Tag Archives: Nevada

Let’s Talk About The Sightings Of F-117 Stealth Jets Flying Over Nevada Few Days Ago

10 years after their official retirement the “Black Jet” continues to fly. And no one seems to know what’s the purpose of their secretive missions. Here’s everything we know about their flights.

In the last few years we have documented the flights of some F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets over Nevada, missions that have continued to be carried out well after the aircraft was officially retired from active service in 2008.

Back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force admitted that the Black Jet was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range (TTR) which meant that the type is to be maintained until called into active service: the U.S. considered the F-117 somehow useful in a current scenario, so much so they continued to fly some of the preserved jets every now and then, in plain sight, to keep the pilots (according to most sources, not U.S. Air Force aircrews but Lockheed Martin/contractor pilots) current and the aircraft airworthy and ready. Desert conditions of Nevada are perfect for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion), hence the reason to operate the enigmatic aircraft from TTR.

Mystery solved? More or less.

In July 2016, we published a video showing two F-117s flying together, filmed from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range: in examining the photos some readers noticed that when the two F-117’s were lined up on the runway, only one of them had what looked like a comms antenna extended on the dorsal spine. The other Nighthawk behind him did not have that. A new antenna? For doing what? A remotely controlled F-117? Hard to say because of the quality of the shot.

One of the interesting photographs taken by The Aviationist’s contributor “Sammamishman” at the end of July 2016. One of the aircraft seems to show a slightly different antenna/shape: just a visual effect caused by the distance?

Then, last year the U.S. Air Force announced the decision to retire the fleet permanently, once and for all. In fact, “in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, passed Dec. 23, the Air Force will remove four F-117s every year to fully divest them — a process known as demilitarizing aircraft,” wrote Oriana Pawlyk last year. According to Pawlyk, one F-117 was scheduled to be divested this year and approximately four every year thereafter.

On Nov. 13, 2017, an F-117 was spotted on a trailer  on US-95, south of Creech AFB, in southern Nevada: the sighting was consistent with the plan of divesting one F-117 by the end of 2017; the rest to be withdrawn from use at a rate of four every year, beginning in 2018. In other words, the one under tarp on a trailer was probably being transferred to the boneyard, to be scrapped or prepared for a museum. Then, in a fantast twist, on the following day, Nov. 14, 2017, at 09.20AM LT, another F-117 was spotted flying north of Rachel,  Nevada chased by a Groom Lake’s two-seater F-16 (most probably the one that later paid visit to Star Wars Canyon).

Fast forward to Jul. 26, 2018, when Youtube user “pdgls” films two F-117 flying again at Tonopah Test Range. Here’s the footage:

The video shows two F-117s taking off in sequence as Night (or Knight – 9th FS callsign) 17 and 19. The shape of the Black Jet can be clearly identified as it maneuvers over TTR.

To me, the audio is actually even more interesting than the footage. Here it is (the Nighthawk stuff begins around 04:30 hours into the recording – for what’s before, read here):

Unlike all the previous sightings, this time the visual and audio documents (along with some ADS-B stuff) provide some additional, really interesting details. After departure, the two F-117 tanked with Siera 98 (not Sierra, at least according to the Mode-S transponder), a KC-135 from Fairchild Air Force Base. The type of activity the two jets carry out with the Stratotanker is not only routine: along with the standard “plugs” they also perform an emergency disconnect from the tanker. Then, the formation splits: Night 17 flies a test mission while Night 19 returns to the Tonopah Test area to perform pattern activity. Noteworthy, the 17 changes its callsign: no longer Night (or, as mentioned, Knight) but Dagger 17. Interestingly, Dagger is a very well known callsign in the Stealth Jet community: it was used by the 410th Flight Test Squadron, the joint test force of Lockheed and Air Force personnel at Groom Lake, Nevada (Det. 3, AFTFC).

In his interesting post on the sighting at The War Zone, our friend Tyler Rogoway also notices:

“before [changing callsign] we hear BLUE BIRD and BLONDE GIRL mentioned, which are likely controllers of some type. Then the F-117 checks in with ‘RAMROD’ and begins the testing. RAMROD tells the F-117 to ‘spin’ which usually means begin an orbit, and then we hear commands to execute a series of coded test cards.

RAMROD sounds like a sensor system of some type. Most likely it is the DYCOMS radar cross-section measurement facility at Area 51, which can surveil and validate the radar signature of an aircraft while in flight and at different angles in relation to the sensors on the ground. It’s also possible that RAMROD could be an airborne platform that offers similar signature diagnostic capabilities using an array of sensors.”

Whilst Dagger/Night 17 works with some sort of ground/radar facility, Night 19 continues its local sortie, made of a long series of low approaches, ILS localizer approach with circling, touch and gos, etc: the kind of pattern activity you would expect from an aircraft not involved in any operational work.

Full Scale Development Aircraft Five (FSD-5), Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk 79-7084. being refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker, July 1983. (USAF via Wiki)

ADS-B logs provide some details about the support mission flown by the KC-135, a Stratotanker, #58-0086, that had flown the previous day (Jul. 25) at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. The tanker flew from Fairchild AFB, Washington, flying a +6 hour mission. We don’t know whether Siera 98 also refueled other aircraft during that time: if not, it’s a considerable effort for just a routine mission of a pair of preserved aircraft.

The KC-135 supported Night 17 and 18. It did not broadcast its GPS position and was not geolocated via MLAT. The only detail gathered from its transponder is the serial 58-0086  (Credit: @CivMilAir)

Needless to say, the reason for the F-117 flights remains a mystery. Whilst the pretty basic pattern activity carried out by Night 19 is coherent with a periodic flight required to maintain currencies and airworthiness certificates, the seemingly more complex stuff conducted by Night 17 after it changed callsign to Dagger 17 seems to suggest there is some more interesting work for Black Jet. Indeed, as often explained here at The Aviationist, although it is a “legacy” radar-evading aircraft, the F-117 can still be used to support a wide variety of tests and developments: new radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, new SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, new RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) and coatings; or even 6th generation combat planes and next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms. They might be supporting stealth UCAVs (unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) research and, as explained above, someone has also speculated some have been converted into drones. Moreover, we can’t completely rule out the possibility Nighthawk are used as adversaries/aggressors against real or simulated systems, if not within the context of a Red Flag (the audio you can hear above, from the beginning to 04:30 hours, was recorded during Red Flag on Jul. 25, although the activity is probably completely unrelated to the F-117 sorties) as part of complex LVC (Live Virtual Constructive) scenarios, where actual assets are mixed up with virtual ones.

What do you think? Any idea?

Watch two F-117 stealth jets fly over Nevada together….8 years after “retirement”

It’s not a secret that some F-117s are still in airworthy conditions at the Tonopah Test Range, in Nevada. Still, it’s pretty unusual and cool to see two Black Jets flying together 8 years after their retirement. And look at photographs…

In the last couple of years we have documented the flights of some F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets over Nevada, spotted from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range.

In this post you can find some interesting photographs and a video filmed by The Aviationist’s contributor “Sammamishman” at the end of July 2016.

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Back in 2014, once a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force affirmed, that the Black Jet is kept in a “Type 1000” storage at TTR which means that the type is to be maintained until called into active service.

f117-2

Desert conditions of Nevada are beneficial for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion).

The aircraft are re-preserved in 4 year periods and due to the type of storage, they are to be capable of being brought back into operation within the period of 30-120 days.

Cool.

This means that the U.S. considers the F-117 somehow useful in a current or future scenario so much so, they continue to fly some of the preserved jets, every now and then, in plain sight, to keep the pilots current and the aircraft airworthy and ready. But ready for what?

f117-3

f117-5

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.

The service is struggling to retire some active, possibly hard-to-replace aircraft (as the A-10 Thunderbolt) because they are not suitable to modern scenarios and to save money for more advanced weapons systems (such as the F-35).

f117-7

Thus, why is the Air Force spending money to keep the iconic, archaic aircraft in flyable conditions?

As we already reported in the past, there is someone who speculates the aircraft is also used for something else, possibly serving as a testbed for some new technologies: radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, 6th generation fighter planes, next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms or UAVs (unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

f117-8

There is someone who’s also suggested the aircraft may be actually “unmanned” and used as fast, combat capable, stealth UCAVs.

Here’s something “Sammamishman” wrote about the flying activities he observed and photographed.

“In examining the photos I sent to you, I noticed that when the two F-117’s were lined up on the runway, only one of them had what looked like a comms antenna extended on the dorsal spine. The other Nighthawk behind him did not have that.”

f117-9

“When observing the TTR airbase just at sun rise, a number of vehicles gathered around the hangars that the two F-117’s were photographed inside. They were then prepped and took off together as seen in the pics. They flew at low altitude making a couple runs at lower altitude through the test range airspace to the South of the base, then returned to the airbase [as seen in the other video below]. Total time in the air was about 45 minutes to an hour. I don’t believe that the flight of these two Nighthawks were standard post retirement flight due to the fact that the group of vehicles that gathered at the hangars returned early in the morning and went to one of the same hangars the Nighthawks that had flow from the previous day. It was also on that second day that they also opened another hanger adjacent and appeared to be prepping an unknown craft (as I couldn’t see into the hangar but presumably another F-117) for flight. In pictures of the Nighthawks it appears that one of the craft may have been modified but it is hard to tell,” said “Sammamishman” in an email.

Indeed, one of the two F-117 seems to have a slightly different shape but we can’t be 100 percent sure, as the photographs were taken from far away and heavily distorted by the high temperature and distance.

You judge.

Here below, the video.

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New Photos of the F-117 Black Jet flying over Tonopah Test Range in 2014

Some new photos, taken few months ago, show the F-117 stealth fighter jet flying over Tonopah Test Range.

As explained in a previous post, the F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack plane, officially retired in 2008, is still flying at Tonopah Test Range, in Nevada, 6 years after the aircraft made its last flight with the U.S. Air Force.

At least a couple of “Black Jets” were sighted and photographed by local aviation enthusiasts and spotters during flights conducted over the TTR.

F117.Over.TTR

The reason for these flights is unknown: it may be used to support test and development of new radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, 6th generation combat planes, next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms or UAVs (unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

There is someone who speculate they are part of a secret USAF’s strike force reserve.

Anyway, the images in this post, taken mid-April 2014 from atop Brainwash Butte near TTR by Foster VS (who has explored Area 51 and its surroundings several times) prove that someone (not sure whether Lockheed Martin, another company, or the Air Force) has not only preserved the F-117, but it is still flying the first and most famous American stealth aircraft.

Click on the images to open the hi-rez version. EXIF data is available.

F117.Over.TTR.landing

Image credit: Foster VS

 

These Photos Prove F-117 Stealth Jets Still Fly at Tonopah 6 years After Retirement

The news that F-117s were flying somewhere in Nevada was known. Here’s the evidence.

The images in this post were shot on Sept. 30, at around 11.00AM, from Brainwash Butte. Although much distorted by the high temperature and distance, they clearly show an F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jet operating at the Tonopah Test Range, in Nevada.

The aircraft reportedly flew on both Sept. 29 and 30.

f117_in_barn

Even though flights of the Black Jets have been documented a few times on video past its official retirement in 2008, these are the first images that prove the stealth plane, most probably two of them, since, according to the contributor who sent us the blurry images he shot from the hills east of TTR, the plane that flew on the 29th was in a different barn than the one flew on the 30th.

f117_on_ramp

Interestingly, the aircraft flew on Sept. 29 using radio callsign “Knight 12”.

Why some F-117s were kept in flying conditions and still operate in secrecy (although during daylight…) more than 6 years after their official retirement remains a mystery.

f117_returning_to_barn

There are several possibilities, among them, the most plausible, is that the aircraft is used to test some other technology: radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, 6th generation fighter planes, next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms or UAVs (unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

There is someone who speculates the aircraft may be actually “unmanned” and used as fast, combat capable, stealth UCAVs.

Image credit: lazygranch.com

 

An unusual view of Exercise Red Flag at Night, from Nevada Desert

The night operations have become a mainstay of Red Flag. Given most modern air campaigns begin with night operations, these Red Flag exercises are a valuable training opportunity for pilots and crews to safely experience a complex, coordinated exercise in the dark.

The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag Exercise 14-3 took place Jul. 14-25 at Nellis Air Force Base, over the NTTR and adjacent airspace. Participants in 14-3 were primarily of USAF origins, with the exceptions of aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and a French Air Force C-130.

Missions typically took place twice a day – from about 2 -3:30 pm, and 9:00 – 10:30 pm.

Having observed the exercise in daylight from areas near Rachel, NV, I determined to experience the night operations. Not a photo taking opportunity, I anticipated radio chatter, aircraft noise, and perhaps the ability to pick up some aircraft silhouettes if they passed by at low level during ingress or egress to/from the range.

Night missions usually include but are not limited to CAP (Combat Air Patrol), Interdiction, Deliberate and Dynamic Targeting, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), and Combat Search and Rescue.

Nighttime in the Nevada desert is deathly quite and dark providing one with a spectacular view of the cosmos (with only slight interference provided by the lights of Area 51 and the town of Rachel). Given the proximity to Area 51, I can’t help but ponder what stories these night skies would tell if only they could talk. I could stay awake all night for that conversation! The impact of the cosmos and the solitude (helped by the lack of a wireless signal) moves me to ponder humanity’s aspirations – both noble, and misguided.

As the darkness deepens the solitude is broken by the radio chatter of AWACS, air-to-air refueling operations, tactical squadrons, and air-to-air chatter as the aircraft stage.

I am pleasantly surprised as the night permits a global sense of the exercise. The tankers that are unseen in daylight far to the east – are now clearly visible flying their tracks due to their navigation and anti-collision lights. It appears (for safety) all aircraft fly with their navigation lights illuminated and strike aircraft also utilize their strobes (their may have been exceptions).

As aircraft patrol overhead, their paths are easy to follow, and one can clearly see their afterburners kicking on and off as they maneuver. Flares illuminate the night sky, and strike aircraft make their way to designated targets at what appears to be medium altitudes.

Red Flag at night

Sonic booms reverberate in the mountain valleys, and then a growing roar to the east forces my eyes closer to the horizon. Two strike aircraft in trail undoubtedly utilizing LANTIRN roar past a few hundred feet off the deck on range ingress, and a few moments later return on egress. Most probably an F-15E as the F-16s are no longer equipped with that kind of pod.

Red Flag at night 3

At medium altitude two B-1B’s in trail formation pass directly overhead with afterburners blazing as they accelerate on range ingress executing their attack. Some moments later on egress they return, flares deployed every few seconds as they disappear quickly to the east.

Red Flag at night 4

The 20 minutes of intense activity fades back to a high altitude dance with a few final aircraft flying CAP, and then the stillness of the Nevada desert takes back the night.

Buffeted by the desert wind, and with a final gaze at the cosmos I surrender to sleep hoping that the day will surpass the night.

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.