In 1986 U.S. President Ronald Reagan offered Britain the F-117 stealth jet

Jan 02 2017 - 8 Comments

Recently declassified documents show that U.S. President Ronald Reagan offered UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher access to the American stealth technology.

Recently declassified documents from the British National Archives have exposed something interesting: back in 1986, the then President of the United States Ronald Reagan offered British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a chance for transatlantic cooperation on Stealth technology.

As reported by the Guardian, under the name “Project Moonflower,” the former POTUS offered Downing Street a briefing on the Black Project and the opportunity for the U.S. and the UK to work together on it.

“Dear Margaret,” a 1986 US telegram obtained by the Guardian recorded, “I am delighted to hear that you will be able to see Cap [Casapar Weinberger, the US defence secretary] to discuss the special program I wrote you about … I look forward to receiving your reaction. Sincerely, Ron.”

But the UK turned down the chance to work with the U.S. stealth technology and acquire F-117 stealth jets, that had made their first flight in 1981 and would continue to secretly operate until they were revealed to the public in 1988, a couple of years before becoming famous during Desert Storm in Iraq.

Indeed, an MoD letter in December 1986 to Charles Powell, the prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser, informed him that “Mr Weinberger has offered us a chance to purchase the current US aircraft but we have replied that we would not wish to actually buy hardware while the programme remains strictly black [secret].

After the first offer was rejected a modified version of the baseline F-117 was reportedly offered to the UK’s Royal Air Force in 1995.

Believed to be dubbed F-117C, the British variant, was planned to be equipped with “B-2 type intakes, a F-22 type clear-view canopy, British avionics, F414 or EJ200 engines, plus a number of BAE structural components or sub-assemblies.

The aircraft, also referred to as the F-117A+ or F-117B (B for “British”) was being offered as a replacement for the Tornado GR4 and it is believed that this was the reason why some RAF pilots eventually flew the Nighthawk stealth jet before it was (somehow) retired in 2008.

Even though the stealth technology that made the F-117 invisible to radars was cutting edge back in the mid-80s, the Tornado GR4 has been a pretty successful weapon system that the Royal Air Force has extensively used in combat in all the conflicts and crisis support operations it has taken part in the last 20 years.

Meanwhile the first UK’s stealth has eventually arrived in the form of a much controversial Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

 

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  • Uniform223

    If the British MoD took the F-117, I wonder how much further their stealth program would be today.

    • Rudeboy

      The F-117 was a bit of a dead end. The real advance was the US actually built it and operated it in numbers. The Germans also developed stealth designs that were in many ways more advanced the Have Blue.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MBB_Lampyridae

      The UK’s ability to actually build a top end stealth aircraft isn’t in doubt. It’s the desire and finances. The UK brought a lot to the JSF.

  • leroy

    The Brits were late to the game, but with F-35B, they have gone all-in!

  • Quovadis69

    Although transatlantic cooperation on Stealth technology was rejected, two RAF pilots formally evaluated the aircraft in 1986 as a reward for British help with the American bombing of Libya that year. It would be great to find out who these RAF pilots were and their experiences flying a top secret Stealth figther!

  • Quovadis69
  • sferrin

    ” the Tornado GR4 has been a pretty successful weapon system that the
    Royal Air Force has extensively used in combat in all the conflicts and
    crisis support operations it has taken part in the last 20 years.”

    You might want to take a look at their losses in Desert Storm.

    • concernedcanuck

      Remember that the Tornados mission was very low level penetration missions and they performed very very well. As such they were also exposed to the highest level of AA fire which Iraq possessed in large quantities.

  • rats123

    I do believe the F117 really became famous when it was shot down over Serbia!