F117 retirement

Message posted by ke6vuj on November 03, 2006 at 6:31:16 PST:

Stealth jet quietly slips into history
F-117A fighter retired after 25 years
Cutting-edge design cloaked in mystery
Nov. 2, 2006. 12:54 PM

Almost as furtively as it flew above war zones from Bosnia to Baghdad, America's F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter has retired from active duty.

The years had snuck up on it. Though it remained cutting-edge contemporary in many people's minds, the Nighthawk had hit the quarter-century mark. At a discreet "Silver Stealth" ceremony at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico this week, some of the people who built, serviced and flew the plane marked the end of its 25-year career.

Much of the F-117A's innermost workings remain top-secret but it was outstripped by newer, even more space-age technology. All that remained was its public image. Its successor, the F-22 Raptor, appeared on the last day of the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto in September, its first foray outside the United States. The Raptor looks more like a conventional jet than the F-117A and didn't cause much excitement, other than among hard-core aviation buffs. When the Nighthawk made its Toronto debut in 1993, as it whispered over Ontario Place the crowd went crazy, pointing and yelling, "Stealth! Stealth!"

With its odd shape awkward angles calculated to baffle enemy radar the Nighthawk hardly looked like a plane at all; more like a prop from a sci-fi TV show or something you'd fold from paper and then complain because it didn't fly.

But fly it most certainly did. Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton, one of the first F-117A pilots, said it had "capabilities that had never been known before," American Forces Press Service reported. "If we needed the door kicked in, the stealth was the one to do it."

`If we needed the door kicked in, the stealth (fighter) was the one to do it'
Gen. Lloyd Newton, original F-117A pilot


The Nighthawk entered service in 1982. It could slither through the most sophisticated radar on bombing missions that left survivors literally not knowing what had hit them. It flew over Bosnia, Panama, Iraq the only plane to attack downtown Baghdad and Afghanistan and "reshaped how the air force looked at strategic warfare," said Lt.-Col. Chris Knehans, commander of the 7th Fighter Squadron at Holloman.

It was a "decapitation strike" by stealth fighters on Baghdad in March 2003 that began the war on Iraq.

The F-117A was referred to as a fighter, though its main roles were bombing and reconnaissance. It wasn't particularly fast, not quite able to break the sound barrier.

The twin-engine plane was rushed into being. It made its first flight June 18, 1981, after only 31 months in development. There were reportedly 55 built, the last being delivered in 1990. In 1992, Nighthawks flew non-stop from Holloman to Kuwait, an 18-hour flight that remains a record for single-seat fighters.

Paul Cabot, curator of the Toronto Aerospace Museum, said the fact that the F-117A has lasted 25 years shows how combat aviation has changed from the 1960s, when aircraft designs had a much shorter shelf life.

"Planes now are designed to be the deliverer of weapons and not the weapon itself," he said. "They can stand off and deliver a weapon from a distance so they don't see all that much of battle. There have been developments in radar so maybe the F-117A had started showing up. That's something we won't be told."


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