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F-117s still going strong

Photo: Rich Cooper


Another video of active Lockheed F-117s has emerged, as reported by Tyler Rogoway. The latest video was posted in YouTube on July 26 and shows a pair of F-117As operating from the Tonopah Test Range. The aircraft use the callsigns ‘Night (or Knight) 17′ and Night 19’.

In our June issue, we featured extensive coverage of the F-117. Paul Crickmore wrote:

The USAF originally planned to retire the F-117 in 2011, but the platform was maintenance intensive. In Program Budget Decision 720, dated December 28, 2005, it was proposed that retirement of the entire F-117 fleet should be brought forward to October 2008.

Decommissioning the first operational aircraft began on March 13, 2007, and the final wave retired in a ceremony at the ‘Skunk Works’ on April 22, 2008. The F-117 Formal Training Unit (FTU), the 7th FS, was deactivated on December 31, 2006, and 10 Nighthawks were grounded while their bed-down base was being prepared. Unlike most other US military aircraft, the F-117s wouldn’t be going to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. Instead, due to many aspects of the aircraft still remaining classified, they’d be retired to their original home at Tonopah.

Four F-117s remained with the 410th Flight Test Squadron at Palmdale for flight test purposes, but by the beginning of August just two remained. The last F-117 to leave here was aircraft 86-0831, which duly arrived at Tonopah on August 11, 2008 — marking the official end of F-117 operations.

On arrival at Tonopah, the aircraft had their wings removed and were placed at the back of their original, climate-controlled hangers. The F-117s were officially being kept in Type 1000 storage, indicating that they are maintained in a status from which they could be recalled to active service, should the need arise.

This level of care clearly paid dividends, as 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. They have remained active ever since, engaged in a highly classified test program on the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), believed to involve establishing base-line radar data in the continued development of new radar absorbent materials — such conjecture, however, remains highly speculative! Even so, the fleeting glimpses of F-117s in action to this day have been tantalizing for the ranks of Nighthawk fans.

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