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Aircraft Losses
Vega 31: The Loss of #806

"Getting Home"

[MH-53 Pave Low in sharp turn. (USAF)]In Washington, shortly after Vega 31 was confrimed down, the national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, broke the news to President Clinton at the White House. "Keep me informed," Clinton responded grimly, according to a White House aide.

For the next seven hours, Berger, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, waited anxiously and fielded dozens of phone calls from Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's military commander in Brussels, updating them on the situation.

There were emotional highs and lows. At one point, Pentagon aides cheered with joy when it was reported the pilot had been saved, only to learn that it was a false alarm. At about 12 am local time (5 p.m. EST), a senior Pentagon aide said he recalled asking General Shelton, "How long is it going to be?" The general replied, "We just have no way of knowing."

[MH-53 Pave Low deploying forces. (USAF)] With the pickup of Vega 31 and the rescue helicopters saftly in friendly airspace, Berger alerted Clinton, who expressed relief. Minutes later, Pentagon Spokesman Kevin Bacon made the first announcement confirming the loss of #806 and announcing that the pilot and CSAR aircraft were in friendly airspace.

At 3:22 am local time (9:22 PM EST) a flash bulletin was transmitted from various media sources noting that a USAF F-117A Stealth Fighter was downed in Yugoslavia.

With the rescue helicopters safetly en route to Tusla AB, the aeiral armada of aircraft supporting the rescue now attemmpted to reach their various home bases as quickly as possible. Many of the supprt aircraft had been in the air for six hours and were running low on fuel.

Tanker crew remembers A-10 rescue over Bosnia
Released: 28 Jul 1999
by Master Sgt. Greg Bade
6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- Shortly before midnight March 27, the fourth night of the air campaign in Kosovo, a KC-135 tanker lifted off from the runway at Moron Air Base, Spain, to refuel an RC-135 over the Adriatic Sea.
Before they landed nine hours later, the four-man crew from the 6th Air Refueling Wing here would play a behind-the-scenes role in the dramatic rescue of a downed F-117 Nighthawk pilot.
"When we reached the refueling area, we ended up refueling two F-16s," said Senior Airman Matt Dellalucca, in-flight refueling operator. "After this, we received an urgent call from a NATO AWACS (Airborne and Warning and Control System aircraft) controller telling us to depart the area and immediately head in a northeasterly direction towards Bosnia."
The crew was given no additional information, but sensed something unusual was going on as they listened to the anxious tone of the AWACS controller's radio calls to other aircraft.
"We could tell he was task-saturated and very preoccupied," said Capt. Clifton Janney, aircraft commander. "Because he didn't give us additional guidance, we proceeded to a pre-established refueling track over Bosnia where we off-loaded fuel to two A-10s and an MC-130. Pretty soon we began hearing conversations between Magic (the call sign for the AWACS controller) and an aircraft with the call sign Sandy 30."
Despite heavy radio traffic, the tanker crew could hear Sandy 30 ask the AWACS controller for vectors (compass headings) to the nearest tanker.
"The replies from Magic sounded like he didn't quite understand what Sandy was requesting, and instead of giving Sandy vectors to us, he cleared Sandy to our frequency," said Janney.
That wasn't good enough for Sandy. He responded he needed vectors to a tanker immediately. At that point the tanker's navigator, Maj. Kevin Torres, intervened and made direct radio contact with Sandy.
"I asked for his exact position and asked if he could make it to our area, but he said he didn't think he could," Torres said.
[Spang A-10 joining up for gas.(USAF)] Upon learning Sandy was an A-10 Thunderbolt II, one of the slowest aircraft in the Air Force inventory, the tanker crew bolted from its refueling area and descended toward the A-10. Using a secret reference point called a bull's eye, known only to friendly aircraft, Torres began directing Sandy to a rendezvous with the tanker.
"To get to him we had to go below the specified minimum altitude for a tanker in that area, an altitude that would bring us into range of the surface-to-air missiles," said Janney. "From previous experience, we knew the area was also an air-to-air threat environment."
[Spang A-10 taking on gas.(USAF)] Torres continued navigating the two aircraft toward each other and five minutes later they spotted Sandy.
"He was a little nervous, understandably so, and was having a difficult time hooking up with the refueling boom," said Dellalucca.
After the first two attempts failed, Dellalucca encountered a problem he hadn't experienced with the other receiver aircraft that night.
"I couldn't get a positive contact with his receptacle, which I need before I can latch the boom and start pumping fuel," he said. "The pilot told us if he didn't get some gas fast, he was 'going to find a place to put this thing down.'"
[Spang A-10 taking on gas.(USAF)] Dellelucca turned on the manual override system, latched the boom and received a positive contact signal on his instrument panel.
"Once he realized the emergency was over and he was taking on gas, the A-10 pilot started explaining to us over the secure boom interphone why he was so low on gas," said Janney. "He told us a stealth fighter had just been shot down and that he and his partner in another A-10 were protecting the area for the rescue operation. He also told us to keep this under our hat." [NOTE: It is possible that "Sandy" was the combat search and rescue task force mission commander Capt. John Cherrey.]
By this time the tanker crew was in contact with the other A-10, which was also low on fuel, and began directing it to them.
"He had a harder time finding us than the first A-10, so he shot off some flares so we could see him," said Torres. "Sure enough, we spotted him and turned to get him."
"We off-loaded about 10,000 pounds of fuel to each of them," said Dellelucca. "Considering the A-10 can only take 11,000 pounds, they were real close to running out. In fact, both pilots told us we saved their hides."
Now it was the tanker crew's turn to be concerned about fuel.
"We were a little nervous," said Janney. "Normally we like to land with a minimum of 20,000 pounds. When we got back to Moron we had 17,000.""
Released: 6 Apr 1999
by Hal McKenzie
Warner Robins Air Logistics Center Public Affairs

[F-16 being refueled. (USAF photo by SrA. Jeffrey Allen)] "Airmen from the 19th Air Refueling Group here played a critical role in the successful search and rescue of the F-117A Nighthawk pilot shot down over Yugoslavia March 27.
The group's "Black Knights" helped the defensive cap of fighters, radar-jamming aircraft and airborne warning and control planes stay in the air long enough to complete the rescue mission.
Col. Dave Lefforge, 19th ARG commander, talked March 31 about the unit's role in the operation.
"At a certain time we launched off of a strip alert from our deployed location. We went to the designated area to refuel fighter aircraft defending the rescue operation," he said, providing scant details because of operational security reasons.

The following account from an Aviano based F-16 pilot was published in the October 1999 issue of Lockheed Martin's Code One Magazine:

[Spangdahlem based A-10 and F-16. (USAF)] "(The) Most Memorable Mission I was part of the first F-16 Block 50 four-ship that was scrambled during the combat search-and-recovery mission after the F-117 went down. I didn't get shot at during that mission and I didn't shoot at anything, but that was still the most memorable mission of the war for me. We had eighteen airplanes in the wing participating in the mission-six A-10s and twelve F-16s. At the time, Spangdahlem had the only A-10s in theater. Four F-16s flew over a nine-hour mission as part of that rescue effort. They were airborne when the F-117 went down. We were very focused and prepared to do whatever it took to get that pilot out of there. The helicopters picked up the pilot and got him home. That mission was very satisfying, the highlight of my career."

Half an hour after they picked up Vega 31, the rescue team arrived at Tusla AB concluding a 5.5 hour mission. It had been more than six hours since Vega 31 had ejected from #806. "The mission was fairly long and it was an emotional time, in that respect," said Capt. Cardoso.

Lt. Col Laushine said:

[Lt. Col. Steve Laushine. (ABC News)] "This mission was grueling in respect to physical and emotional stress. It was longer than we expected and had many unknowns. By the end of the mission people were just drained. It was daring, to say the least, and they did a good job. Obviously it's gratifying to finally get to do the job, it's what we spend years training and prepareing for and it's tremendously rewarding when you see it pay off."

Earlier in the evening, Lt. Col. Pankau and his crew in their MC-130 Combat Shadow had refueled the rescue team at the begining of their mission. Afterward, they waited for the second MC-130P to replace them before departing for badly needed fuel. Sustaining fuel was provided by rendezvous with a KC-135 -- a first for an MC-130P during a combat mission.

[MC-130 Combat Shadow. ()] However, their evening was not done. The crew then flew to Tuzla Air Base in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they picked up the downed pilot and transported him to Aviano Air Base. It was dawn when the weary crew landed at Aviano, where Wilkins escorted the pilot to the waiting crowd. The crew soon departed without fanfare back to Brindisi Airport, Italy, culminating their nearly 11-hour mission. Their exploits, however, did not go unnoticed. President Clinton called the 352nd SOG commander to give personal thanks to Victor and fellow crewmembers.

For Victor, as with the others that night, it was his first time to fly a wartime mission. "It was something you never forget," Victor said of the experience. "We were just happy to be part of the whole rescue."

At Aviano Air Base, Italy a crowd greeted Vega 31 upon his arrival. Among the crowd was fellow F-117A pilots, maintenance personal, and the pilots who had just landed after spending six or more hours in the air supporting the rescue.

Among the first to greet the rescued pilot at Aviano was the airman that had given Vega 31 the American flag. Amid the hugs, back slapping and hand shaking, the F-117 pilot spotted her in the crowd and reached into his flight suit to reveal the flag he had promised to return to her.

"When we heard he was down," said the airman who had given him the flag, "it was as if we had lost a member of our family. These guys aren't just pilots to us. We know their families and they know ours. People have asked me if I was thinking about the flag I had given him," the airman said. "I wasn't thinking about it at all. I just wanted him back."

The following is from an AP news report on March 30, 1999:

The Associated Press

AVIANO, Italy --There were tears, hugs and high-fives all around.

"The return of the pilot of the F-117A stealth fighter-bomber that crashed in Yugoslavia "was an emotional experience just to stand and watch," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Edward Thomas, a spokesman for the Aviano air base. "It was better than watching the Super Bowl," he added.
The pilot got off the rescue airplane and was greeted by a large crowd of friends and colleagues. He showed "about as much emotion as you can without crying," Thomas said.
"'Glad to be back,'" Thomas quoted him as saying."

President Clinton telephoned the pilot of the F-117A and praised him for his bravery. From the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, Clinton also made congratulatory calls to several members of the rescue team.

Pilot Identity

Both of the downed pilots from Allied Force have since been interviewed by various news angencies. However, because they are still operational pilots flying missions, their identities have been protected. Both pilots are refered to as their callsigns on their missions, Vega 31 (F-117A) and Hamer 34(F-16).

[#806 canopy. (AP Photo)] There was much speculation about the name "Ken 'Wiz' Dwelle" on the canopy of #806. Dwelle was an instructor pilot with the 7th FS (training) and was at home in New Mexico when #806 went down. F-117A #806 was assinged to the 7th FS, and because of a almost 2:1 ratio of pilots to aircraft, only the senior pilots and leadership have their names on the cockpits. Because of the speculation and subsequent rumors, the US Air Force has since decided to have pilot and aircrew names removed from all aircraft engaged in hostile environments.

"We recognize that our people take great pride in placing their names on our aircraft, but the safety of airmen and their families from threat attempts and personal grief was paramount in the Air Force's decision to remove names from aircraft," said Maj. Gen. Scott C. Bergren, director of maintenance in the Air Force installations and logistics directorate at the Pentagon. "In actual practice, the pilot's name on the aircraft and the pilot actually flying the aircraft are often not the same," said General Bergren. "While many don't like this change, the Air Force believes that it is necessary to reduce the threat of terrorism and personal grief to our airmen and their families."

The September 1999 issue of Air Forces Monthly reports an identity of the "mystery" pilot. However, sources of the author INSIST that the information presented in Air Forces Monthly in incorrect. Therefore, here is the information from Air Forces Monthly. However, it should NOT be accepted blindly as the truth. This is just the first name published in the mass media.

The pilot named in the article is Bandit #338, MAJOR DARRELL P. ZELKO. Darrell Zelko first achieved Bandit status on May 30, 1990 with the rank of Captain. On May 29, 1997 Darrell Zelko (now a Major) requalified as a Bandit. Major Zelko probably was part of the US Navy or RAF exchange program, and probably initially left the F-117A community in 1995. The second date marks his return to F-117A flying after some sort of absence-probably flying F-18's at Cecil Field, Florida or flying for the RAF in Great Britain.

It must be noted that no information about the mystery pilot has been confirmed or released by the USAF. Again, this is the first published name, but sources say it is incorrect.

Vega 31: The Loss of #806
"Vega 31 is going down!"
"The Rescue"
"Getting Home"
"Awards and Honors"
"The Wreckage"
"The Photos"
[Vega 31 Home]
Vega 31 Home

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