An overview: F-117A Nighthawk

They say the night is young, we say the night is F-117 Nighthawk…

F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter attack aircraft was developed by Lockheed Martin after work on stealth technology, development of the F-117A began in 1978 and it was first flown in 1981, but it was not until 1988 that its existence was publicly announced.

The Nighthawk was the world’s first operational stealth aircraft. The first aircraft was delivered in 1982 and the last of the 59 Nighthawks procured by the US Air Force was received in 1990. The F-117A aircraft is also known as the Frisbee and the Wobblin’ Goblin. The mission of the aircraft is to penetrate dense threat environments and attack high-value targets with high accuracy. Nighthawk has been in operational service in Panama, during Operation Desert Storm, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Nighthawk is only used for night-time missions.

The aircraft is mainly constructed of aluminium, with titanium for areas of the engine and exhaust systems. The outer surface of the aircraft is coated with a radar-absorbent material (RAM). The radar cross-section of the F-117 has been estimated at between 10cm² and 100cm². The aircraft can carry a range of tactical fighter ordnance in the weapons bay, including BLU-109B low-level laser-guided bomb, GBU-10 and GBU-27 laser-guided bomb units, Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick and Raytheon AGM-88 HARM air-to-surface missiles. In January 2004, an F-117 successfully released a JDAM (JDAM) 2,000lb bomb for the first time. The integration of JDAM and other precision-guided weapons on the F-117 is coupled with the block II software upgrade and achieved initial operating capability (IOC) in 2006.

The most famous F-117 is the 82-0806 “Something Wicked”, which was shot down over Belgrade on 27 March 1999, during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia by Isayev S-125 “Neva”, it was the only F-117 and the only stealth aircraft to this day to be shot down by enemy fire. It was flown by The F-117, callsign “Vega-31“, was being flown by Lt. Col. Darrell Patrick “Dale” Zelko (born 1 January 1960), an Operation Desert Storm veteran. The lost F-117 carried the name “Something Wicked” and had previously flown 39 sorties during the Persian Gulf War’s Operation Desert Storm. It has been reported that during the 1999 incident, both F-117s, not just the one of Zelko, but of his wingman as well, these records remain classified to this day.

Overall F-117 Nighthawk is one of the pioneer aircrafts of stealth technology. The F-117 was retired in 2008, never to fly again, the end of a legendary run, of one of the most important aircrafts in aviation history.