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.