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

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:


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

    • 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.

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

      • 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

        • 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?

  2. 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.

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