Aviano F-16 that shot down three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters in 1994 Flying Missions to Deter Iran

Aviano F-16 that shot down three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters in 1994 Flying Missions to Deter Iran

By Dario Leone
Jul 24 2023
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Aviano F-16 Flying Missions to Deter Iran

Taken on Jul. 18, 2023 the photos in this post show a US Air Force (USAF) F-16 Fighting Flacon receiving fuel from a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker above the Strait of Hormuz and at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

As already reported the US dispatched destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters to supplement forces already in US Central Command to deter Iran from seizing commercial vessels. The US has A-10s patrolling the skies in the area, in addition to P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

Aviano F-16 that shot down three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters in 1994 Flying Missions to Deter Iran
F-16 tail 2137 receiving fuel from a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker above the Strait of Hormuz. The 555th EFS provides combat airpower on demand to US and NATO Combatant Commanders as well as the National Command Authority in order to meet national security objectives.

Aviano F-16 that shot down three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters

As noted by Air Force Magazine, three green stars are plainly visible on the F-16, tail 2137. The F-16 is forward deployed to CENTCOM from Aviano Air Base, Italy, as part of the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

The kill markings on tail 2137 in particular denote one of the most impressive feats of air combat in recent decades: a single-mission triple kill during a NATO 1994 mission over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Aviano F-16 that shot down three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters in 1994 Flying Missions to Deter Iran
A US Air Force pilot assigned to the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron prepares to disembark an F-16 Fighting Falcon after arriving at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Jul. 17, 2023.

On Feb. 28, 1994, then-Capt. Robert Gordon “Wilbur” Wright engaged in NATO’s first ever combat mission. He was directed to perform an offensive counter air mission to enforce the UN’s “no fly” sanctions over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Wright downed three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters in minutes using an AIM-120 AMRAAM and two AIM-9 Sidewinders. His actions resulted in the first “triple kill” on a single mission since the Korean War in 1953.

Aviano F-16 that shot down three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters still flying operationally

The F-16 was later reassigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano AB. Aircraft 2137 is still flying operationally today.

Air Forces Central (AFCENT) spokesman Col. Mike Andrews told Air & Space Forces Magazine: “I can confirm that the 555 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (Triple Nickel) has tail 2137, which is the specific F-16 that has 3x Air-to-Air kills over Bosnia.”

Aviano F-16 that shot down three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters in 1994 Flying Missions to Deter Iran
Bob Wright, Retired United States Air Force F-16 pilot, poses for a photo. After retirement his son Jett followed in his footsteps, becoming an F-16 pilot and getting the chance to fly the same aircraft.

In historical photos released by the Air Force, tail 2137 previously had three kill markings that appear to be a double-headed eagle, the Serbian coat of arms. But those markings have since been replaced by green stars. According to the article A Legacy of Valor by Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs, USAF Capt. Jett Wright, “Wilbur” Wright’s son, flew tail 2137 while on Active duty in 2022.

According to Air Force Magazine is rare in the US military having an aircraft in the active inventory with an air-to-air kill. The last American aircraft to score an air-to-air kill was a US Navy F/A-18E in 2017 over Syria when the Super Hornet shot down a Su-22 Syrian fighter that according the US was dropping bombs on its Kurdish partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces. It was the first time US pilots shot down a manned aircraft since 1999.

Photo credit: Senior Airman Jacob Cabanero and Tech. Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III / U.S. Air Force

Aviano F-16 that shot down three Serbian J-21 Jastreb fighters in 1994 Flying Missions to Deter Iran
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Flacon pilot gestures towards a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker crew after receiving fuel during air refueling operations above the Strait of Hormuz, Jul. 18, 2023.

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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