F-117 NIGHTHAWK STEALTH BOMBER
GROOM LAKE AND TONOPAH TEST RANGE, NEVADA
The F-117 Bomber was developed by the Lockheed Skunk Works
from a 2-vehicle stealth prototype code-named HAVE BLUE developed by Lockheed
and tested at Groom Lake, Nevada.
The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk is a stealth ground attack aircraft formerly operated by the United States Air Force. The F-117A’s first flight was in 1981, and it achieved Initial Operational Capability status in October
1983. The F-117A was “acknowledged” and revealed to the world in November 1988.
A product of the Skunk Works and a development of the Have Blue prototype, it became the first operational aircraft initially designed around stealth technology.
(In 1977 Lockheed produced two 60% scale models under the Have Blue contract. The Have Blue program was a stealth technology demonstrator
flown and tested at Groom Lake from 1976 to 1979. The success of Have Blue lead the Air Force to create the Senior Trend Program which developed the
F-117 that was widely publicized during the Gulf War of 1991.)
The F-117 was a black project, an ultra-secret program for much of its life, until the late
1980s. The project began with a model called “The Hopeless Diamond” in 1975 due to its bizarre appearance.
The F-117 first flew in June 1981, only 31 months after the full-scale development decision. The first production F-117A was delivered in 1982, operational capability was achieved in October 1983, and the last of 59 airplanes was delivered in the summer of 1990. The Air Force denied the existence of the aircraft until 1988, when a grainy photograph was released to the public. In April 1990 two were flown into Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, arriving during daylight and visible to a crowd of tens of thousands.
The 59 operational aircraft had an official designation of “F-117A”. The five Full Scale Development
(FSD) aircraft are designated “YF-117A”.
Most modern U.S. military aircraft use post-1962 designations in which the designation “F” is usually an air-to-air fighter, “B” is usually a bomber, “A” is usually a ground-attack aircraft, etc. (Examples include the F-15, the B-2, and the A-6.) The Stealth Fighter is primarily a ground-attack plane so its “F” designation is inaccurate.
The aircraft’s official name is “Night Hawk", however the alternative form “Nighthawk” is frequently used.
F-117 pilots call themselves “Bandits”. Each of the 558 Air Force pilots who have flown the F-117 have a Bandit number, such as “Bandit
144", that indicates the sequential order of their first flight in the
During the program’s early years, from 1984 to mid-1992, the F-117A fleet was based at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada where it served under the 4450th Tactical Group.
In 1992, the entire fleet was transferred to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, where it was placed under the command of the 49th Fighter Wing. The move eliminated Key Air flights, which flew 22,000 passenger trips on 300 flights from Nellis to Tonopah per month.
The Air Force retired the F-117 on 22 April 2008, returning to the Tonopah Test
Range in Nevada, their first, and only home outside of Holloman, primarily due to the acquisition and eventual deployment of the more effective F-22
Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. The first YF-117A is currently on pedestal display at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and is visible from outside the base on Nellis Blvd.