Thursday, November 13, 2008

F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter Revealed 20 Years Ago

The F-117 Nighthawk first flew in June 1981 over the Tonopah Test Range, Nev. (Courtesy photo.)

Living History:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2008 -- On Nov. 10, 1988, the U.S. Air Force revealed the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter to the public for the first time. Manufactured by Lockheed, the F-117 could evade most radar detection with its radical shape and radar-absorbent surface. During most of the 1980s, its production and development was highly classified.

The contract was awarded to Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, the "Skunk Works," in Burbank, Calif. The first flight over the Nevada test ranges was on June 18, 1981, only 31 months after the full-scale development decision.

The F-117A Nighthawk is the world's first operational aircraft designed to exploit low-observable stealth technology. This precision-strike aircraft penetrates high-threat airspace and uses laser-guided weapons against critical targets. The unique design of the single-seat F-117A provides exceptional combat capabilities. About the size of an F-15 Eagle, the twin-engine aircraft is powered by two General Electric F404 turbofan engines and has quadruple redundant fly-by-wire flight controls.

The F-117A can employ a variety of weapons and is equipped with sophisticated navigation and attack systems integrated into a digital avionics suite that increases mission effectiveness and reduces pilot workload.

The first F-117A was delivered in 1982, and the last delivery was in the summer of 1990. Air Combat Command's only F-117A unit, the 4450th Tactical Group, (now the 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.), achieved operational capability in October 1983. Lockheed built a total of 59 F-117s for the Air Force. Of the 59 F-117s, seven were lost, including one in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The F-117 was used in heavily defended skies over Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.

In 1999, 24 F-117s deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Spangdahlem AB, Germany, to support NATO's Operation Allied Force. The aircraft led the first Allied air strike against Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999.

Returning to the skies over Baghdad, F-117A's launched Operation Iraqi Freedom with a decapitation strike on March 20, 2003. Striking key targets in the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, 12 deployed F-117s flew more than 100 combat sorties in support of the global war on terrorism.

The F-117 is being replaced by the F-22 Raptor. The first 10 were retired in December 2006. To free up funding for modernization, the Air Force accelerated the retirement of the stealth fighter as the remaining aircraft retired in March 2008.

General Characteristics
Primary Function: Fighter/attack
Contractor: Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co.
Power Plant: Two General Electric F404 non-afterburning engines
Thrust: 18,080 pounds at sea level
Wingspan: 43 feet, 4 inches (13.2 meters)
Length: 63 feet, 9 inches (19.4 meters)
Height: 12 feet, 9.5 inches (3.9 meters)
Weight: 52,500 pounds (23,625 kilograms)
Maximum takeoff weight: 47,900 pounds (21,727 kilograms)
Fuel capacity: 19,000 pounds (8618 kilograms)
Payload: 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms)
Speed: High subsonic
Range: Unlimited with air refueling
Ceiling: 45,000 feet (13,716 meters)
Armament: Internal weapons carriage
Crew: One
Unit Cost: $45 million
Initial operating capability: October 1983

(Report from a U.S. Air Force news release.)

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