It’s not a secret that some F-117s are still in airworthy conditions at the Tonopah Test Range, in Nevada. Still, it’s pretty unusual and cool to see two Black Jets flying together 8 years after their retirement. And look at photographs…
In the last couple of years we have documented the flights of some F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets over Nevada, spotted from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range.
In this post you can find some interesting photographs and a video filmed by The Aviationist’s contributor “Sammamishman” at the end of July 2016.
Back in 2014, once a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force affirmed, that the Black Jet is kept in a “Type 1000” storage at TTR which means that the type is to be maintained until called into active service.
Desert conditions of Nevada are beneficial for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion).
The aircraft are re-preserved in 4 year periods and due to the type of storage, they are to be capable of being brought back into operation within the period of 30-120 days.
This means that the U.S. considers the F-117 somehow useful in a current or future scenario so much so, they continue to fly some of the preserved jets, every now and then, in plain sight, to keep the pilots current and the aircraft airworthy and ready. But ready for what?
Designed in the 1970s, subsonic, optimized for the evasion of the C, X and Ku-bands, and completely unable to dynamically map out threat emitters in real-time as the F-22 or the F-35 can do, the F-117 is *probably* still relevant in some low or medium-lethality scenarios but unable to keep pace with most modern threats.
The service is struggling to retire some active, possibly hard-to-replace aircraft (as the A-10 Thunderbolt) because they are not suitable to modern scenarios and to save money for more advanced weapons systems (such as the F-35).
Thus, why is the Air Force spending money to keep the iconic, archaic aircraft in flyable conditions?
As we already reported in the past, there is someone who speculates the aircraft is also used for something else, possibly serving as a testbed for some new technologies: 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’s also suggested the aircraft may be actually “unmanned” and used as fast, combat capable, stealth UCAVs.
Here’s something “Sammamishman” wrote about the flying activities he observed and photographed.
“In examining the photos I sent to you, I noticed that when the two F-117’s were lined up on the runway, only one of them had what looked like a comms antenna extended on the dorsal spine. The other Nighthawk behind him did not have that.”
“When observing the TTR airbase just at sun rise, a number of vehicles gathered around the hangars that the two F-117’s were photographed inside. They were then prepped and took off together as seen in the pics. They flew at low altitude making a couple runs at lower altitude through the test range airspace to the South of the base, then returned to the airbase [as seen in the other video below]. Total time in the air was about 45 minutes to an hour. I don’t believe that the flight of these two Nighthawks were standard post retirement flight due to the fact that the group of vehicles that gathered at the hangars returned early in the morning and went to one of the same hangars the Nighthawks that had flow from the previous day. It was also on that second day that they also opened another hanger adjacent and appeared to be prepping an unknown craft (as I couldn’t see into the hangar but presumably another F-117) for flight. In pictures of the Nighthawks it appears that one of the craft may have been modified but it is hard to tell,” said “Sammamishman” in an email.
Indeed, one of the two F-117 seems to have a slightly different shape but we can’t be 100 percent sure, as the photographs were taken from far away and heavily distorted by the high temperature and distance.
Here below, the video.
One assumes that these aircraft are just the same as they were, with perhaps ‘slight’ modifications, when they retired. And flying in pairs; something they never did for combat sorties in front line use. Seems more appropriate that they are, in fact, testing something new. A comms antenna is seen on one and not the other? Not so unusual for the Black Jet. As to maintain stealth in even friendly airspace one only needed to be “hooked up”.
Perhaps this is what the USAF is working on to aid in the replacement of the A-10s. Optionally manned (or completely unmanned) 117s. Taking the pilot out of the pit of these would probably save some $$$ from this older airframe. And yet allow it a certain degree of protection during strike missions with its 2ndGen stealth characteristics.
USAF must’ve seen SOMEthing valuable to keep em flyable. After all, we’ve seen how bad it’s gotten when their tech has gotten to the wrong hands. Only one wrong set of hands could’ve gotten our F-14s, but we hurriedly scrapped that fleet to keep them out of said hands. A LOT of wrong hands could benefit from getting tech from these birds, even 35 years old. But we still keep them. Flyable.
I’ve had a few close up looks at F-117s and looking at that picture that antenna is not the same as they had there when they were in service.
Just a guess but I’d wager they are trying to convert a few of them to use for low observable/stealth mid air refueling capability.
Such a system would be vital if something does pop off with China in the SCS.
I hope these wonderful aircraft never end up in the Boneyard. Far better to give them to an ally like Japan, Poland or Israel where they can be updated with current avionics, ESM/ECM systems and still serve a useful purpose. Though they may not be the latest and greatest technology, they are still better than any non-stealth aircraft for conducting surprise raids and nighttime bombing missions.
China is acting outside of internationally-recognized laws in the South China Sea (they most certainly do not own that ocean-area), Russia is a quasi-dictatorship and persistent threat to peace and stability in Europe, and Israel has to struggle to survive in a non-democratic, always screwed-up, violent Middle East. All these parts of the world need American military assistance and cooperation. Why not spruce up these birds and get them back into fighting condition? After all, it would be a better fate than getting crushed at DM. I hope to God our leaders find a home for them before they become completely unusable. Enemies to peace abound, and F-117 could still serve a useful air-combat purpose. I’ll bet a close ally would accept the offer.
Give them to Poland? What are you high? the Americans and Russians foaming at the mouth over that wouldn’t even be worth two minutes of anyone’s time. Never going to happen. I don’t know if you’ve studied our export history, but strategic tools such as that don’t leave our hands, ever. B-47, B-52, B-1, B-2, SR-71, F-22, U-2, Q-2, some other useful one-offs and the F-117 are part of a list of tools that will never be part of another nations arsenal, for symbolic, strategic, financial, and security reasons. Same things goes with submarines and long range missiles.
The U-2 has been shared with a few allies, fyi
Please enlighten all of us as to exactly what this “Q-2” that you speak of is…
Yeah. Too bad.
The U-2 was technically exported actually. The UK flew them for two years out of Turkey, and at least two and licensing were sold to Taiwan to fly around China.
On a low-level bombing mission, the F-117 would still not be detected.
Detected, shot down and put into retirement. Two shot down actually. 1 by a SAM. The other by a Mig 29.
You know that you’re quite litteraly the only person on earth that believes a Mig-29 shot down an F-117. Posting ignorant things like that shouldn’t be allowed by the moderators. Where/when/how did it occur, and why hasn’t anyone outside of Russia heard about it? Oh yeah, cause it NEVER HAPPENED
It did happen. The F117 however made it back to base and was written off. Stop reading the BS MSM articles and do some research yourself. One thing the US is great at is hiding its losses. Very clever they are.
No, it really didn’t. I’ve done my research, and only one F-117 was lost in combat. The aircraft claimed to have been written off, suffered a nose gear problem on takeoff during testing.
eh come on man. Still? After so many years? during the age of youtube? During the age of former enemies meeting each other (it’s called globalization)? NO AA Kills by any MiG in that war, sorry.
And I suppose you have some actual evidence for that, right?
I worked in the F-117 program for 13 years until just before they were retired. The MIG shoot down is news to me.
I reckon someone would know it was there once the bombs started exploding ;)