One F-117 has been lost in combat, to Serbian/Yugoslav forces. On March 27, 1999, during the Kosovo War, the 3rd Battalion of the 250th Missile Brigade under the command of Colonel Zoltán Dani, equipped with the Isayev S-125 ‘Neva-M’ (NATO designation SA-3 ‘Goa’), downed F-117A serial number 82-806 with a Neva-M missile. According to NATO Commander Wesley Clark and other NATO generals, Yugoslav air defenses found that they could detect F-117s with their “obsolete” Soviet radars operating on long wavelengths.
This, combined with the loss of stealth when the jets got wet or opened their bomb bays, made them visible on radar screens. The pilot, Lt Col Dale Zelko, survived and was later rescued by NATO forces. On the aircraft, the name Captain Ken “Wiz” Dwelle printed caused confusion on the identity of the pilot. Later, the wreckage of the F-117 was not promptly bombed, and the Serbs are believed to have invited Russian personnel to inspect the remains, inevitably compromising the US stealth technology.
The SAMs were most likely guided manually with the help of thermal images and laser rangefinders included in the Pechora-M variant of the SA-3s believed to have been used. Reportedly several SA-3s were launched, one of which detonated in close proximity to the F-117A, forcing the pilot to eject. According to an interview, Zoltán Dani was able to keep most of his missile sites intact and had a number of spotters spread out looking for F-117s and other aircraft.
Zoltán and his missile crews guessed the flight paths of earlier F-117As from occasional visual and radar spotting and judging from this information and what target had just been bombed, Zoltán and his missile battery determined the probable flight path of F-117A. His missile crews and spotters were then able to locate it and fire their missiles. Zoltán also claims to have modified his radars to better detect the F-117A, but he has not disclosed what was changed. Parts of the shot-down aircraft are now presented to the public in the Museum of Yugoslav Aviation in Belgrade.
Some sources claim a second F-117A was also damaged during a raid in the Kosovo War, and although it made it back to its base, it never flew again. Yugoslavian air defenses were seen as relatively obsolete.
Some pieces of the F-117’s wreckage are preserved at the Serbian Museum of Aviation in Belgrade, other pieces of wreckage were reportedly sent to Russia, to be used in developing anti-stealth technology. The USAF retired the F-117 in 2008.