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

    • Actually….their wings were removed for storage.

      …and they can be put back on rather easily.

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


  2. 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?

    • 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).

    • 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.

      • 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

    • 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.

    • 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.

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

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