That Time 25 F-117s Flew Over Holloman AFB In The Largest Nighthawk Formation Ever

25 Nighthawks fill the sky over Holloman on Oct. 27, 2006 (Image credit: Denny Lombard via Lockheed Martin).

On Oct. 27, 2006 a 25-plane formation celebrated the F-117 Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary and 250,000 flight hours.

The Lockheed F-117A, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft and one of the most secret planes ever developed, only flew at night until its existence was publicly acknowledged in 1988.

59 production aircraft (one of those was lost to the Serbian Air Defense during “Operation Allied Force“ whereas another one crashed in 1997 during an airshow in Maryland) served with the U.S. Air Force until the type was officially retired in 2008.

Little less than half of them flew together over Heritage Park at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, home of the 49th Fighter Wing, during the Silver Stealth event for the F-117’s 25th anniversary on Oct. 27, 2006.

Five formations of F-117s flying over Holloman AFB on Oct. 27, 2006 (U.S. Air Force)

The images in this post were taken during the event about 11 years ago: the largest F-117 formation ever, the largest 49th Fighter Wing formation and the largest stealth jets formation ever.

As already said, the aircraft was officially retired in 2008. However, back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs of the aircraft flying few years after the official phase-out (the most recent clip that we have posted here at The Aviationist shows the aircraft flying in July 2016) had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force affirmed that the Black Jet was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, meaning that the type was to be maintained until called into active service.

To do what? Hard to say.

Twenty-five F-117 Nighthawks line up waiting for takeoff from Holloman Air Force Base, NM. The planes were part of a formation celebrating Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary/250,000 flying hour here. The 25 plane were separated into 5 groups and flew over the base to end the celebration ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brian Ferguson)

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. In this post you can find the latest available video as well as a few theories ranging from tests of new radar systems which would be capable of detecting stealthy aircraft, to modified UCAV versions, through tests of new weapons, up to a brave hypothesis of getting the Nighthawks modernized and operational again.

Meanwhile, enjoy a sight never to be repeated again: the 25 stealth jets flying together in 2006.

F-117 Nighthawks fly over New Mexico as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Oct. 27. The formation was part of the Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary and 250,000 flying-hour celebration. The formation consisted of 25 planes staggered into five separate groups.

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About David Cenciotti 4452 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance 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 four books.

4 Comments

  1. They should sell the lot of them, to India, we Australians, used the F/A 111, on which the F/A 117 was partially based, for a long time, the swing wing predecessor to the F14, MRCA Tornado, at first difficult, proved good for our purposes, so good we bought, all of the available left over fighters. There’s little reverse engineering threat, in the F/A 117 it’s all known, by China and Russia, India is about to pull out of the Russian stealth fighter bomber program, in Australia, the F/A 111, led us to the F/A 18 Hornet and Super Hornet purchases and the current F/A 35 program. Selling India at a reasonable price, the F/A 117, would help to balance, the Chinese stealth fighter bomber program, which like the Russian stealth fighter bomber program, is not ideal, too much engine heat, not ideal stealth, very rapidly balance the deterrent, China and Russia, have small unit numbers and will not have large unit numbers for some time. We already have large unit numbers, but the original F/A 35 aircraft have a lot of problems, so much so, that it’s probably better to keep them as a non operational reserve, to be upgraded in a crisis. Whilst moving rapidly to production of later models, in good numbers, keeping unit price down, we have succeeded, the newer models work, at a reasonable price, we can make them in good numbers, without breaking the bank, our adversaries will struggle to make large unit numbers.

    Their aircraft aren’t all that stealthy, they’ll have huge numbers, of faults to work out, just like we had to, Russia for instance has only just restarted research on it’s stealth bomber, we’re well advanced, on our second operational generation stealth bomber and are manufacturing, our third operational generation stealth fighter bomber, in numbers. Our Enemies (actually partners in Partnerships for Peace,) have almost no defendable aircraft carrier fleets, so they are developing defensive strategies, AS 500 anti stealth missiles, sonar networks, quantum magnetic field submarine detection systems, which we might be able, to defeat in warfare, using anti radar missiles. As well as stand off stealth, terrain following cruise missiles, we seem to have succeeded well, in the last strategic wars, but got bogged down in ground troops operations, like Afganistan and Iraq. Ground troop operations, have not had fantastic results, in the last half century, US in Vietnam, Russia in Afganistan, Vietnam in Cambodia, US in Afganistan, US in Iraq.

    So I recommend we stick to the technological high ground and let our allies on the ground, do the ground work, give them some right to control the territory, it worked in the Cold War for the US and Russia, territories held, local allies stayed in control, until the stailmate forced us both, into the political compromise. That has actually held, for nearly 3 decades now, they and the Chinese, support most UN resolutions, we put up, we’re winning against ISIS, I say stay the course. Clean Disruption, (Electric Vehicles, cheap solar power, high rise agriculture,) China’s Belt Road, Indian / Japanese global infrastructure projects, ought to bring sufficient prosperity and health, for our weapon systems, to deter aggression, wealth and education, make losses too great, for adventurism to flourish. That’s my 10¢ in the game, anyway, why would they want their TV, internet, factories, shops, shipping, retirement, disrupted, the Chinese and Indian domestic economies, are apparently booming.

  2. They look like a fleet of Northrop Grumman X-47 drones on the top F-117 formation photos. Very cool and unique plane and one of my favorites planes. The Hopeless Diamond

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