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Col. Al Whitley took over command of the 37th TFW with its cutting edge equipment, the F-117 Nighthawk "Stealth Fighter" two days before the whole group was relocated to Saudi Arabia in response to Saddam Hussein's Iraqi invasion of its neighbor, Kuwait, in the summer of 1990. Under his leadership the wing adapted the moniker "Team Stealth", and were honed to a fine edge by the time hostilities began.
When Operation Desert Shield became Desert Storm in January of 1991, Whitley was one of the first pilots over Baghdad, in the then-unproven stealth aircraft. Though the Iraqi defenses threw everything they could at the handful of F-117s, they were inevitably firing blind. As impressive as the "Fireworks show" of anti-aircraft gunfire and missiles was, no stealth fighter was even dinged by a stray shot (though shells returning to Earth did a great deal of the damage reported by the eager news media in populated civilian areas. Dropping laser-guided bombs (LGBs), the handful of F-117s used in the Gulf War flew 2% of the sorties by allied aircraft, but did 40% of the damage to Iraq's strategic infrastructure - turning the Stealth fighter overnight into a glamorous -but often referred to as ugly - superstar.
Here Col. Al Whitley flies yet another of his 29 missions during the war, this time striking deep into Iraq to further damage the command and control systems. Aircraft #839 "Toxic Avenger" is seen here delivering another payload at an airbase. . The Iraqi air defenses failed to threaten the effectiveness of the F-117, but the cloudiest winter in a decade did interfere with some missions. Only against a moonlight sky, spied visually, could the F-117s be detected - but shooting one down under even those condtions was another story.
February 2nd, 2010
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