Stealth tech earned pilots’ trust as Desert Storm missions went on

Military Technology

An F-117 Nighthawk spotted in the Nevada skies. (KLAS-TV)

MYSTERY WIRE — Jan. 17, 1991: The first bombing run of Desert Storm.

The man who dropped the first bomb: US Air Force Maj. Gen. Greg A. “Beast” Feest.

Flying the lead F-117 stealth fighter, his mission was to drop a 2,000-pound laser-guided bomb onto an Iraqi interceptor operations center. The weapon impacted on time, on target. He then headed to his second target, a sector operations center. He recorded a direct hit.

As the attack on Baghdad proceeded well out of range of ground fire, Feest and the other F-117s in his wing went in low to deliver the bunker busters. Feest describes the mission, and how aircraft flew along the Iraqi border ahead of the war to “desensitize” Iraqis to their presence. The routine flights of fighters and tankers continued until it was time to attack.

“Then we stealthed up and departed the tankers and flew into Iraq for our missions.”

The F-117 was 10 years old by the time Desert Storm launched. Stealth technology hadn’t been battle tested, and it has changed plenty since then.

“The way we stealthed up the aircraft back then was we threw a couple switches,” Feest says. “There were no beacons on the airplane. Everything was flat, so that our radar cross-section was low. We throw a switch and the antennaes would come in so we could no longer hear anybody or talk to anybody, So from then on we were communications ‘out.’ We would drop off the tanker and then fly into our target areas.”

“I dropped the first bomb 9 minutes before ‘H’ hour, which was 02:00. I flew in and hit an intercept operations center.”

In the video, Feest describes his view of “fireworks” over Baghdad, where F-117s were attacking targets.

“When we got home, there were a lot of aircraft that diverted into our base, that had damage. F-111s, the F-111s, others. But the 12 of us, we had nothing wrong with any of our aircraft and nobody had got hit. So we were starting to believe in stealth technology.”

After that first night of missions, Feest says the crews felt lucky, and they weren’t sure the luck would continue.

“After about a week when nobody was getting hit, we figured out this stuff works pretty good, and we trusted it. Again, the engineers were correct. So I thank them all the time when I see them.”

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