8th Fighter Squadron Honors F-117 with Striking New Matte Black F-16 Flagship

8th Fighter Squadron flagship
The new flagship of the 8th FS (All images, credit: A1C Michelle Ferrari)

The 8th Fighter Squadron has unveiled a new flagship: an F-16 painted matte black to resemble its iconic predecessor, the F-117.

On Jun. 12, 2024, the social media account of Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, posted on Instagram the first photos of the new flagship of the 8th Fighter Squadron: an F-16 Fighting Falcon (or “Viper” as the type is nicknamed within the fighter pilot community) sporting a black color scheme that is inspired by its iconic predecessor at the unit, the F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet.

Indeed, the aircraft, an F-16C Block 42 #88-0517, is primarily painted in a matte black color, giving it a stealthy appearance. The nose cone/radome and the underside of the fuselage appear to be painted in a lighter gray. The tail features the emblem of the 8th Fighter Squadron, also known as the “Black Sheep.” This is depicted by a graphic of a black sheep standing on a white thunderbolt.

The tail of F-16 #88-0517.

The tail code “HO” is visible, indicating the aircraft is based at Holloman Air Force Base. The top of the tail has a tail flash with a stylized F-117 and the text “Black Sheep” written in yellow on a black background, which is part of the squadron’s identity.

Overall, the combination of dark and light gray tones as well as the unmistakable squadron markings, give the aircraft a unique appearance.


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The F-117-era

“The Nighthawk was transferred to Holloman in 1992 and was here longer than any other base. If you look at the history of this amazing aircraft, you’ll see why we’re so excited to honor its legacy,” says the text accompanying the photos of the new 8th FS’s flagship.

The 8th Fighter Squadron is still today an active unit of the United States Air Force, assigned to the 54th Fighter Group under the Air Education and Training Command, and stationed at Holloman AFB. The squadron currently operates F-16 and its role is initial training, transition training, and instructor upgrades on the Viper.

In 1992, the 8th FS, depending by the 49th Fighter Wing retired its F-15A Eagles and received the first Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighters from the inactivated 416th Fighter Squadron.

After converting to the F-117A in May 1992, the 8th deployed fighters and crews to Southwest Asia in the 1990s for Operation Southern Watch, supporting UN weapons inspectors in Iraq and enforcing the no-fly zone to curb Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs. In 1998, the squadron’s F-117s were sent to the Gulf during Operation Desert Fox to enhance strike capabilities against high-value targets, although the operation concluded before their arrival due to the long flight from Holloman AFB to Kuwait.

On February 21, 1999, the 8th deployed F-117s and crews to Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, for Operation Allied Force, a NATO mission to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. The squadron’s Nighthawks played a crucial role in the initial airstrikes against Yugoslavia’s air defenses.

But on March 27, 1999, “VEGA 31“, the F-117 Nighthawk #82-0806, flown by Lt. Col. Darrell P. Zelko, was shot down by SA-3 Goa surface-to-air missiles while returning to Aviano airbase, after a strike mission against a target near Belgrade. A US search and rescue team recovered the pilot a few hours after the crash. This incident marked the only loss of an F-117 in combat. Following this, Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered 12 additional F-117s to join the operation, bringing the total to 24.

After Allied Force, F-117s of the unit were also involved in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), during which the stealth jets deployed Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and supported the invasion’s opening night, targeting a bunker believed to house Saddam Hussein. Despite not eliminating Hussein, the strike allowed the coalition to gain a strategic advantage, and the EGBU-27 bomb became the F-117’s primary weapon.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, F-117 pilots flew over 80 missions, deploying nearly 100 enhanced guided bombs against key targets. Approximately 300 personnel supported these missions.

In 2006, it was announced that Holloman AFB would cease to host the F-117A, with the aircraft retiring by 2008. The planes were sent to Tonopah Airport, Nevada, for long-term storage due to the continued classification of their stealth technology. The last official flight of the F-117A was carried out in late April 2008, leading to the inactivation of the 8th Fighter Squadron after 67 years of active service on May 16, 2008. As we have explained in details for several years now, the retirement of the F-117 was not final and 16 years later, the Nighthawk still flies.

F-117 landing (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

Viper unit

The squadron was reactivated and equipped with the F-22 on Sept. 25, 2009. In May 2011, the squadron ceased its operations, and on July 15, 2011, the 8th Fighter Squadron was officially deactivated. It was reactivated once again, at Holloman AFB, on Aug. 4, 2017, as an F-16 unit under the 54th Fighter Group, which at that time was a geographically-separated unit of the 56th Fighter Wing from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

In October 2018, the Fighter Group was realigned under the 49th Wing when Holloman was assigned to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC).

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.