‘Gray Dragon’: the only F-117A Nighthawk painted in a two-tone gray experimental color scheme

(Image credit: "boomer135")

Here are some interesting photographs of the gray F-117 Stealth Jet.

Taken towards the end of 2003/early 2004 by a KC-135 boom operator using the nickname “boomer135” and brought to my attention by Aviationintel‘s Tyler Rogoway, the following pictures show the quite rare “Gray Dragon”, the gray F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter.

This plane was the only to be painted in an experimental two-tone grey color scheme.

Noteworthy, when the author posted them for the first time on the ATS forum, he stated that the depicted aircraft was being flown by a (civilian) Lockheed Martin test pilot.

Image credit: “boomer135” via Tyler Rogoway/Aviationintel.com

The “Gray Dragon” was among the first six Nighthawks that the U.S. Air Force flew for the last time from Holloman Air Force Base to Tonopah Test Range, Navada, on Mar. 12, 2007.

Image credit: “boomer135” via Tyler Rogoway/Aviationintel.com

As many of you already know, since the last F-117 was retired in 2008, the famous stealth fighter has been “spotted” several times. Along with several sightings, there’s even a seemingly genuine video of a single triangular “black jet” flying inside the Nellis Range Complex years after retirement.

You can find an interesting analysis of the possible reasons behind the decision to keep a small fleet of F-117 active here.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Here’s another BS story, there were 2 F117’s painted Gray, one at Edwards / Plamdale which wasn’t on the aircraft very long and one at Holloman, which is still painted Gray – in storage.

    Do you have any idea why that paint color was used. I didn’t think so.

    • Before you shoot yourself in the foot more here’s your answer. And there were 6, not 2 painted grey…
      The Gray Dragon was not the only F-117A flown with a gray paint scheme. There were at least six gray Nighthawks.

      The first five Full-Scale Development airframes (Articles 780, 781, 782, 783, and 784) were painted overall light gray during early testing. FSD-1 (Article 780) made its initial flights in a desert camouflage scheme before being painted in the proposed production gray scheme. Ben Rich, head of Lockheed’s Skunk Works, personally preferred gray and would have delivered the entire fleet in gray, but chief of Tactical Air Command, Gen. William Creech, wanted black since he felt it would better mask the faceting and their shadows during the day. “You don’t ask the commander of TAC why he wants to do something. He pays the bills,” Rich later recalled. “The Skunk Works plays by the Golden Rule: he who has the gold sets the rules! If the general had wanted pink, we’d have painted them pink.”

      In July 1993, FSD-3 (Article 782) was painted once again in a gray scheme for daylight visibility tests. During the trials, known as Project Evening Shade, the pilots used the call sign GRAY GHOST. The airplane was repainted overall black in October 1993.

      In December 2003, Article 835 was painted in the same scheme as the F-22A for another set of daylight visibility tests undertaken by the Dragon Test Team OT&E group at Holloman. Known as “The Gray Dragon, ” it wore this paint scheme until its retirement in March 2007.

      During 2005, FSD-4 (Article 783) was repainted in an overall gray scheme for similar tests at Palmdale.

      My source is Pete Merlin, taken from a thread in abovetopsecret.com. he’s probably the world’s formost expert on this stuff so I’d have to say I believe him.

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