The pilot "told my boom operator that he basically had one shot at this or he was going to have to [eject]," Horton recalls. "That would not have been the optimum place to loose a F-117A."
They achieved a second hookup as the aircraft turned south and started descending, finally emerging from Iraqi airspace. As the F-117A took on fuel it had trouble maintaining altitude and retaining the hookup so Horton tobogganed his big tanker-descending with the fighter as both traded altitude for airspeed-enabling the fighter to stay with him long enough to take on a full load of fuel. "We found out afterwards that one reason he was having trouble holding altitude was he had a weapon on board, so he was a whole lot heavier without any gas," says Horton. "and flying at a high altitude, especially at the airspeed we were flying, was extremely difficult for him." As the stealth pilot disconnected from the tanker and headed to base, he told Horton and his crew, "You guys really saved my bacon."

Only six hits were scored on the third night. On the fourth night things turned for the better as 17 targets were destroyed. However, two air aborts, and one ground abort helped limit the number of hits on the fifth night to just 17 again.

The nights of the 21-22 had excellent fighting weather allowing 14 aircraft of the 416th to register 26 hits and two misses on targets in the Baghdad area. These targets included: The Ministry of Defense, the Air Force Headquarters, the GID (Internal Security) Headquarters, the presidential palace and retreat, HAWK sites of captured American made Kuwaiti owned surface to air missiles, and a biological warfare facility that Iraq later tried to pass off as a "baby milk factory".

On January 26, eight more F-117A's arrived in Saudi Arabia. On January 28,1991, all sorties were suspended as Iraq conceded defeat. The F-117As were the only aircraft that went into downtown Baghdad, it was the only aircraft that could be sent inside the city limits because the threat there was genuine. Originally the USAF had stated that the F-117A had achieved a 75 percent success rate based on its combat record of 1,669 direct hits and 418 misses in approximately 1,280 combat sorties totaling more than 6,900 hours of flying. When it was revealed that there were nearly 480 no-drops, some people howled that the "true figures" showed the Nighthawks hitting their marks "barely half the time". However, it must be remembered that the commanders in charge often changed targets at the last minute, weapons system limitations combined with the worst weather on record (14 years) caused many of those aborts. (13 percent predicted cloud cover became 39 percent actual cloud cover) Approximately 15 percent of scheduled aircraft attacks or ties during the first 10 days were canceled because of poor visibility or low overcast sky conditions. Cloud ceilings of 5,000 to 7,000 feet were common, especially during the ground campaign's last few days. Low cloud cover often prevented F-117As from acquiring the targets. Also, for 43 days the Nighthawks and their pilots flew missions averaging 5.4 hours each, dropping bombs on downtown Baghdad, often within blocks of innocent civilians. This factor made positive target acquisition and identification a necessity if innocent lives were not to be lost.

Despite these setbacks, the F-117A proved invaluable in the Gulf. On day one of the war, only 36 F-117As (less than 2.5 percent of the UN Coalition's tactical assets) were in the Gulf Theater, yet they attacked 31 percent of the targets that day. During the first 24 hours, 30 F-117As attacked 37 high value targets in Iraq. Without the F-117As striking Baghdad, the heart of the Iraqi war machine, and blinding it that first night, coalition aircraft would have had to deal with the "7,000 radar missiles, 9,000 IR missiles, 7,000 anti aircraft guns, and 800 fighter aircraft", and the numerous radars and command centers that guided them.

On April 1, 1991 the first eight F-117A's and two KC-10s arrived back at Nellis AFB before 25,000 people. The aircraft were #'s 830,810, 814, 808, 825, 791, 843, and 813. The return came eight months after initial deployment. The flight flew from Saudi Arabia, across Egypt to Spain and then to the U.S. East Coast.

F-117A performance in the Gulf War

SquadronAircraft Name# of
786416th TFS"War Pig"24
789415th TFS"Black Magic"(formerly "Night Stalker")31
790415th TFS"Deadly Jester"(formerly "Obsidian")30
791415th TFS"Lazy Ace"33
793415th TFS"Wiley E. Coyote's Tritonal Express"33
794415th TFS"Delta Dawn"35
796415th TFS"Fatal Attraction"29
797416th TFS"Spell Bound"8(lowest)
798415th TFS"Aces and Eights"34
799416th TFS"Midnight Rider"21
801415th TFS"Perpetrator"38
802416th TFS"Black Magic"19
803416th TFS"Unexpected Guest"33
806415th TFS"Something Wicked"39
807415th TFS"The Chickenhawk"14
808415th TFS"Thor"37
810416th TFS"Dark Angel"26
811415th TFS"Double Down"33
812415th TFSUnnamed,flown by Brian "Axel" Foley 42(highest)
813416th TFS"The Toxic Avenger"35
814416th TFS"Final Verdict"34
816415th TFS"Lone Wolf"39
817416th TFS"Shaba"18
818415th TFS"The Overachiever"38
819416th TFS"Raven Beauty"30
821415th TFS"Sneak Attack"32
825415th TFS"Mad Max"33
826415th TFS"Nachtflake"29
829416th TFS"Avenging Angel"23
830416th TFS"Black Assassin"31
832416th TFS"Once Bitten"30
833416th TFS"Black Devil"30
834416th TFS"Necromancer"34
835416th TFS"The Dragon"26
836416th TFS"Christine"39
837416th TFS"Habu II"31
838416th TFS"Magic Hammer"36
839415th TFS"Midnight Reaper"39
840416th TFS"Black Widow"32
841416th TFS"Mystic Warrior"18
842416th TFS"It's Hammertime"33
843415th TFS"Affectionately Christine"33

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