The Case Of The Missing F-117 Parts (2001)

by Bill Sweetman
Oct 08, 2015

How AW&ST found out what had happened to the remains of a shot-down F-117

In August 2001, nobody was quite sure what had happened to the wreckage of a Lockheed Martin F-117A stealth fighter that had been shot down over Serbia in March 1999. Aviation Week editors Dave Fulghum and Robert Wall, in Moscow for the MAKS air show, managed to secure an interview with a Russian general in charge of air defense programs. In the course of the interview, using what some would call low cunning and I would call tradecraft, they asked what the Russians had learned from examining the F-117's remains - and the officer told them, in detail.

It was the basis for a groundbreaking story about Russian stealth and counterstealth technology that ran in the October 8, 2001, issue. AW&ST discussed the development of anti-stealth radars: the early Nebo VHF radar at MAKS in 2001 was the ancestor of the huge active electronically scanned array that was shown in 2013. Stealth modifications to tactical aircraft were confirmed a couple of years later when engineers from Moscow's Institute for Theoretical and Applied Electromagnetics spoke at a London conference about radar cross-section (RCS) reduction work on the Sukhoi Su-27 family.

Later, a Russian TV documentary disclosed the existence of the defense ministry's 2nd Central Scientific & Research Institute (2 TzNII) and its facilities for testing RCS models of the F-117 and many other aircraft. 

(Yes, that photo was taken in Russia.) 

The same research led to the development of the Sukhoi T-50 and will contribute to the PAK-DA bomber. 

Read the October 8, 2001 cover story: Russians Admit Testing F-117 Lost in Yugoslavia


► Aviation Week celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

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