Spotter Climbs Hill To Shoot F-117s And Get Unprecedented View Of Secretive Tonopah Airport

F-117 Tonopah
Two screenshots from the Youtube video by Michał "n01_b4_flash" Rokita. In the bottom right box, the unidentified aircraft photographed on the ground at TTR.

Aviation spotter and photographer Michał Rokita reached a yet undisclosed spotting point near Tonopah Test Range from where he shot the local-based F-117s and also a mysterious aircraft.

Last year we published an article with the video, shot in the morning hours on Oct. 10, 2023, by Michał Rokita, an aviation spotter and photographer who had reached a spotting point located about 14 miles from Tonopah Test Range with his Nikon P1000 camera with a 3000mm optical zoom to take film flying operations at TTR airport, one of the world’s most secretive airfields.

Back then, “n01_b4_flash” (his nickname on Youtube) filmed a pair of F-117s that launched for a mission in the range as well as some Janet B737 and Beech King Air aircraft.

As if shooting some Nighthawks still flying about 15 years after their official retirement was not enough, Michał decided to travel again to a remote spot in Nevada, and have a look, from publicly accessible land, to what happens at TTR. Here’s how it went.

Planning the trip

“Preparing for my next trip to US I decided to do something else, other than what I used to do on previous trips which was visiting well-known established spotting locations,” Michał told us in an email. “I opened 3D map on my computer and looked for possibilities the public land gives in correlation with a map of NTTR boundaries and prohibited areas. Then I decided to look for possible best location and spot one particular point that I won’t provide exact details of for personal reasons.”

“When I arrived at the place I was surprised it was so easy to reach as I could get the the highest point by a car with a high clearance. As far as I know, no one else ever visited the place for spotting purposes so I was happy I could do it first for that matter. The offered view provides unique perspective and ability to show Tonopah Test Range from the south side.”

The flying activity on April 15, 2024.

“Along with the regular activities at the base which I understand as arrivals and departures of scheduled 737 JANETs, there were other, more interesting movements and operations, that can be seen in my video.”

Indeed, as you can see in the video, the two F-117s, using radio callsign KNIGHT01, took off after an L-100 Hercules (civilian variant of the C-130) had crossed the airspace.

Interestingly, besides the daylight activity you can see in the video below  “n01_b4_flash” made also some spotting at night.

“There is one particular event, that is not included to the video content itself, but is rather interesting one and worth to mention – around 1:07am – in the middle of the night – I spotted an aircraft of some sort approaching to land on Runway 32 at TTR. That alone wouldn’t be so interesting but the aircraft had no anti-collision, no nav lights and emitted just a VERY bright front landing gear light that disappeared as soon as the aircraft left the runway and rolled by an intersection Echo (E) at the base probably to Delta ramp area. I guess a complete lack of lights all over there on the mystery aircraft suggest that was intentional to hide its possible destination at the base.”

“I lost track of it and was not able to spot it even using my long lens camera zoom and there were no shadows, no reflections, just nothing to change it. Then, early in the morning, I was doing set of pictures for my panorama of the base and left the spot.”

“Soon after that, I visited my friend in Vegas and while browsing pictures I had taken, I spotted that interesting aircraft on the ground. I don’t know whether is it connected to the mystery guest that appeared earlier or something unconnected and unrelated to it, but it is possibility that it was the aircraft that I saw landing at night. Either way I couldn’t say, I have no enough informations to claim any way.”

A mysterious aircraft

“The aircraft at first glance looks like regular fighter (F-35) but it seems it has long wings similar to those seen on U-2 and RQ-4 and this is what makes me think. This is where the mystery begins…”

Michał sent us some images of the “mysterious” jet.

The distance and haze make it impossible for us to determine if it is an aircraft (looks like it, but it may be something else, like a ground vehicle) and, above all, whether it is a known or unknown type. At first glance, it looks like the aircraft has an F-35-like tail/exhaust section and thin wings (with large wing span). However, it may well be just an optical illusion and what seem to be wings are only shadows.

There are also chances the aircraft is “just” an F-35 (and this would explain why it was not covered/hidden but parked outside in plain daylight).

Either way, it’s an interesting sighting, because if it really is a Lightning, and it’s there at TTR, some interesting things are being done with it.

A big thank you to Michał “n01_b4_flash” Rokita for sharing the video and photos with us. Subscribe to his YouTube channel here.

Michał “n01_b4_flash” Rokita
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.