The green stickers are marked “J-21” after the fighter jets it shot down in 1994 in what became known as the Banja Luka incident. On Feb. 28, two Air Force F-16s clashed with six J-21 fighters from the Bosnian Serb Air Force at the direction of NATO after they were observed bombing a factory in Novi Travnik, a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I posted a variation of the photograph noting the kill stickers on Instagram on Wednesday. A follower, Marine Capt. Brett Friedman, raised the prospect that it was an F-16 involved in the Banja Luka incident, and the Air Force confirmed Thursday that is indeed the case, noting the plane’s serial number, 89-2137.
The fighter was piloted by Capt. Robert G. “Wilbur” Wright, who tallied the first single-mission triple victory by an Air Force pilot since the Korean War, according to a service biography. A fourth J-21 was shot down in the same mission by Capt. Stephen L. “Yogi” Allen, another pilot, and a fifth enemy fighter was lost under uncertain circumstances.
Air-to-air combat is rare for the United States at this point. This 2009 piece in The Atlantic details why, and little has changed since then. Enemy fighters haven’t tested a U.S. pilot in ages, although there have been incidents in which Chinese fighters, in particular, have buzzed American planes.
It wasn’t immediately clear if this jet is the one with the most victories in the current military. One other possible contender: one of the Air Force’s F-15 Eagles. During Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, the jet recorded 32 of the 36 victories notched by the United States against Iraqi fighters, according to Boeing, its maker. It wasn’t immediately clear how many each F-15 deployed at the time took down.