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Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

History of the F-117 Nighthawk

The F-117 Nighthawk, also known as the “Stealth Fighter,” is a single-seat, twin-engine strike-fighter built by Lockheed’s Skunk Works. Designed as a stealth aircraft undetectable by enemy radar, the F-117 made its first flight in 1981. The Nighthawk was the first operational aircraft designed to exploit low-observable stealth technology to evade detection by radar or sensors, allowing it to carry out its mission and return home undetected.

Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

Serial Number: 82-799

Manufacturer: Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co.

Crew: One

Engines: Two General Electric F404 non-afterburning engines

Wingspan: 43 feet 4 inches

Length: 63 feet 9 inches

Height: 12 feet 9 1/2 inches

Weight: 52,500 pounds

Speed: High subsonic

Range: Unlimited with air refueling

Service Ceiling: 45,000 feet

Armament: Internal weapons carriage; various ordnance

Cost: $45,000,000

The F-117 Nighthawk at Hill Air Force Base

In December 1998, Hill Air Force Base’s Ogden Air Logistics Center was assigned the responsibility of providing depot field team support of F-117 battle/crash damage repair by way of Expeditionary Depot Maintenance expertise through the 649th Combat Logistics Support Squadron (CLSS). This new mission required the deployment of military teams worldwide to perform heavy maintenance and aircraft modifications on Nighthawks wherever necessary. The 649th performed this mission until 2008 when the F-117 retired from service as the more advanced F-22 Raptor assumed the role once held by the F-117. Lockheed built 64 Nighthawks total.

The United States Air Force (USAF) used the F-117 in the US invasion of Panama, Gulf War and Kosovo. It also flew missions over Afghanistan and in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The F-117 on display at Hill Aerospace Museum made its first flight in September 1983. It flew 5,234 flight hours and 54 combined combat sorties in Desert Storm, Allied Force and Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 4450th Tactical Group (TG). In fact, this F-117 (#799) flew the most combat sorties out of all F-117s in Operation Iraqi Freedom. When in service, airmen of the 4450 TG nicknamed this airframe “Midnight Rider.” It was acquired by the museum for display in 2020.

Are there any F-117s still flying?

Though officially retired by the United States Air Force, the F-117 is still in use today for stealth and radar technologies research and as an “aggressor” aircraft for use in training exercises.

Was an F-117 ever shot down?

In March 1999, a single F-117 was shot down by Yugoslavian air defenses. This is the first known case of an enemy force detecting and successfully downing a “stealth” type aircraft. The pilot successfully ejected and was rescued some eight hours later.

Why did the U.S. retire the F-117?

With the introduction of the F-22 Raptor, the F-117 was deemed unnecessary for future combat duties and was retired in 2008. However, the airframe was kept in Type 1000 storage allowing them to be returned to active duty should a need arise. As of 2022, multiple Nighthawks have been seen still flying.

Does the F-117 have a gun?

Though sometimes referred to as the “Stealth Fighter,” and having the F designation of a fighter aircraft, the F-117 is actually a bomber capable of carrying just two 2,000-pound bombs in its internal bays. The Nighthawk has no defensive capabilities, relying on its stealth to avoid enemy detection.

Why is the F-117 invisible to radar?

Thanks to the unique, computer-aided design of the F-117’s airframe, as well as use of radar-absorbent materials for its skin, the Nighthawk is nearly invisible to radar. The more accurate term is “low-observable,” as the F-117 has an incredibly small radar cross section, making it difficult to detect by radar.

Restoration Time-Lapse