YF-117A goes on display

Message posted by Peter Merlin on March 03, 2008 at 15:29:50 PST:

The fourth YF-117A SENIOR TREND full-scale development prototype of the Lockheed Martin F-117A Nighthawk has been placed on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museumís Blackbird Airpark at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.

This morning personnel from the 410th Flight Test Squadron towed the once secret airplane, nicknamed "Scorpion 4" to its new position alongside several other Lockheed aircraft, all developed and tested at Area 51. The include a U-2 (AQUATONE), D-21B drone (TAGBOARD), the original A-12 (OXCART), and SR-71 (SENIOR CROWN). This event was made possible now that the F-117A fleet is being retired.

Scorpion 4, also known as Article 783, has a long and distinguished history. Built in 1979, it was first flown by Lockheed test pilot Tom Morganfeld on 7 July 1982. The airplane was permanently assigned to the SENIOR TREND Joint Test Force, known as the Baja Scorpions to serve primarily as a low observables ("stealth") testbed.

Following initial anti-radar and anti-IR trials, the airplane was used alternatively between LO tests and integration of improvements to navigation and weapon delivery systems. It was also flown in a Navy
performance review to evaluate the F-117A for aircraft carrier suitability.

In August 1986, Scorpion 4 was flown 32 times in a single month and by February 1987 the airframe had logged 600 flight hours. By March 1990, it had logged 900 hours.

SENIOR TREND remained an unacknowledged special access program until Defense Department officials revealed its existence in a press briefing at the Pentagon in November 1988. At that time only a single dark, grainy image was released to news media. Air Force officials have recently identified the picture as a rare early photo of Article 783.

In April 1992, the Baja Scorpions relocated F-117A test operations to Site 7 at Air Force Plant 42. The unitís test aircraft included three of the original YF-117A FSD prototypes (782, 783, 784) and one production model F-117A (831). In March 1993 the unit was reorganized and activated as the 410th Test Squadron (later 410th Flight Test Squadron). The mission of the 410th FLTS includes testing new upgrades and modifications for the F-117A as well as functional testing of operational aircraft going through the Modification Redelivery Program.

In 1998, Article 783 became the first F-117A modified in the Single Configuration Fleet program. The four-month test series evaluated an optimized RAM coating to improve maintainability and RCS. Article 783 was retired in March 2007 with 2,464.6 flight hours.

To ready Article 783 for public display, volunteers from the 410th FLTS spent seven months removing all radar-absorbent coatings and structures, and classified equipment then fabricating replacements using unclassified materials. The airplane has been painted in 410th FLTS markings with the name of the unit's commander, Lt. Col. Dwayne "Pro" Opella (call sign DAGGER 01) on the canopy rail.

All RAM coatings have been removed along with the nose assembly, wing edges, and rudder edges. The DLIR screen and canopy glass have been replaced with sheet metal. The FLIR screen has been replaced with an unclassified screen material. The pitot probes have been replaced with replicas. The ejection seat and cockpit equipment have been removed, along with classified avionics.

The Blackbird Airpark, located at 25th Street east and Avenue P (Rancho Vista Blvd.) is open on weekends.


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