China's got a brand-new shiny stealth fighter—and the country may want to drop Washington a thank-you note for it, reports the AP. Seems a US-made F-117 Nighthawk that was shot down over Serbia in 1999 attracted some attention in Beijing. And Balkan military officials and experts say that in all probability the Chinese gleaned some of their technological know-how from the original stealth fighter. "At the time, our intelligence reports told of Chinese agents crisscrossing the region where the F-117 disintegrated, buying up parts of the plane from local farmers," says a Croatian military official.
The Nighthawk entered service in 1983 as a revolutionary fighter jet that was largely invisible to radar; the jet that went down over Serbia was the first model to crash. A Belgrade museum has a wing, cockpit canopy, pilot's seat, and other pieces of wreckage on display, but "I don't know what happened to the rest of the plane," says a museum official. "The destroyed F-117 topped that wish-list for both the Russians and Chinese," says a military consultant; Russia debuted a prototype stealth fighter last year. The Russian jet is to enter service in four years, while China's J-20 is at least eight or nine years away. (Read more stealth fighter stories.)