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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New images published on the Chinese Internet (and in particular those available on the HobbyShangai.net site) showing China’s J-20 “Mighty Dragon” new prototype clearly show an interesting detail: the aircraft coded “2002” has a slightly different nose section than the first prototype, coded “2001”.
In particular, instead of being installed on the right hand side of the radome, the pitot static boom of the new prototype (whose first test flight is imminent) sticks out of the radome’s point.
Image credit: HobbyShangai.net
The pitot tube, used to determine the aircraft’s airspeed, is usually put on the nose of the plane or the wing: anywhere as long as it is always pointed in the direction of the flow. However, its position on series production planes does not always match the one on prototypes: the latter often carry simplified wirings or lack complete (radar) systems, hence they sport different radome shapes.
Although the change in the pitot position and the new radome can be related to many technical reasons, they could also be a sign of a different kind of radar fitted inside the new radome.
The second prototype of the Chengdu J-20 fifth generation stealth fighter, coded 2002, could soon fly along the first one, coded 2001, that has been involved in the testing activities since Jan. 11, 2011.
On Mar. 15, for the first time ever at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center a Ikhana MQ-9 unmanned aircraft (modified Reaper) flew with an Automated Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B transponder.
It was the first time that an unmanned aircraft the size of the Ikhana with its 66 foot wingspan and 10,000 pounds take off weight has flown using the aircraft tracking device that all aircraft operating in certain U.S. airspace will have to adopt by 2020 to comply with New Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules.
The tests were part of a project named UAS in the NAS which is shortened for the full name of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System.
NASA launched the Ikhana from Dryden and flew it over the Western Aeronautical Test Range, which forms part of Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center. This first flight took some three hours and the new equipment was found to have performed well: the ADS-B enabled NASA the ability to gain much more detailed information which would in theory be given to Air Traffic Controllers and airborne pilots in other aircraft equipped with ADS-B flying with the vicinity of the UAV (even if, currently, only air traffic controllers can see all the aircraft broadcasting ADS-B data in a given part of the sky).
Indeed, the ADS-B system uses a special transponder that autonomously broadcasts data from the aircraft’s on-board navigation systems about its GPS-calculated position, altitude and flight path. This information can be received by ground stations, by other nearby aircraft enhancing situational awareness.
This first flight of the ADS-B equipped Ikhana is the first in many planned flights to gain data whilst doing simulated real world tasks. During this first flight and as part of a collaborative effort, FAA’s William J Hughes Technical Centre in Atlantic City, N.J recorded the ADS-B data and will help NASA analyse the performance and accuracy of the system fitted in the aircraft.
Lockheed Martin took the opportunity to wow the crowds at the Singapore Air Show and unwrapped its latest version of the legendary F-16 Fighting Falcon: the F-16V variant. The upgrades include a new glass cockpit, a new mission computer and data-link architecture, as well as a brand new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
The latest in a long line of versions including the Block 60 aircraft (developed for the United Arab Emirates), the new F-16V would be the highest spec F-16 available and, although Lockheed Martin has not disclosed it yet, it would be assumed that some of the features from the previous most advanced versions would still be available (conformal fuel tanks etc.)
Lockheed Martin also said that elements of the upgrade would be available to older models as an upgrade program so the new AESA radar could make its way into older aircraft and sales of the ‘V’ version would be aimed at existing operators.
So, countries that cannot stretch to the costs of buying and running the F-35 have a cheaper alternative especially if they already operate older versions of the F-16.
Details about the new cockpit layout, the embedded software and the specifications of the radar have not yet been unveiled. However the F-16V will be fully interoperable and able to exchange data with the F-22 and the F-35. But it will not be stealth.
Lockheed Martin’s Press Release doesn’t mention customers but could be pitched at the USAF (thus the need to exchange data with the F-22) as an unstealthy gap filler until large numbers of F-35s start entering service.
This could also be an admission that the initial estimates of F-35 sales are going to be nowhere near what they were projected; in this case, we could consider the F-16V a “Budget”version of the F-35.