These Photos Prove F-117 Stealth Jets Still Fly at Tonopah 6 years After Retirement

Oct 03 2014 - 34 Comments

The news that F-117s were flying somewhere in Nevada was known. Here’s the evidence.

The images in this post were shot on Sept. 30, at around 11.00AM, from Brainwash Butte. Although much distorted by the high temperature and distance, they clearly show an F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jet operating at the Tonopah Test Range, in Nevada.

The aircraft reportedly flew on both Sept. 29 and 30.


Even though flights of the Black Jets have been documented a few times on video past its official retirement in 2008, these are the first images that prove the stealth plane, most probably two of them, since, according to the contributor who sent us the blurry images he shot from the hills east of TTR, the plane that flew on the 29th was in a different barn than the one flew on the 30th.


Interestingly, the aircraft flew on Sept. 29 using radio callsign “Knight 12”.

Why some F-117s were kept in flying conditions and still operate in secrecy (although during daylight…) more than 6 years after their official retirement remains a mystery.


There are several possibilities, among them, the most plausible, is that the aircraft is used to test some other technology: radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, 6th generation fighter planes, next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms or UAVs (unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

There is someone who speculates the aircraft may be actually “unmanned” and used as fast, combat capable, stealth UCAVs.

Image credit:


  • ODM

    Mod it to carry a couple HARMs and it could make a sneaky little wild weasel

  • EGG

    Pretty sure most of the Tonopah range is very far away from any possible legally accessible observer points?

    • Mike

      These look like shots of Area 51 where they use ridiculous lenses from the closest legally accessible peak. For Area 51 the closest peak is 26 miles, which is why their pics are always fuzzy and have the refraction from the heat.

    • Foster Douglas Van Schaick

      It’s called Brainwash Butte. I have pics of an F117 in flight over the TTR, I took from that spot in April 2014.

      • cencio4

        Send them to us please!

      • Greg Sembower

        I was surprised to see a chute deployed from the rear of the one airplane. I flew the jet for almost 6 years, and we stopped using the chutes after we got the carbon brakes on the airplane, around 1993. Greg Sembower, Bandit 351

        • smivvers

          Methinks a little A-7 like shell game is being played here. I’m starting to think there may be a stealthy single seat (similar to F117 performance) airframe out there that comes in real quick and needs a chute. They practised refuelling, the whole shebang. Lockheed got a new toy they can only fly at night and need people to get hours in on a similar airframe?

  • InklingBooks

    A few F-117s, drawing from an existing parts inventory, offer an inexpensive way to keep in service a plane that allows us test our anti-stealth technologies. That’s probably what’s happening here.

  • R.Lopaka

    See any SR-71s?

    • Alois Janíček

      My thoughts exactly!

    • demise

      The SR-71 is very, very expensive to operate and requires a large support team of specialized techs to keep running. It won’t happen.

  • kusanagi no tsurugi

    Thank god some interesting stuff after a week of targeting pod footages…

  • john

    IMHO, the nighthawk ‘s did not have their wings taken off. They are being kept in flyable storage for use in war.

    • j2bzcontact

      Actually….their wings were removed for storage.

      …and they can be put back on rather easily.

      • tim robinson

        Sad sight when you see them minus wings! Jammed together in a hanger like useless toys


  • CLKane15

    Don’t get me wrong I am a huge military aviation buff, but as an American I sometimes have to wonder where a site like this draws the line on OPSEC?

    • cencio4

      OPSEC does not apply to whom is not responsible for the information. In this case I’m pretty sure that they flew the aircraft in daylight, knowing someone might be there to see. We can’t completely rule out it was done on purpose, as people stationed on that hill, very well visible, for a couple of days. If they didn’t want the plane to be seen they would not fly it in daylight or apply tighter OPSEC procedures.
      The photos were taken from a place where people could simply wait and see. There was nothing illegal in that as far as I know.

      Generally speaking, we apply this rule: as far as the news, photo, etc. have been obtained legally, without breaching any law, from Open Sources, by investigating and connecting dots, there is no reason why we should not publish them. There are some of the bases of investigative reporting.

      “Journalism is to spread what someone does not want you to know, the rest is propaganda. Its task is finger what is hidden, give testimony” is a slogan of investigative journalism (Horacio Verbitsky.)

      Democracy around the world would be different to what it is today withouth investigative reporting (Watergate is just an example).

    • Andrew Tubbiolo

      Of course as an American you should understand that Amendments 1 and 4, would cover this sort of thing. I’m sorry Jonny, in a free society information has to flow. OPSEC is for the people who sign into the agreement and want to play the game. For the rest of us, anything goes.

      • tim robinson

        National Security concerns beat constitutional concerns, every time, or FISA wouldn’t exist.. SCOTUS refused to rule on this question stating that the power is inherent in executive branch execution

        In other words, extra judicial or outside the Bill of Rights or the Constitution

    • Roger Roger

      If taken from last observing site for Area 51 there are cameras there. They know.

    • tim robinson

      DOD has had a technology, a fairly perfected technology that the NAO devised which can measure light wave variation. Originally an astronomical observation & detection tool, it works best in open landscapes (glass reflectivity in cities can cause deviation from normal), to detect changes in light wave formation, direction… China has had the source info since 2010

      Basically a sensor that can work over light-years that will detect a photo taken… Chances are DoD would be aware of this shot being taken.

  • freespirit1891

    No guarantee from that distance, that it is an f-117

    • JS353535

      Yes there is. That is absolutely a 117 airframe. It may be a different variant of the plane, but it’s definitely an F-117.

  • doodfus

    Hey Stupid! call me but… I didn’t know they had been retired from the fleet??? dang I’m dumb.

  • gunnergoz

    It would be nuts to not find a good use for them.

  • tim robinson

    Makes more sense to believe that was the reason why they were pulled from actve service!

  • Foster Douglas Van Schaick

    I have pics of an F117 in flight, over the TTR, taken in April 2014.

    • cencio4

      Would you share them with us??

      • Foster Douglas Van Schaick

        See reply above.

      • Foster Douglas Van Schaick

        Check email.

  • Paul Bungard

    Sence the F-22 orders were cut from 640 to 187 as the final order and with the war with Russia in the near future we will need the 59 F-117 which are in storage. Kept as contingency plans.

  • jorge

    Gottem black handed testing out those systems again