One F-117 Nighthawk is taking part in an Air Dominance Center exercise at Savannah.
Sentry Savannah is the Air National Guard’s largest fourth and fifth generation counter-air, large-force exercise, held annually at the Air Dominance Center, Savannah Air National Guard Base, Georgia. One of four Combat Readiness Training Centers in the United States, the Air Dominance Center (ADC) conducts Air-to-Air Combat Training Missions for 4th and 5th generation reservist and active-duty fighter pilots.
Running from May 2 – 15, Sentry Savannah allows fighter units from across the country to train together on integrated tactics such as ground training, offensive/defensive counter air missions, cruise missile defense and weapon drop training on the range.
The latest iteration of the drills gathered over 1,300 Airmen, supporting a force made of 55 aircraft from many different units across the country. In particular, the Air National Guard units and aircraft taking part in the exercise are: 192nd Fighter Wing Virginia ANG with the F-22; 159th FW South Carolina ANG with the F-16; 325th FW Florida ANG with the F-22; 117th Air Refueling Wing Alabama ANG with the KC-135; 190th ARW Kansas ANG with the KC-135; 157th ARW New Hampshire ANG with the KC-46 and the 117th Air Control Squadron. The active duty 325th FW from Tyndall AFB, Florida, with F-22 and T-38 is also taking part in Sentry Savannah, along with the Reserve’s 419th FW from Hill AFB, Utah, that is attending the drills with the F-35A.
But, most interesting, along with the official participants, there’s another one whose presence has not been made public yet: the F-117 Nighthawk from Tonopah Test Range. In fact, one F-117A (believed to be part of a unit known as the “Dark Knights”) has deployed to Georgia (and, to our knowledge, this is the first time the Stealth Jet deploys to the East Coast) and is currently taking part in Sentry Savannah.
The aircraft, registration 84-0828, along with the ‘TR’ tail code sports a 40 years of operations logo on both tails: it’s the first time we spot an emblem that celebrates the 40th anniversary since the maiden flight that took place on Jun. 18, 1981.
According to our sources, two F-117s were initially planned to take part in the drills, but one of the two aircraft eventually made the trip from Nevada to Georgia. The other Nighthawk, is scheduled to remain in Savannah and play a role in Sentry Savannah during the first week of the exercise only. For the moment, the “Wobblin Goblin” is flying two sorties per day.
As explained in various articles, while some of the F-117s that were retired in 2008 and initially kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range have now been disassembled and transferred to museums around the U.S., F-117s have continued to fly. We have reported sightings in 2018, in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. After all, the F-117s are not completely retired, quite the contrary.
As of January 2021, the U.S. Air Force had 48 F-117s remaining in its inventory. The service is disposing approximately four aircraft each year, meaning that +40 should still be available. The jets fly the adversary stealth role allowing U.S. squadrons to perform DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) against a LO (Low Observable) aggressor and are also believed to simulate radar-evading cruise missiles during various exercises The Nighthawks are most probably also involved in the development and testing of stealth or counter-stealth technologies and tactics, as some photographs showing at least one airframe sporting a mirror-like coating similar to the one applied to two F-22s (one that has appeared quite recently) and to an F-35, seem prove.
Few weeks ago, the iconic stealth jets have have teamed up with the U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35 Lightning IIs involved in the Lightning Carrier demo integrating with the F-35B Lightning II aircraft attached to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122 operating from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA 7). Previously, the Nighthawks had conducted DACT with the F-35Bs of the Marine fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 225 “Vikings” of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, U.S. Marine Corps, deployed to MCAS Miramar from MCAS Yuma.
One last comment.
We talked about the Air Dominance Center in 2018, when we posted a shot showing a Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon replica parked in front of the ADC at Savannah: a few days later, we got the confirmation from the Col. Emmanuel Haldopoulos, Commander of the Savannah Air Dominance Center, that the aircraft, was “a full scale replica and remained at the Air Dominance Center for a short period during the week of 4-6 Dec . The USMC is funding and directing the training objectives of this device […]”.
The J-20 replica eventually made its way to Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue, or “Bogue Field”, an airfield that serves as a Marine Corps’ East Coast site for Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) and carrier qualification: the Chinese stealth fighter mock-up could be clearly seen parked on the left border of the northern apron of Bogue Field in a satellite image dated March 12, 2019. We don’t know what kind of visual or sensor training it was supposed to support over there: it may have been some kind of night/day attack jet or helicopter pod usage or long-range targeting in a simulated attack on an enemy airfield. Still, interesting.
A big H/T to our friends Misael Ocasio Hernandez and Gherardo Fontana for the F-117 images you can find in this post. Make sure you follow them on Instagram for more outstanding photography.