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11 Little Known Facts About The F-117 Nighthawk | F-117 Is Still Flying

1) The idea behind stealth aircraft was theorized by a Soviet mathematician, who in the 1960s found that the strength of a radar return wasn't related to the object's size, but instead related to the edge configuration of the object.

2) The US stealth project began in 1975, and the first two prototypes, code name "Have Blue", were built using T-38 jet engines, F-16 fly-by-wire systems, A-10 landing gear, and C-130 environmental systems.

3) The F-117 was made entirely of flat surfaces, because 1970s era computers didn't have enough power to calculate the radar cross-section of curved surfaces.

4) The F-117's first flight took place in 1981 - the same year the Space Shuttle flew its first orbit around earth.

5) F-117s were initially based and flown at the Tonopah Test Range, the same facility used to test fly acquired Soviet aircraft.

6) The F-117 used a quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire system to keep the inherently unstable jet airborne.

7) Because the F-117 was a secret project, F-117 pilots were assigned to fly the A-7 Corsair II for "avionics tests and evaluation of weapons systems".

8) The Navy evaluated a version of the F-117 nicknamed the "Seahawk", but determined it wasn't well-suited for aircraft carriers.

9) The F-117 holds the record for longest non-stop single-seat fighter flight, when it was flown from Holloman AFB in New Mexico to Kuwait, with aerial refueling.

10) One F-117 was lost to enemy fire. The jet was shot down over Yugoslavia in 1999. The pilot ejected and was rescued hours later.

11) 64 production F-117s were built and flown over the course of 27 years. The F-117 was retired in 2008, but it still lives on as the world's first production stealth aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force officially retired its 52 surviving F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters in 2008, transferring their radar-evading attack mission to B-2 bombers, F-22s and — eventually — F-35s.

The Air Force claimed it would preserve the F-117s for future use, but it’s possible most of the Nighthawks actually wound up in a landfill inside the Air Force’s highly secure Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. But the flying branch has held on to at least two of the sensor-dodging F-117s, which first entered service in the early 1980s.

Amateur plane-spotters packing powerful cameras have photographed and videotaped F-117s flying over the desert test range and taxiing on a remote runway, sometimes singly and sometimes in pairs. The most recent snapshot of F-117s in flight are dated July 22 and can be found here.

Why would the Air Force want to keep a few F-117s operational, despite their age, complexity, high cost and the fact that Serbian air-defense forces figured out how to detect the planes and actually shot one down during the 1999 U.S.-led air war on Serbia?

Aviation expert Tyler Rogoway has an idea:

On the radar and infrared tracking side of argument, the F-117 is also a near-perfect and highly available low observable aircraft to test everything from ground based radars and SAM systems, both foreign and domestic, AWACS modifications, fighter radars and even infrared search and track systems.


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