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Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

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Title: Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk  
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Subject: Stealth aircraft, Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II procurement, Lockheed P-38 Lightning, National Radar Cross-section Facility
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Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

F-117 Nighthawk
Top view of angular aircraft banking left while flying over mountain range
F-117 flying over mountains in Nevada, 2002
Role Stealth attack aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Lockheed Corporation
First flight 18 June 1981
Introduction October 1983[1]
Retired 22 April 2008[2]
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built 64 (5 YF-117As, 59 F-117As)
Unit cost
US$42.6 million (flyaway cost)
US$111.2 million (average cost)[3]
Developed from Lockheed Have Blue

The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk is a single-seat, twin-engine stealth attack aircraft that was developed by Lockheed's secretive Skunk Works division and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). The F-117 was based on the Have Blue technology demonstrator, and was the first operational aircraft to be designed around stealth technology. The maiden flight of the Nighthawk happened in 1981 and the aircraft achieved initial operating capability status in 1983.[1] The Nighthawk was shrouded in secrecy until it was revealed in 1988.[4]

The F-117 was widely publicized for its role in the Gulf War of 1991. Although it was commonly referred to as the "Stealth Fighter", it was a strictly ground-attack aircraft.[5] F-117s took part in the conflict in Yugoslavia where one was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) on 27 March 1999, the only Nighthawk to be lost in combat. The Air Force retired the F-117 on 22 April 2008, primarily due to the fielding of the F-22 Raptor. Sixty-four F-117s were built, 59 of which were production versions with the other five being demonstrators/prototypes.


Background and Have Blue

In 1964, Pyotr Ufimtsev, a Soviet mathematician, published a seminal paper titled Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction in the journal of the Moscow Institute for Radio Engineering, in which he showed that the strength of a radar return is related to the edge configuration of an object, not its size.[6] Ufimtsev was extending theoretical work published by the German physicist Arnold Sommerfeld.[7][8][9] Ufimtsev demonstrated that he could calculate the radar cross-section across a wing's surface and along its edge. The obvious and logical conclusion was that even a large aircraft could be made difficult to see by radar by exploiting this principle. However, the airplane's design would make it aerodynamically unstable, and the state of computer technology in the early 1960s could not provide the kinds of flight computers which would later allow aircraft such as the F-117 and B-2 Spirit to stay airborne. By the 1970s, when Lockheed analyst Denys Overholser found Ufimtsev's paper, computers and software had advanced significantly, and the stage was set for the development of a stealthy airplane.[10]

Aircraft parked inside an open hangar
F-117A painted in "Gray Dragon" experimental camouflage scheme.

The F-117 was born after combat experience in the Vietnam War when increasingly sophisticated Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) downed heavy bombers.[11] It was a black project, an ultra-secret program for much of its life, until it was revealed in November 1988.[12][4] The project began in 1975 with a model called the "Hopeless Diamond"[13][14] (a wordplay on the Hope Diamond because of its appearance). The following year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) issued Lockheed Skunk Works a contract to build and test two Stealth Strike Fighters, under the code name "Have Blue".[15] These subscale aircraft incorporated jet engines of the Northrop T-38A, fly-by-wire systems of the F-16, landing gear of the A-10, and environmental systems of the C-130.[15] By bringing together existing technology and components, Lockheed built two demonstrators under budget, at $35 million for both aircraft, and in record time.[15]

The maiden flight of the demonstrators occurred on 1 December 1977.[16] Although both aircraft were lost during the demonstration program, test data proved positive. The success of Have Blue led the government to increase funding for stealth technology. Much of that increase was allocated towards the production of an operational stealth aircraft, the Lockheed F-117A, under the program code name "Senior Trend".[17][18]

Senior Trend

The decision to produce the F-117A was made on 1 November 1978, and a contract was awarded to Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, popularly known as the Skunk Works, in Burbank, California.[19] The program was led by Ben Rich, with Alan Brown, as manager of the project.[20] Rich called on Bill Schroeder, a Lockheed mathematician, and Denys Overholser, a computer scientist, to exploit Ufimtsev's work. The three designed a computer program called "Echo", which made it possible to design an airplane with flat panels, called facets, which were arranged so as to scatter over 99% of a radar's signal energy "painting" the aircraft.[10][21][22]

The first YF-117A, serial number 79-0780, made its maiden flight from Groom Lake, Nevada on 18 June 1981,[23] only 31 months after the full-scale development decision. The first production F-117A was delivered in 1982, and operational capability was achieved in October 1983.[7][24] The 4450th Tactical Group stationed at Nellis AFB, Nevada were tasked with the operational development of the early F-117, and between 1981 (prior to the arrival of the first models) and 1989 they used LTV A-7 Corsair IIs for training, to bring all pilots to a common flight training baseline and later as chase planes for F-117A tests.[25]

The Air Force denied the existence of the aircraft until 10 November 1988, when Assistant Secretary of Defense J. Daniel Howard displayed a grainy photograph at a Pentagon press conference, disproving the many inaccurate rumors about the shape of the secret "F-19". After the announcement pilots could fly the F-117 during daytime and no longer needed to be associated with the A-7, flying the T-38 supersonic trainer for travel and training instead.[26] In April 1990, two F-117 aircraft were flown into Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, arriving during daylight and publicly displayed to a crowd of tens of thousands.[27]

Five Full Scale Development (FSD) aircraft were built, designated "YF-117A".[28] The last of 59 production F-117s were delivered on 3 July 1990.[24][29]

F-117 flight demonstration

As the Air Force has stated, "Streamlined management by Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent development and production to rapidly field the aircraft... The F-117A program demonstrates that a stealth aircraft can be designed for reliability and maintainability."[1]


The operational aircraft was officially designated "F-117A".[30] Most modern U.S. military aircraft use post-1962 designations in which the designation "F" is usually an air-to-air fighter, "B" is usually a bomber, "A" is usually a ground-attack aircraft, etc. (Examples include the F-15, the B-2, and the A-6.) The F-117 is primarily an attack aircraft,[5] so its "F" designation is inconsistent with the DoD system. This is an inconsistency that has been repeatedly employed by the U.S. Air Force with several of its attack aircraft since the late 1950s, including the Republic F-105 Thunderchief and General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark. A televised documentary quoted a senior member of the F-117A development team as saying that the top-notch USAF fighter pilots required to fly the new aircraft were more easily attracted to an aircraft with an "F" designation for fighter, as opposed to a bomber ("B") or attack ("A") designation.[31]

The designation "F-117" seems to indicate that it was given an official designation prior to the 1962 U.S. Tri-Service Aircraft Designation System and could be considered numerically to be a part of the earlier "Century series" of fighters. The assumption prior to the revealing of the aircraft to the public was that it would likely receive the designation F-19 as that number had not been used. However, there were no other aircraft to receive a "100" series number following the F-111. Soviet fighters obtained by the U.S. via various means under the Constant Peg program[32] were given F-series numbers for their evaluation by U.S. pilots, and with the advent of the Teen Series fighters, most often Century Series designations.[33]

As with other exotic military aircraft types flying in the southern Nevada area, such as captured fighters, an arbitrary radio call of "117" was assigned. This same radio call had been used by the enigmatic 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, also known as the "Red Hats" or "Red Eagles", that often had flown expatriated MiG jet fighters in the area, but there was no relationship to the call and the formal F-19 designation then being considered by the Air Force. Apparently, use of the "117" radio call became commonplace and when Lockheed released its first flight manual (i.e., the Air Force "dash one" manual for the aircraft), F-117A was the designation printed on the cover.[34]


Closeup view of the nose of a black jet, emphasizing the many angled-surfaces
Front view of an F-117

The F-117's unusual design surprised and puzzled experienced pilots; a Royal Air Force pilot who flew it as an exchange officer while still secret stated that when he first saw a photograph of the F-117, he "promptly giggled and thought to myself 'this clearly can't fly'".[35] Early stealth aircraft were designed with a focus on minimal radar cross-section (RCS) rather than aerodynamic performance. Highly-stealth aircraft like the F-117 Nighthawk are aerodynamically unstable in all three Aircraft principal axes and require constant flight corrections from a fly-by-wire (FBW) flight system to maintain controlled flight.[36] It is shaped to deflect radar signals and is about the size of an F-15 Eagle. The single-seat Nighthawk is powered by two non-afterburning General Electric F404 turbofan engines. It is air refuelable and features a V-tail.


It has quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire flight controls. To lower development costs, the avionics, fly-by-wire systems, and other parts are derived from the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle. The parts were originally described as spares on budgets for these aircraft, to keep the F-117 project secret.

The aircraft is equipped with sophisticated navigation and attack systems integrated into a digital avionics suite. It navigates primarily by GPS and high-accuracy inertial navigation. Missions are coordinated by an automated planning system that can automatically perform all aspects of an attack mission, including weapons release. Targets are acquired by a thermal imaging infrared system, slaved to a laser rangefinder/laser designator that finds the range and designates targets for laser-guided bombs. The F-117A's split internal bay can carry 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) of ordnance. Typical weapons are a pair of GBU-10, GBU-12, or GBU-27 laser-guided bombs, two BLU-109 penetration bombs, or two Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), a GPS/INS guided stand-off bomb.


The F-117 has a Radar cross-section of about 0.001 m2 (0.0108 sq ft).[37] Among the penalties for stealth are lower engine thrust, due to losses in the inlet and outlet, a very low wing aspect ratio, and a high sweep angle (50°) needed to deflect incoming radar waves to the sides.[38] With these design considerations and no afterburner, the F-117 is limited to subsonic speeds.

The F-117A carries no radar, which lowers emissions and cross-section, and whether it carries any radar detection equipment is classified.[38]

The F-117A's faceted shape (made from 2-dimensional flat surfaces) resulted from the limitations of the 1970s-era computer technology used to calculate its radar cross-section. Later supercomputers made it possible for subsequent planes like the B-2 bomber to use curved surfaces while staying stealthy, through the use of far more computational resources to do the additional calculations needed.[39]

An exhaust plume contributes a significant infrared signature. The F-117 reduces IR signature with a non-circular tail pipe (a slit shape) to minimize the exhaust cross-sectional volume and maximize the mixing of hot exhaust with cool ambient air. The F-117 lacks afterburners, because the hot exhaust would increase the infrared signature, and breaking the sound barrier would produce an obvious sonic boom, as well as surface heating of the aircraft skin which also increased the infrared footprint. As a result, its performance in air combat maneuvering required in a dogfight would never match that of a dedicated fighter aircraft. This was unimportant in the case of this aircraft since it was designed to be a bomber.

Passive (multistatic) radar, bistatic radar[40] and especially multistatic radar systems detect some stealth aircraft better than conventional monostatic radars, since first-generation stealth technology (such as the F-117) reflects energy away from the transmitter's line of sight, effectively increasing the radar cross section (RCS) in other directions, which the passive radars monitor.

Operational history

During the program's early years, from 1984 to mid-1992, the F-117A fleet was based at Tonopah Test Range Airport, Nevada where it served under the 4450th Tactical Group. Because the F-117 was classified during this time, the unit was officially located at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and equipped with A-7 Corsair II aircraft. All military personnel were permanently assigned to Nellis AFB, but most personnel and their families lived in the Las Vegas. This required commercial air and trucking to transport personnel between Las Vegas and Tonopah each week. The 4450th was absorbed by the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing in 1989. In 1992, the entire fleet was transferred to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, where it was placed under the command of the 49th Fighter Wing. This move also eliminated the Key Air and American Trans Air contract flights to Tonopah, which flew 22,000 passenger trips on 300 flights from Nellis to Tonopah per month.

F-117 pilots called themselves "Bandits". Each of the 558 Air Force pilots who have flown the F-117 have a Bandit number, such as "Bandit 52", that indicates the sequential order of their first flight in the F-117.[41]

The F-117 has been used several times in war. Its first mission was during the United States invasion of Panama in 1989.[42] During that invasion two F-117A Nighthawks dropped two bombs on Rio Hato airfield.

During the Gulf War in 1991, the F-117A flew approximately 1,300 sorties and scored direct hits on 1,600 high-value targets in Iraq[1] over 6,905 flight hours.[43] Leaflet drops on Iraqi forces displayed the F-117 destroying ground targets and warned "Escape now and save yourselves".[26] Initial claims of its effectiveness were later found to be overstated. For instance it was claimed that the F-117 made up 2.5% of Coalition tactical aircraft in Iraq and they attacked more than 40% of the strategic targets;[44] this ignored the fact that only 229 Coalition aircraft could drop and designate laser-guided bombs of which 36 F-117 represented 15.7%, and only the USAF had the I-2000 bombs intended for hardened targets, so the F-117 represented 32% of all coalition aircraft that could deliver such bombs.[45] Initial reports of them hitting 80% of their targets were later scaled back to "41-60%".[46] On the first night they failed to hit 40% of the air-defense targets they were assigned, including the Air Defense Operations Center in Baghdad, and 8 such targets remained functional out of 10 that could be assessed.[47] In their Desert Storm white paper the USAF claimed that "the F-117 was the only airplane that the planners dared risk over downtown Baghdad" and that this area was particularly well defended.[48] In fact most of the air defenses were on the outskirts of the city and many other aircraft hit targets in the downtown area, with minimal casualties when they attacked at night like the F-117.[48] This meant they avoided the optically aimed AAA and infra-red SAMs which were the biggest threat to Coalition aircraft.[49]

The aircraft was operated in secret from Tonopah for almost a decade, but after the Gulf War the aircraft moved to Holloman in 1992. Its integration with the USAF's non-stealth "iron jets" occurred slowly, however; because of ongoing secrecy, others continued to see the aircraft, as one senior F-117A pilot later said, "none of their business, a stand-alone system".[38] The F-117A and the men and women of the 49th Fighter Wing were deployed to Southwest Asia on multiple occasions. On their first deployment, with the aid of aerial refueling, pilots flew non-stop from Holloman to Kuwait, a flight of approximately 18.5 hours – a record for single-seat fighters that stands today.[1]

Combat loss

One F-117 (AF ser. no. 82-0806) was lost to enemy action. It was shot down during a mission against the Army of Yugoslavia on 27 March 1999, during Operation Allied Force.[50] About 8:15 pm local time, SA-3s were fired from about 8 miles (13 km) away, launched by a Yugoslav version of the Soviet Isayev S-125 "Neva" (NATO name SA-3 "Goa") anti-aircraft missile system.[50][51][52] The launcher was run by the 3rd Battalion of the 250th Air Defence Missile Brigade under the command of Colonel Zoltán Dani.[53] According to Dani in a 2007 interview, his troops spotted the aircraft on radar when its bomb-bay doors opened, raising its radar signature.[54] One source states one of the missiles detonated by its proximity fuze near the F-117.[50] Dani said he kept most of his missile sites intact by frequently moving them, and had spotters looking for F-117s and other NATO aircraft. He also stated that he oversaw the modification of his targeting radar to improve its detection capability.[52]

Canopy of F-117 shot down in Serbia in March 1999 at the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade

After the explosion, the aircraft became uncontrollable, forcing the pilot to eject.[50] The pilot was recovered six hours later by a USAF pararescue team.[50][55] Photos show that the aircraft struck the ground at low speed in an inverted position, and that the airframe remained relatively intact.[50] The Serbs invited Russian personnel to inspect the aircraft's remains, compromising the then 25-year-old U.S. stealth technology.[56] The F-117's pilot was initially misidentified. While the name "Capt Ken 'Wiz' Dwelle" was painted on the canopy, it was revealed in 2007 that the pilot was Lt. Col. Dale Zelko.[57][58] The stealth technology from the downed F-117 may have been acquired by Russia and China.[59]

Some American sources state that a second F-117A was damaged during the same campaign, allegedly on 30 April;[60] the aircraft returned to base, but it supposedly never flew again.[61][62]

Later service and retirement

The F-117 was subsequently used in Operation Desert Thunder (part of Operation Southern Watch) from 1997 to 1998, Operation Allied Force in 1999, Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The F-117 was operated by the U.S. Air Force during its service time.

The loss in Serbia caused the USAF to create a subsection of their existing weapons school to improve tactics. More training was done with other units, and the F-117A began to participate in the Red Flag exercise. Though advanced for its time, the F-117's stealthy faceted airframe required a large amount of maintenance and was eventually superseded by streamlined shapes produced with computer-aided design. Other weapon systems began to take on the F-117A's roles, such as the F-22 Raptor gaining ability to drop guided bombs.[63] By 2005, the aircraft was used only for certain missions, such as if a pilot needed to verify that the correct target had been hit, or when minimal collateral damage was vital.[38]

The Air Force had once planned to retire the F-117 in 2011, but Program Budget Decision 720 (PBD 720), dated 28 December 2005, proposed retiring it by October 2008 to free up an estimated $1.07 billion[64] to buy more F-22s.[41] PBD 720 called for 10 F-117s to be retired in FY2007 and the remaining 42 in FY2008, stating that other Air Force planes and missiles could stealthily deliver precision ordnance, including the B-2 Spirit, F-22 and JASSM.[65] The planned introduction of the multirole F-35 Lightning II also contributed to the retirement.[66]

In late 2006, the Air Force closed the F-117 formal training unit (FTU),[67] and announced the retirement of the F-117.[68] The first six aircraft to be retired made their last flight on 12 March 2007 after a ceremony at Holloman AFB to commemorate the aircraft's career. Brigadier General David L. Goldfein, commander of the 49th Fighter Wing, said at the ceremony, "With the launch of these great aircraft today, the circle comes to a close – their service to our nation's defense fulfilled, their mission accomplished and a job well done. We send them today to their final resting place – a home they are intimately familiar with – their first, and only, home outside of Holloman."[69]

A pair of specially painted F-117 Nighthawks sporting a United States flag theme on their bellies fly off from their last refueling by the Ohio Air National Guard's 121st Air Refueling Wing.

Unlike most other Air Force aircraft that are retired to Davis-Monthan AFB for scrapping, or dispersal to museums, most of the F-117s were placed in "Type 1000" storage[70] in their original hangars at the Tonopah Test Range Airport.[50] At Tonopah, their wings were removed and the aircraft are stored in their original climate-controlled hangars.[69] The decommissioning occurred in eight phases, with the operational aircraft retired to Tonopah in seven waves beginning on 13 March 2007, and ending with the last wave's arrival on 22 April 2008.[2][50] Four aircraft were kept flying beyond April by the 410th Flight Test Squadron at Palmdale for flight test. By August, two were remaining. The last F-117 (AF Serial No. 86-0831) left Palmdale to fly to Tonopah on 11 August 2008.[50][71] With the last aircraft retired, the 410th was inactivated in a ceremony on 1 August 2008.[72]

Five aircraft were placed in museums, including the first four YF-117As and some remains of the F-117 shot down over Serbia. Through 2009, one F-117 has been scrapped. F-117 AF Serial No. 79-0784 was scrapped at the Palmdale test facility on 26 April 2008. It was the last F-117 at Palmdale and was scrapped to test an effective method for destroying F-117 airframes.[50]

Although officially retired, the F-117 fleet remains intact and photos show the aircraft carefully mothballed.[50] F-117s have been spotted flying in the Nellis Bombing Range as recently as July 2015.[73][74][75]


F-117N "Seahawk"

The United States Navy tested the F-117 in 1984 but decided that it was not suitable for use on an aircraft carrier.[26] In the early 1990s, Lockheed proposed an upgraded, carrier-capable variant of the F-117 dubbed the "Seahawk" to the Navy as an alternative to the canceled A/F-X program. The unsolicited proposal was received poorly by the Department of Defense, which had little interest in the single mission capabilities of such an aircraft, particularly as it would take money away from the Joint Advanced Strike Technology program, which evolved into the Joint Strike Fighter. The new aircraft would have differed from the land-based F-117 in several ways, including the addition "of elevators, a bubble canopy, a less sharply swept wing and reconfigured tail".[76][77] The "N" variant would also be re-engined to use General Electric F414 turbofans instead of the older General Electric F404s. Furthermore, the aircraft would be optionally fitted with hardpoints, allowing for an additional 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) of payload, and a new ground attack radar with air-to-air capability. In that role the F-117N could carry AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.[76][78]

After being rebuffed by the Navy, Lockheed submitted an updated proposal that included afterburning capability and a larger emphasis on the F-117N as a multi-mission aircraft, rather than just an attack aircraft.[78] In efforts to boost interest, Lockheed also proposed an F-117B land-based variant that shared most of the F-117N capabilities. This variant was proposed to the USAF and the Royal Air Force;[79] in addition to several RAF exchange officers who had flown the F-117 during its service, two RAF pilots had formally evaluated the aircraft in 1986 as a reward for British help with the American bombing of Libya that year.[26] This renewed F-117N proposal was also known as the A/F-117X.[80] Neither the F-117N or the F-117B was purchased by any party.


22 F-117A aircraft from the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, Virginia, prior to being deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield

United States Air Force[81]

Tactical Air Command
4450th Tactical Squadron (1981–1989)
4451st Tactical Squadron (1981–1989)
4453rd Test and Evaluation Squadron (1985–1989)
415th Tactical Fighter Squadron (1989–1992)
416th Tactical Fighter Squadron (1989–1992)
417th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (1989–1992)
Air Combat Command
7th Fighter Squadron (1992–2006)
8th Fighter Squadron (1992–2008)
9th Fighter Squadron (1993–2008)
Air Force Flight Test Center
410th Flight Test Squadron (1993–2008)

Notable accidents

  • F-117, Air Force Serial Number 79-0785, was lost on 20 April 1982 during takeoff on its maiden flight. The cause was incorrect assembly following a major design change to the flight control computer's inputs sequence, which differed from that of previous aircraft. As a result, the aircraft went out of control on takeoff, and crashed. Pilot Robert L. Riedenauer was unable to eject in time, and was seriously injured, requiring eight months of hospitalization and was forced to retire from flying. The battered airframe was taken to Skunk Works plant at Burbank, California for use as a functional engineering testbed for component testing.[50]
  • F-117, AF Ser. No. 80-0792, was lost on 11 July 1986 near Bakersfield, California. The aircraft suffered a controlled descent into terrain, and was destroyed on impact. The pilot, Maj Ross E. Mulhare, was killed in the crash. The cause was determined to be spatial disorientation.[50]
  • F-117, AF Ser. No. 85-0815 was lost on 14 October 1987. The aircraft suffered a controlled descent into terrain, and was destroyed on impact about 100 miles north of Nellis Air Force Base, just east of Tonopah. The pilot, Maj Michael C. Stewart, was killed in the crash. The cause was determined to be spatial disorientation.[50]
  • F-117, AF Ser. No. 82-0801, Perpetrator was lost on 4 August 1992. The aircraft crashed approximately eight miles northeast of Holloman Air Force Base, and was destroyed on impact. The pilot, Capt John B. Mills, 416th FS, ejected safely. The cause was determined to be an improperly installed bleed air duct.[50]
  • F-117, AF Ser. No. 86-0822, was lost on 10 May 1995. The aircraft suffered a controlled descent into terrain, and was destroyed on impact approximately seven miles south of Zuni, New Mexico on the Zuni Indian Reservation. The pilot, Capt Kenneth Levens, was killed in the crash. The cause was determined to be spatial disorientation following autopilot failure.[50]
  • F-117, AF Ser. No. 81-0793, was lost on 14 September 1997 during an airshow at Martin State Airport / Warfield Air National Guard Base in Baltimore, Maryland. The aircraft suffered a catastrophic wing failure, resulting in the port wing completely separating from the fuselage. The aircraft was destroyed on impact. The pilot ejected safely. The cause was determined to be missing wing bolts.[50]

Aircraft on display

United States

79-10781 "Scorpion 2" at the National Museum of the United States Air Force




The aircraft's official name is "Night Hawk",[85] however the alternative form "Nighthawk" is frequently used.

As it prioritized stealth over aerodynamics, it earned the nickname "Wobblin' Goblin" due to its alleged instability at low speeds; according to F-117 pilots, the nickname is undeserved.[86] "Wobblin' (or Wobbly) Goblin" is likely a holdover from the early Have Blue / Senior Trend (FSD) days of the project when instability was a problem. In the USAF, "Goblin" (without wobbly) persists as a nickname because of the aircraft's appearance. During Operation Desert Storm, Saudis dubbed the aircraft "Shaba", which is Arabic for "Ghost".[87]


An orthographically projected diagram of the F-117A Nighthawk
An F-117 conducts a live exercise bombing run using GBU-27 laser-guided bombs.
Nighthawk's left "ruddervator" or V-tail shown. Also visible, to the right of the USAF roundel, is a radar reflector that is usually installed when not on combat operations.

Data from USAF National Museum,[1] U.S. Air Force[88]

General characteristics


  • 2 × internal weapons bays with one hardpoint each (total of two weapons) equipped to carry:
  • Bombs:
    • GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bomb with 2,000lb Mk84 blast/fragmentation or BLU-109 or BLU-116 Penetrator warhead
    • GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb with 500lb Mk82 blast/fragmentation warhead
    • GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided bomb with 2,000lb Mk84 blast-fragmentation or BLU-109 or BLU-116 Penetrator warhead
    • GBU-31 JDAM INS/GPS guided munition with 2,000lb Mk84 blast-frag or BLU-109 Penetrator warhead
    • B61 nuclear bomb[89]

Notable appearances in media

The Omaha Nighthawks professional American football team uses the F-117 Nighthawk as its logo.[90]

See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



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Further reading

External links

  • F-117A Nighthawk page on National Museum of the U.S Air Force site
  • The 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base
  • – The "Black Jet" website (a comprehensive site)
  • F-117 article and Stealth article on Centennial of Flight web site
  • F-117A Nighthawk page on
  • F-117A Nighthawk page on
  • Lockheed F-117 Stealth Fighter on
  • "Filling the Stealth Gap," in Air and Space Power Journal Fall 2006
  • The Advent, Evolution, and New Horizons of United States Stealth Aircraft
  • "The Secrets of Stealth" on Discovery Military Channel
  • Austrian Radar Plots on
  • CNN – NATO air attack shifts, aims at violence inside Kosovo – 27 March 1999
  • Google Maps directory of all surviving F-117s on public display
  • (German) Austrian article about interception of F-117
  • Russians admit testing F-117 lost in Yugoslavia, 2001 Flight Global article
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