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.
The Nighthawk was the first operational aircraft to be designed around stealth technology . Its maiden flight took place in 1981, and the aircraft achieved initial operating capability status in 1983. The Nighthawk was shrouded in secrecy until it was revealed to the public in 1988. Sixty-four F-117s were built, 59 of which were production versions, with the other five being demonstrators/prototypes.
The F-117 was widely publicized for its role in the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Although it was commonly referred to as the "Stealth Fighter", it was strictly an attack aircraft. F-117s took part in the conflict in Yugoslavia , where one was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) in 1999; it was the only Nighthawk to be lost in combat. The U.S. Air Force retired the F-117 in 2008, primarily due to the fielding of the F-22 Raptor .
* 1 Development
* 1.1 Background and Have Blue * 1.2 Senior Trend * 1.3 Designation
* 2 Design
* 2.1 Avionics * 2.2 Stealth
* 3 Operational history
* 3.1 Combat loss * 3.2 Later service and retirement
* 4 Variants
* 4.1 F-117N "Seahawk"
* 5 Operators * 6 Notable accidents
* 7 Aircraft on display
* 7.1 United States
* 8 Nicknames * 9 Specifications * 10 Notable appearances in media * 11 See also
* 12 References
* 12.1 Notes * 12.2 Bibliography * 12.3 Further reading
* 13 External links
BACKGROUND AND HAVE BLUE
Lockheed 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 the radar return from an object is related to its edge configuration, not its size. Ufimtsev was extending theoretical work published by the German physicist Arnold Sommerfeld . 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 reduce its radar signature by exploiting this principle. However, the resulting design would make the aircraft 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. 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. It was a black project , an ultra-secret
program for much of its life: very few people in the Pentagon knew the
program even existed, until the F-117s were revealed to the public in
1988. The project began in 1975 with a model called the "Hopeless
Diamond" (a wordplay on the
The maiden flight of the demonstrators occurred on 1 December 1977. 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".
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. The program was led by Ben Rich , with Alan Brown as manager of the project. 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.
The first YF-117A, serial number 79-0780, made its maiden flight from
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. 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.
Five Full Scale Development (FSD) aircraft were built, designated "YF-117A". The last of 59 production F-117s were delivered on 3 July 1990. Play media F-117 flight demonstration
As the Air Force has stated, "Streamlined management by Aeronautical
Wright-Patterson AFB ,
The operational aircraft was officially designated "F-117A". 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, 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.
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 F-19 designation 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 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.
As with other exotic military aircraft types flying in the southern
Front view of an F-117
When the Air Force first approached Lockheed with the stealth concept, Skunk Works Director Kelly Johnson proposed a rounded design. He believed smoothly blended shapes offered the best combination of speed and stealth. However, his assistant, Ben Rich, showed that faceted-angle surfaces would provide significant reduction in radar signature, and the necessary aerodynamic control could be provided with computer units. A May 1975 Skunk Works report, “Progress Report No. 2, High Stealth Conceptual Studies,” showed the rounded concept, which was rejected in favor of the flat-sided approach.
The resulting unusual design surprised and puzzled experienced
Royal Air Force
The single-seat Nighthawk is powered by two non-afterburning General Electric F404 turbofan engines. It is air refuelable and features a V-tail . The maximum speed is 623 miles per hour (1,003 km/h) at high altitude, the max rate of climb is 2,820 feet (860 m) per minute, and service ceiling is 43,000 to 45,000 feet (13,000 to 14,000 m). The cockpit was quite spacious, with ergonomic displays and controls, but the field of view was somewhat obstructed, with a large blind spot to the rear.
It has quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire flight controls. To lower
development costs, the avionics, fly-by-wire systems, and other parts
were derived from the
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon ,
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
The aircraft is equipped with sophisticated navigation and attack
systems integrated into a digital avionics suite. It navigates
Main article: Stealth aircraft
The F-117 has a
The F-117A carries no radar, which lowers emissions and cross-section, and whether it carries any radar detection equipment is classified.
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 aircraft like the
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 increases 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 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.
An F-117 conducts a live exercise bombing run using GBU-27 laser-guided bombs.
During the program's early years, from 1984 to mid-1992, the F-117A
fleet was based at
Tonopah Test Range Airport ,
The F-117 reached initial operating capability status in 1983. The Nighthawk's pilots called themselves "Bandits". Each of the 558 Air Force pilots who have flown the F-117 has a Bandit number, such as "Bandit 52", that indicates the sequential order of their first flight in the F-117.
The F-117 has been used several times in war. Its first mission was during the United States invasion of Panama in 1989. During that invasion two F-117A Nighthawks dropped two bombs on Rio Hato airfield.
During the Gulf War in 1991, the F-117 flew approximately 1,300 sorties and scored direct hits on 1,600 high-value targets in Iraq over 6,905 flight hours. Leaflet drops on Iraqi forces displayed the F-117 destroying ground targets and warned "Escape now and save yourselves". 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; 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. Initial reports of F-117s hitting 80% of their targets were later scaled back to "41-60%". On the first night, they failed to hit 40% of their assigned air-defense targets, including the Air Defense Operations Center in Baghdad, and 8 such targets remained functional out of 10 that could be assessed. 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. 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. This meant they avoided the optically aimed AAA and infra-red SAMs which were the biggest threat to Coalition aircraft.
The aircraft was operated in secret from Tonopah for almost a decade,
but after the
Gulf War the aircraft moved to Holloman in 1992 –
however its integration with the USAF's non-stealth "iron jets"
occurred slowly. As one senior F-117A pilot later said: Because of
ongoing secrecy others continued to see the aircraft as "none of their
business, a stand-alone system". The F-117A and the men and women of
49th Fighter Wing
Main article: 1999 F-117A shootdown
One F-117 (AF ser. no. 82-0806) was lost to enemy action. It was
downed during a mission against the Army of Yugoslavia on 27 March
Operation Allied Force . At approximately 8:15 pm local
time, the aircraft was acquired by a fire control radar at a distance
of 13 km and an altitude of 8 km: SA-3s were then launched by a
Yugoslav version of the Soviet Isayev S-125 "Neva" (NATO name SA-3
"Goa") anti-aircraft missile system. The launcher was run by the
3rd Battalion of the
250th Air Defence Missile Brigade under the
command of Colonel
Zoltán Dani . According to Dani in a 2007
interview, his troops spotted the aircraft on radar when its bomb-bay
doors opened, raising its radar signature. One source states one of
the missiles detonated by its proximity fuze near the F-117. 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. Canopy of F-117 shot down in
After the explosion, the aircraft became uncontrollable, forcing the pilot to eject. The pilot was recovered six hours later by a United States Air Force Pararescue team. Photos show that the aircraft struck the ground at low speed in an inverted position, and that the airframe remained relatively intact. The Serbs invited Russian personnel to inspect the aircraft's remains, compromising the then 25-year-old U.S. stealth technology. The F-117's pilot was initially misidentified. Though the name "Capt Ken 'Wiz' Dwelle" was painted on the canopy, it was revealed in 2007 that the pilot was Lt. Col. Dale Zelko. The stealth technology from the downed F-117 may have been acquired by Russia and China.
Some American sources state that a second F-117A was damaged during the same campaign, allegedly on 30 April 1999; the aircraft returned to base, but it supposedly never flew again.
LATER SERVICE AND RETIREMENT
Use of the aircraft as part of Operation Allied Force continued, and it was later used in the Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. It was operated by the U.S. Air Force.
The loss in
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 to buy more F-22s. 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 . The planned introduction of the multirole F-35 Lightning II also contributed to the retirement decision.
In late 2006, the Air Force closed the F-117 formal training unit
(FTU), and announced the retirement of the F-117. 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.
David L. Goldfein
Unlike most other Air Force aircraft that are retired to
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. Although officially retired, the F-117 fleet remains intact, and photos show the aircraft carefully mothballed. F-117s have been spotted flying in the Nellis Bombing Range as recently as July 2015. Some of the aircraft are flown periodically.
Congress had declared that all F-117s mothballed from 30 September 2006 onwards to be maintained "in a condition that would allow recall of that aircraft to future service" as part of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act. By April 2016, lawmakers appeared ready to "remove the requirement that certain F-117 aircraft be maintained in a condition that would allow recall of those aircraft to future service," which would move them from storage to the aerospace maintenance and regeneration yard in Arizona to be scavenged for hard-to-find parts, or completely disassembled.
United States Navy tested the F-117 in 1984 but determined it was
not suitable for carrier use. 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". The "N" variant would also be re-engined to use General
Electric F414 turbofans instead of the older General Electric F404s .
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
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. 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
22 F-117A aircraft from the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE Tactical Air Command
4450th Tactical Squadron (1981–1989) 4451st Tactical Squadron (1981–1989) 4453rd Test and Evaluation Squadron (1985–1989)
* 37th Tactical Fighter Wing /Fighter Wing – Tonopah Test Range
410th Flight Test Squadron (1993–2008)
* 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.
* F-117, AF Ser. No. 80-0792, was lost on 11 July 1986 near
AIRCRAFT ON DISPLAY
79-10781 Scorpion 2 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force YF-117A
* 79-10780 Scorpion 1 – on pedestal display on Nellis Boulevard,
at the entrance to
Nellis Air Force Base ,
* 82-0806 Something Wicked – shot down over Serbia; the remains
are displayed at the
Museum of Aviation in Belgrade
The aircraft's official name is "Night Hawk", 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. However, F-117 pilots have stated the nickname is undeserved. "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".
Schematic diagram and size comparison of Lockheed F-117A
Data from USAF National Museum, U.S. Air Force
* CREW: 1 * LENGTH: 65 ft 11 in (20.09 m) * WINGSPAN : 43 ft 4 in (13.21 m) * HEIGHT: 12 ft 9.5 in (3.90 m) * WING AREA: 780 ft² (72.5 m²) * EMPTY WEIGHT : 29,500 lb (13,380 kg) * LOADED WEIGHT: 52,500 lb (23,800 kg) * POWERPLANT : 2 × General Electric F404-F1D2 turbofans , 10,600 lbf (48.0 kN) each
* MAXIMUM SPEED : Mach 0.92 (617 mph, 993 km/h) * CRUISE SPEED : Mach 0.92 * RANGE : 930 NM (1720 km) * SERVICE CEILING : 45,000 ft (13,716 m) * WING LOADING : 67.3 lb/ft² (329 kg/m²) * THRUST/WEIGHT : 0.40
* 2 × internal weapons bays with one hardpoint each (total of two weapons) equipped to carry:
GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bomb with 2,000 lb Mk84
NOTABLE APPEARANCES IN MEDIA
The Omaha Nighthawks professional American football team used the F-117 Nighthawk as its logo.
* United States Air Force portal * Aviation portal
* Sea Shadow
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
* ^ A B Eden 2004 , p. 240.
* ^ A B C D E F Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk. National Museum of the
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* ^ According to a statement by the United States Air Force,
"Aircraft in Type-1000 storage are to be maintained until recalled to
active service, should the need arise. Type 1000 aircraft are termed
inviolate, meaning they have a high potential to return to flying
status and no parts may be removed from them. These aircraft are
're-preserved' every four years."
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* ^ "410th FLTS \'Baja Scorpions\' closes historic chapter."
Archived 3 March 2012 at the
Wayback Machine . U.S. Air Force, Edwards
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* ^ "F-117 Flying 2013" 1 May 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013
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Foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com. 16 March 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
* ^ A Real Retirement for the Nighthawk, Air Force Magazine
* ^ Congress appears ready to let the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk go
– Flightglobal.com, 27 April 2016.
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