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Nighthawk nostalgia

Photo: Rich Cooper

 

The F-117 Nighthawk retired 10 years ago, and as Combat Aircraft marks 75 years of the Lockheed Skunk Works, we reflect on the Nighthawk’s history and evaluate why a few F-117s continue to fly in secrecy in the new June issue.

The unit chosen to fly the F-117 was the 4450th Tactical Group, and it was formed on October 15, 1979. Referred to as ‘A-unit’, again to preserve security, it reported directly to Tactical Air Command’s Director of Operations (DO), instead of a numbered Air Force.

While work on the prototype aircraft continued at Burbank, a comprehensive construction program began at the aircraft’s covert operational base — Tonopah Test Range (TTR). Located in the north-west corner of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), this remote base was already home to the super-secret 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron ‘Red Eagles’.

Aircraft serial 80-0787 was the first operational F-117 to be accepted by the USAF on August 23, 1982, and it was joined 11 days later by 80-0786. In September, Det 1 of the 4450th was designated the 4452nd Test Squadron with a complement of just two aircraft, and then on the night of October 15, Maj Al Whitley conducted his first flight, becoming the first operational pilot to fly the jet-black F-117.

The last F-117 to leave Palmdale as the tyoe was officially retired in 2008 was aircraft 86-0831, which duly arrived at Tonopah on August 11, 2008 — marking the official end of F-117 operations.

However, four F-117s were subsequently reactivated as early as 2010, with an online video of a low flying F-117 proving the type’s continued use. The have remained active ever since…

To read more from Paul Crickmore’s fascinating feature, check out the new June issue of Combat Aircraft.

Posted in Features

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