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U.S. pilot: "That's what your tax money goes for'

A U.S. pilot who shot down one of four Serb aircraft over Bosnia said in telephone news conference Monday that the brief encounter was virtually no contest for high-tech NATO air power.

"That's what your tax money goes for, sir," he told reporters at the Pentagon from Aviano Air Base in Northern Italy hours after the incident. "It wasn't much of a contest. I mean that's evident by the outcome, I would say."

Three of the four U.S. F-16 jet pilots involved in the incident told reporters the Serb Galeb jets had just dropped bombs on a ground target in violation of a NATO no-fly order.

The pilots were identified only by the radio call signs for security reasons. One of the four, the one who shot down the other three Yugoslav jets with air-to-air missiles, was not at the news conference.

But the pilot who flew near the jet that shot down three Serb planes said "all three were immediately destroyed and became fireballs _ no parachutes." The fourth Serb plane was also destroyed in a fireball, pilots said.

Pressed on whether the encounter was a challenge for the sophisticated U.S. fighters and big NATO radar planes which guided them, the pilot (code name "Yogi") who shot down the final Galeb, replied:

"That's what your tax money goes for sir . . . (for pilots) to be trained at a level so that you don't have to go out and meet people on equal footing."

The first Galeb was shot down at about 5,000 feet with an AMRAAM, the most sophisticated air-to-air missile in the U.S. inventory, and the other three with heat-seeking Aim-9 "Sidewinder" missiles at much lower altitude.

"They were flying extremely low _ around 100 feet around the trees _ and they were using the valleys and the mountains to try to hide their presence as they were running northwest," said one U.S. pilot.

"We caught them on the radar and basically just ran them down."