Stealth Aircraft That Led Invasion on Iraq Return to Nevada
LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Eight stealth fighter-bombers that launched the attack on Iraq returned home Monday to Nellis Air Force Base to a rousing welcome from a flag-waving crowd.
More than 25,000 people cheered when two KC-10 transports landed and again when the eight angular, black aircraft passed overhead.
Relatives of 138 returning crew members broke through barriers when an airman stepped off the first transport and gave a ″thumbs-up″ sign. He and another stealth airman unfurled a banner reading ″Thank You America for Your Support.″
The eight F-117A stealth planes were disarmed at the end of the field before they taxied up to the waiting crowd.
The first jet to land was piloted by Col. Alton Whitley Jr., commander of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing.
″Many of us left on a journey in August not knowing where it was going to take us,″ Whitley told the crowd. ″We had a job to do and our commander-in- chief allowed our military leaders to do it.″
The radar-evading jets led the attack against Iraq on Jan. 16, dropping smart bombs that knocked out critical radar and communications equipment and other military targets.
The deputy commander of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, Col. Klaus Klause, said in an interview last week that the $46 million jets flew 1 percent of the 100,000 missions but destroyed more than 40 percent of the strategic targets and were never hit by Iraqi fire.
He said the jet’s success rate was 80 percent, compared with 50 percent for the average fighter and 33 percent during the Vietnam War.
Sgt. Bobby Shelton said the stealth fighters in Saudi Arabia ″made history by not receiving a scratch″ during the war.
He said their operating environment in Saudi Arabia was very similar to Tonopah, Nev., a rugged area of mountains and desert terrain 200 miles northwest of Las Vegas where the aircraft have operated since 1982.
″It was just like home, only 10,000 miles away,″ Shelton said.
The planes left the Middle East late last week, arrived in Spain on Saturday and flew on to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia on Sunday.
Some Nellis personnel, including a few stealth pilots and crew members, have returned to Las Vegas over the past few weeks. But Monday marked the return of the first stealth aircraft.
Some four dozen stealth fighters were sent to the Persian Gulf last year, with only a few of the 59 aircraft remaining at Tonopah.
The fighters made their public debut at Nellis in April 1990 after being used to kick off the invasion of Panama four months earlier.
The unit is scheduled to move to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico next year in what the Defense Department has described as a cost-cutting measure.