F-117 NightHawk - History

F-117 NightHawk - History

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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. Air refuelable, it supports worldwide commitments and adds to the deterrent strength of U.S. military forces.
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. Detailed planning for missions into highly defended target areas is accomplished by an automated mission planning system developed, specifically, to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the F-117A.
The F-117A production decision was made in 1978 with a contract 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. Streamlined management by Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent development and production to rapidly field the aircraft.
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.
During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, F-117A's flew approximately 1,300 sorties and scored direct hits on 1,600 high-value targets in Iraq. It was the only U.S. or coalition aircraft to strike targets in downtown Baghdad. Since moving to Holloman AFB in 1992, the F-117A and the men and women of the 49th Fighter Wing have deployed to Southwest Asia more than once. On their first trip, the F-117s flew non-stop from Holloman to Kuwait, a flight of approximately 18.5 hours -- a record for single-seat fighters that stands today.
In 1999, 24 F-117A's 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.
The F-117A program demonstrates that stealth aircraft can be designed for reliability and maintainability. It created a revolution in military warfare by incorporating low-observable technology into operational aircraft. The aircraft receives support through a Lockheed-Martin contract known as Total System Performance Responsibility.

F-117 NightHawk - History

The Lockheed F-117A was developed in response to an Air Force request for an aircraft capable of attacking high value targets without being detected by hostile radar systems. By the 1970s, special materials and techniques had become available to aircraft designers that would allow them to design an aircraft with radar-evading or "stealth" qualities. Streamlined management by Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent development and production to rapidly field the aircraft.

The first F-117A was delivered in 1982, and the last delivery was in the summer of 1990. The F-117A production decision was made in 1978 with a contract awarded to Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, the "Skunk Works," in Burbank, Calif. The first flight was in 1981, only 31 months after the full-scale development decision. Lockheed-Martin delivered 59 stealth fighters to the Air Force between August 1982 and July 1990. Five additional test aircraft belong to the company.

Air Combat Command's only F-117A unit, the 4450th Tactical Group, achieved operational capability in October 1983. Since the F-117’s first Air Force flight in 1982, the aircraft has flown under different unit designations, including the 4450th Tactical Group and the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Tonapah Test Range, NV the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing, Nellis AFB, NV the 410th Flight Test Squadron/410th Test Squadron, Palmdale, CA and Detachment 1, Test Evaluation Group, also at Holloman, which falls under the 53rd Wing, Eglin AFB, FL.

The stealth fighter emerged from the classified world while stationed at Tonapah Airfield with an announcement by the Pentagon in November 1988 and was first shown publicly at Nellis in April 1990. The 4450th TG was deactivated in October 1989, and was reactivated as the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing.

In 1992 the F-117A Nighthawk made its new home at Holloman Air Force Base. The official arrival ceremony for the F-117 to Holloman AFB was conducted 09 May 1992. The 49th Fighter Wing (49FW) at Holloman serves as the only F-117 Home Station. The 49th Operations Group operates and maintains the F-117A aircraft. The 7th CTS "Screamin' Demons" serves as the transition training unit, preparing experienced Air Force pilots for assignment to the F-117A Nighthawk. The 8th and 9th Fighter Squadrons were designated to employ the F-117A Nighthawk in combat. Once an F-117 pilot has successfully completed training, he was then assigned to one of only two operational Nighthawk squadrons--the 8th FS "Black Sheep" and the 9th FS "Flying Knights." The 49FW provides full compliment of flightline maintenance capabilities as well as back-shop support. The F-117 deployed in support of contingency operations, as directed by National Command Authorities. Flightline maintenance support was deployed concurrent with the aircraft. Depending on the deployment duration, varying levels of back shop maintenance support may also be deployed.

A member of the 49th Fighter Wing made aviation history 02 November 1995 when he became the first operational Air Force pilot to log 1,000 hours in the F-117A Nighthawk. Lt. Col. Greg Feest, 9th Fighter Squadron commander, was a senior pilot with 3,350 total hours in the F-117, F-15, A-7 and AT-38, including 130 combat flying hours in the F-117.

The F-117 stealth fighter completed flying its 150,000 flying hour when Brig. Gen. Bill Lake, 49th Fighter Wing commander, touched down on Holloman's runway 25 August 1998. The flying milestone was measured from the first F-117 flight by Lockheed Martin test pilot Hal Farley on June 18, 1981. The first Air Force pilot to fly the F-117 was then Maj. Al Whitley on Oct. 15, 1982.

F-117A Nighthawk Losses and Accidents

The F-117A had an excellent year during FY96. There were no Class A's, only one Class B, and four Class C mishaps. This was an impressive record. The Class B resulted from a failed power takeoff (PTO) shaft. The pilot did an excellent job of determining the proper emergency procedures to follow and recovered a valuable national resource. The Class C mishaps involved a misrouted cross-bleed detector loop, failed oil pressure transducer, damage to a UHF antenna which occurred during air refueling, and failure of the right main landing gear upper scissor link.

One of the curious things about the loss of this aircraft, assuming that there's a high probability that it might have been shot down in some ways, why in this whole conflict with thousands of sorties, the only plane that apparently has been brought down is the stealthy F-117, which in theory, should be one of the hardest planes to bring down.

The SA-3, which brought down three USAF airplanes in the 1990s: an F-16 over Baghdad in 1991, another F-16 over Serbia in 1999, and, most notably, an F-117, also over Serbia in 1999. The stealthy F-117 was supposed to be almost invisible to enemy radar and infrared tracking systems, making it virtually immune to antiaircraft systems. The Serbs managed to bring one down anyway, probably by focusing on the aircraft's expected path and time. One tactical method for reducing aircraft attrition is to fly varied routes and schedules to reduce predictability. The predictability of the F-117 flight over Serbia on 27 March 1999 might have contributed to its loss. If the enemy knows where an aircraft will be at a certain time, his radar and infrared sensors are less necessary. A very fast missile with a relatively large warhead, the SA-3 is vulnerable to countermeasures because it is usually launched from a fixed position rather than a vehicle. The SA-3 surface-to-air missile that brought down the F-117 was probably not used in a normal fashion, with its operators relying on their own local radars to detect the target leaving them vulnerable to anti-radiation missiles. Spotters in Serbia, and perhaps in Bosnia and along the Montenegrin coast, may have patched together enough quick glimpses of the warplane from scattered radars to track the elusive aircraft, however briefly, and to fire a missile at it from a battery near Belgrade.

On the technology side, a report on Chinese military modernization noted efforts to build ultrawideband and bistatic/multistatic radars and to fuse data from networks of sensors in order to reduce the value of stealth aircraft. Samples of the radar-absorbing material from the downed F-117A likely found their way to Russian anti-aircraft design houses.

America's First Stealth Fighter: The Story of the F-117 Nighthawk

For several decades, the F-117 offered the United States military a unique ability to slip through enemy air defenses and takeout high value targets with its precision guided bombs. However, the Nighthawk’s first-generation stealth technology limited the roles it could fulfill, and decades of advancement have pushed the envelope further in what stealth technology can achieve.

The F-117 Nighthawk, America’s original stealth plane with a deeply sinister appearance, is an example of a weapon system designed around the limitations imposed by a promising new technology. The Nighthawk was revolutionary when it entered service in 1983—not that many could appreciate that, as the plane was kept secret from the public for five years.

Ironically, the Pentagon had a Russian researcher named Pyotr Ufimtsev to thank for first elaborating in a 1964 paper the concept that visibility on radar was not based purely on the size of an object, but also the angle at which radar waves reflected off its edges. Ufimtsev devised a method for calculating the Radar-Cross Section of objects, determining how visible they are on radar.

Ufimtsev’s research attracted attention in the United States rather than Russia, and in the late 1970s Lockheed Martin began working on the Have Blue project to design a plane with the smallest radar cross section possible. The key was to employ flat surfaces that reflected radar waves away from the transmitter.

When Lockheed rolled out the first two prototypes in 1977, the angular aircraft looked like nothing that had been seen before—or since. Later stealth designs such as the B-2 Spirit and the F-35 feature curved surfaces. However, the F-117 was designed before there were advanced computers with the calculating power to produce such curved surfaces. Thus, the F-117 alone among stealth aircraft is distinguished by its faceted 2-dimensional design.

The constraints this imposed meant the design was aerodynamically unstable, and required sophisticated fight computers combined with quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire controls to compensate and keep the aircraft in a flyable state. The Have Blue prototypes earned the nickname “Wobbly Goblins,” and both crashed during the testing process.

The Air Force was nonetheless encouraged by their effectiveness and evading radar detection, and gave the go ahead to produce a production aircraft designated the F-117. The use of a model number over 100 was an anachronism, and for years the public assumed the top secret stealth fighter to be designated F-19. For this reason you can find 19880’s era F-19 model kits, toys, and even a computer game.

The first F-117A rolled of the production lines in 1981. In all 64 were built through 1990, including five YF-117 prototypes, at a program cost of $111 million per plane. The production aircraft’s handling was reportedly more forgiving than its predecessors.

In addition to its reflective surfaces, the Nighthawk sported other design features now standard in stealth aircraft, including the use of radar-absorbent iron-ball paint magnetically charged so as to reduce the reflection of electromagnetic waves. The F-117’s slit-shaped exhaust ports for its F404 turbofan engines minimize the infrared signature of the exhaust. Communication antennas could be retracted to reduce radar signature, while its weapons—all two of them—were stowed in an internal bomb bay. The Nighthawk carried no radar—because the radars of the time were easily detected. Obviously, the F-117 wasn’t invisible to the eye, so it was painted black and flown exclusively at night.

Despite the “F” designation for “fighter’, the F-117 was purely a ground attack plane, without any capability to engage other aircraft in combat. Its maximum speed of 623 miles per hour meant it was slightly slower than a B-52 bomber. Its range of 1070 miles meant that it relied upon aerial-refueling—not always an easy thing to arrange for a stealth aircraft at night.

The Night Hawk’s internal weapons bays constrained it to carrying just two bombs—though to make up for that, they were generally enormous, precision-guided 2,000 pound laser-guided bombs. It could also carry BLU-109 bunker buster and GPS-guided JDAM bombs. Lacking its own radar, the F-117 relied on a thermal imager for targeting, and used GPS and inertial navigation systems.

Given these parameters, the Nighthawk had a very specific mission—to fly unseen into the heart of enemy air defenses and take out critical targets.

Lockheed did later try to market more versatile variants of the F-117 capable of operating from carriers, with more powerful F414 engines and twice the weapons load, including the ability to fire long-range AIM-120 air-to-air missiles. However, the type was rejected both by the U.S. Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Nighthawks over Baghdad and Belgrade

The first major operator of the Blackhawk was the 4450th Tactical Fighter Squadron, based in Tonopah Air Base starting in 1983. To keep the Nighthawk secret, the unit officially flew A-7 Corsair attack planes out of Nellis Air Force Base.

Shortly after entering service, the F-117 was almost deployed to bomb the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Lebanon in retaliation for the 1983 Beirut Barracks bombing that killed 220 Marines. The raid was cancelled by Defense Secretary Weinberg just 45 minutes before takeoff.

The Pentagon finally released grainy photographs of the Nighthawk in 1988. A year later the plane was finally saw action over Panama, as part of Operation Just Cause, the U.S. overthrow of ruling strongman Maneul Noriega. The F-117s were tasked with dropping delayed fuse bombs 50 meters besides the Rio Hato barracks of Noriega’s elite troops in order to stun and confuse them while minimizing the actual death toll. The mission didn’t quite go as planned the Guard were mobilized before the F-117s arrived, and the Nighthawk pilots got confused as to which targets they should hit. In the end, the attack probably contributed to the chaos and confusion of the Panamanian Defense Force, but not quite in the manner intended.

In the 1991 Gulf War the Nighthawk finally displayed its potential. The 415th and 416th Tactical Fighter Squadrons were deployed to Saudi Arabia, and from their launched (almost) the opening shots of the war when they struck targets in Baghdad on January 17, 1991. Preceded by Apache helicopters that took out Iraqi low-bandwidth radars that might have warned of their approach, the F-117s slipped into the Iraqi capital’s heavily defended airspace. Major Feest’s Nighthawk destroyed the air defense center for Baghdad. Immediately afterwards, anti-aircraft artillery lit up the sky, but the remaining F-117s proceeded to target radars, air defense headquarters and telephone centers with 49 laser guided bombs.

Throughout the war, F-117s flew 1,280 missions and struck 1,600 targets, including bridges, biological and chemical weapon sites, parked Iraqi bombers, communication hubs, command bunkers and ammunition dumps. Pilots reported that the relative safety from radar-guided missiles meant they felt safer taking more time to precisely aim at their targets to minimize collateral damage. For example, in one incident a pilot reported delaying weapons release to allow a civilian vehicle to cross a bridge.

F-117s delivered about 30% of the attacks on Baghdad, and played an important role in weakening air defenses so that conventional aircraft could operate overhead in greater safety. However, a report released after the conflict by the Government Accountability Office pointed out that the type only delivered weapons on 60% of its assigned targets. This was largely a result of poor weather conditions prevailing over Baghdad that made it difficult to accurately identify targets on the ground.

After the Gulf War, the F-117 force was reassigned to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico as part of the Forty-Ninth Fighter Wing. The stealth fighters went back into action during the 1999 Kosovo War, operating from bases in Aviano, Italy and Spangdahlem, Germany as part of the NATO-led effort to force the Republic of Yugoslavia (present-day Serbia) to end its crackdown on the ethnically Albanian minority in Kosovo. An F-117 dropped specialized BLU-114B graphite “soft bombs” that disabled 70% of the Yugoslavian power grid on the opening day of hostilities. (The power grid went back into operation within 24 hours and then collapsed again, leaving the ultimate effectiveness of the graphite bomb subject to debate). A controversial Nighthawk attack later destroyed a Serbian media center, killing 10 civilians.

The Yugoslavian Air Force fielded capable MiG-29 fighters against NATO aircraft during the Kosovo campaign. Though the MiG-29s couldn’t detect the Nighthawks, they could still be seen by them. In one incident, an F-117 on a strike mission was caught in the crossfire between escorting F-16s and nearby MiG-29s, with air-to-air missiles fired by the former shooting over its bow. The Nighthawk escaped unscathed thanks to the intervention of the F-16s, however.

Of course, the Nighthawk’s greatest claim to fame in the conflict was when one was downed by a local variant of the Russian S-125 NEVA (NATO codename SA-3) radar-guided missile. This feat was achieved due to the cunning of Yugoslav Colonel Zoltan Dani, commander of the missile battery. Using more advanced tactics than employed by Iraqi missile batteries, he activated his radars only for short bursts and routinely redeployed his missile launchers, both to avoid air-defense suppression attacks as well as to position them in the likely approach vector of NATO aircraft. NATO often employed EA-6 Prowler jamming aircraft to lower the effectiveness of his radars, but they were not available to escort every sortie.


World War II Edit

The squadron was first established in February 1943 as the 416th Night Fighter Squadron and assigned to the 481st Night Fighter Operational Training Group at Orlando Army Air Base, Florida for training. The 416th was among the first Army Air Forces dedicated night fighter squadron formed. Trained in the Douglas P-70 Havoc, a modified A-20 bomber using a U.S. version of the British Mk IV radar. At the time the P-70 was the only American night fighter available. [1]

After completing its initial training by April 1943, the squadron crossed the Atlantic on the RMS Queen Elizabeth and landed in the United Kingdom on 11 May. Pausing briefly for training under VIII Fighter Command the Squadron was attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF) for familiarization in theater night fighter techniques. [2] [ clarification needed ] There, it was equipped with RAF Bristol Beaufighters through a Reverse Lend-Lease program until an American aircraft could be produced. [1] Upon arrival in England the squadron received additional training with Royal Air Force night fighter units at several bases in early 1943 achieving the first victory on 24 July. Through the summer, they conducted daytime convoy escort and strike missions, but thereafter flew primarily at night. [1]

The unit then moved to North Africa for operations with Twelfth Air Force. There, the squadron fell under the operational control of the Northwest African Coastal Air Force, a Combined allied organization with British, Free French, and other American units. [2] It carried out defensive night patrols over Allied held territory during the North African campaign, and also conducted night interdiction raids on German positions in Algeria and Tunisia. [1]

The defeat of German, Italian, and Vichy French forces in North Africa allowed the 416th to move with other allied forces into Italy in September 1943. During its first year there, the squadron patrolled harbors and escorted shipping however, in September 1944 the 416th shifted to more aggressive activities to provide defensive cover for the American Fifth Army and make intruder sweeps into enemy territory. [2] It also continued defensive patrols and offensive night attacks on Axis positions on Sardinia, Corsica, and in Southern France. [1]

With the fall of Germany, the unit became part of the United States Air Forces in Europe army of occupation. It moved in August 1945 to AAF Station Hörsching, Austria, for occupation duties. A year later, the 416th relocated to AAF Station Schweinfurt, Germany, where it inactivated on 9 November 1946, [1] [2] when it was inactivated and its personnel, equipment and aircraft transferred to the 2d Fighter Squadron.

Cold War Edit

The squadron was reactivated on 1 January 1953 at George Air Force Base, California as a fighter bomber squadron. The squadron replaced the 186th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, an Air National Guard unit which had been called to active duty for the Korean War and was being returned to state control. Initially equipped with North American F-51D Mustang aircraft, the 416th quickly converted to North American F-86 Sabre jet aircraft and started participating in air defense operations, exercises, and firepower demonstrations. Then in September 1953, the 416th received Arctic indoctrination at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Next, the squadron joined its parent unit, the 21st Fighter-Bomber Group, in Operation Boxkite at North Field, South Carolina from 17 April to 15 May 1954. [2]

The 416th moved to France in November–December 1954. For this move, the ground echelon left George on 26 November and arrived at Toul-Rosieres Air Base on 12 December. The flight echelon left George on 13 December and traveled to France by the northern air route. Bad weather, however, delayed the movement, and the flight element did not reach Toul until 22 February 1955. From then until December 1957, the squadron participated in NATO tactical operations and exercises, stood air defense alert, and periodically deployed aircraft and crews to Wheelus Air Base, Libya, for fighter weapons training. The unit was not operational from 10 January until inactivating on 8 February 1958. [2]

On 25 March 1958, the 416th activated under Fifth Air Force at Misawa Air Base, Japan, where it started converting from Republic F-84G Thunderjets to North American F-100 Super Sabres. Later in July, the squadron joined the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing however, the USAF directed the 416th to transfer its F-100s to another unit. This order temporarily interrupted its conversion and forced the 416th to fly F-84Gs until May 1959, when a full complement of F-100s arrived. During this period in the Far East, the units crews flew tactical operations and exercises in South Korea, Taiwan, Okinawa, Singapore, the Philippines, and other places in the Far East. [2]

Vietnam War Edit

In June 1964, the 416th moved to England Air Force Base, Louisiana, where it joined the 3d Tactical Fighter Wing. From 17 October through 7 December 1964, the squadron deployed a flight to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, where it operated under various higher headquarters. This deployment, however, was just a precursor to even greater involvement in Southeast Asia (SEA) as the entire squadron deployed there in March 1965. It operated in turn from Clark Air Base, Philippines, Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, and again at Clark until July 1965, when it returned to England AFB. While in SEA, the unit flew 1,711 combat sorties between 19 March and 14 July to fly flak suppression, weather reconnaissance, MiG combat air patrol, and air strike missions. [2]

The 416th deployed with the 3d Wing to SEA in November 1965 to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam. There, the 6250th Combat Support Group controlled the squadron's operations until June 1966, when it rejoined the 3d at Bien Hoa. The 416th remained at Bien Hoa until its April 1967 reassignment to the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing. In May, the squadron moved to Phù Cát Air Base without a break in combat missions. [2]

Forward air control assignments Edit

On 15 June 1967, Detachment 1 of the squadron became the nucleus of Operation Commando Sabre, a special activity using F-100F two-seat trainers to fly fast Forward Air Control (FAC) operations using the call sign Misty. From the 16th to the 28th, they learned aerial refueling techniques. The unit's participation in Commando Sabre continued after the detachment moved to Tuy Hoa Air Base and the came under the operational control of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing. [2] [3]

As the U.S. Air Force's original "Fast FAC" effort, they were pioneers. The original 16 Mistys were flight leader qualified with over 100 combat missions to their credit four of them were already trained as FACs. After this quartet trained the other dozen, planes from this detachment would fly missions into North Vietnam's Route Package 1 or against the defenses of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Operation Steel Tiger. The Misty pilots committed to serving for either 120 days or 75 FAC sorties, whichever came first. Their standard operating profile of 450 Knots indicated air speed at 4,500 feet altitude above ground level allowed their survival where slow FACs dared not venture. [4]

The Mistys having proved their worth, an attempt to expand the detachment began in August 1967. Only one additional F-100F was located to transfer to the unit. Nevertheless, by April 1968, Misty FACs had flown 565 FAC sorties against the Mu Gia Pass and the Ban Karai Pass and directed 850 air strikes against this northern end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The 1 April 1968 cessation of bombing north of the 20th Parallel intensified operations in Route Package 1 and increased the Misty FAC workload. [5]

On 1 June 1968, the Mistys began the loan of their services to the U.S. Navy for Operation Sea Dragon. On 11 June 1968, the Mistys began the first night Fast FAC missions of the war. [4] On the nights of 13 and 14 June, they tested a Starlight Scope for FAC operations. The preliminary results seemed promising, so the Mistys began flying missions with the Scope in the rear seat with the observer on 8 July. As it turned out, the Scope was too bulky for easy use, and did not work in moonless periods. A Misty was lost in action on 16 August 1968, and another the following night. The night FAC mission not having observed anything more than an ordinary fighter pilot, it was cancelled after this second loss. [6]

On 12 August 1968, the Misty FACs began training two aircraft commanders from the 366th Fighter Wing as FACs. On 2 September 1968, the first "Stormy" FACs began controlling in Route Package 1. [7] With the 1 November 1968 halt of bombing North Vietnamese targets, the Mistys ceased operations in Route Package 1 and shifted their FAC mission towards the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By that time, the Misty FACs had flown 1,441 combat sorties, directed 3,988 air strikes, and lost nine airplanes. [8]

From 1 November 1968 until June 1969, the Mistys flew 1,530 combat sorties and directed 2,321 air strikes against the Ho Chi Minh Trail. [9] Plagued by shortages of aircraft, the Mistys stood down on 14 May 1970. By that time, about a quarter of the 93 Misty FAC pilots had been shot down, though most had been rescued. The Fast FAC concept having been proven, other Fast FAC units had taken up the fight. [4]

In the meantime, the 416th still flew regular combat missions, logging its 30,000th Southeast Asia combat sortie on 20 April 1970. Most of those missions involved close air support or direct air support. The unit stood down from combat operations on 5 September 1970, and its resources were transferred to other units. [2]

Tactical Air Command Edit

On 28 September 1970, the squadron returned without personnel to England Air Force Base, Louisiana. Anticipating the 416th's reassignment, the 4403d Tactical Fighter Wing at England had begun forming a new squadron cadre in August 1970. This cadre started training its pilots to instructor status and was immediately available when the Air Force transferred the 416th. After receiving more equipment and people, the 416th achieved combat ready status and began normal participation in exercises and other tactical operations. [2]

Inactivation appeared imminent again as the Air Force phased the last F-100s out of its inventory. By December 1971, the 416th was the only active flying squadron in the 4403d Wing. On 1 April 1972, its operational training commitment ended, and as a result the Air Force transferred its personnel to other units and its aircraft to the Air National Guard. From May 1972 until its 1 July inactivation, the 416th served as a holding unit for a new LTV A-7D Corsair II squadron that would replace it. [2]

Redesignated the 416th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, the unit activated again on 15 March 1979 under the 479th Tactical Training Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. At Holloman, the squadron used Northrop AT-38 Talon aircraft to provide transitional training to new pilots preparing for assignment to operational fighter wings. The 416th inactivated on 1 September 1983 as the 433d Tactical Fighter Training Squadron assumed its mission. [2]

Stealth Operations Edit

Development Background Edit

"P-Unit" was established by Tactical Air Command at Groom Lake, Nevada as a classified unit on 15 October 1979. It received LTV A-7D Corsair II fighters from the 23d Tactical Fighter Wing at England Air Force Base, Louisiana to use as training aircraft for the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, then under development. The unit performed training for pilots to transition to the single-seat, subsonic F-117. Was given designation of 4451st Test Squadron on 11 July 1981, and assigned to the 4450th Test Group (later 4450th Tactical Group) which was formed to bring the F-117 from development to operational status. [10]

The squadron moved to Tonopah Test Range Airport on 28 October 1983, performing training missions with the F-117A in a clandestine environment. It performed the dual mission of training F-117 pilots with the A-7Ds as well as providing a cover story for the classified Stealth Fighter project. All Tonopah training flights were conducted at night under the cover of darkness until late 1988. On 10 November 1988, the Air Force brought the F-117A from secrecy by publicly acknowledging its existence, but provided few details about it. The official confirmation of the F-117A's existence, however, had little impact on Tonopah operations. Pilots began occasionally flying the F-117A during the day, but personnel were still ferried to and from work each Monday and Friday from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. [note 8] Everyone associated with the project was still forbidden to talk about what they did for a living, and the program remained shrouded in secrecy. [10]

The squadron operated at Tonopah with A-7Ds until late 1989 when F-117 project was revealed to the public. It retired its Corsairs, being the last active duty USAF squadron to operate the A-7, and transitioned to the Northrop T-38 Talon.

Stealth Operations Edit

The 4451st Squadron was inactivated and replaced by the 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron on 5 October 1989 when the 4450th Tactical Group was inactivated, and F-117A operations came under the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing. It assumed the mission of the 4451st Test Squadron became one of two operational F-117A Stealth Fighter squadrons. [2]

On 19 December 1989, just 13 months after the Pentagon had disclosed the existence of the F-117A, squadron aircraft were first used in combat during Operation Just Cause. In mid-December 1990, it deployed to King Khalid International Airport, Saudi Arabia as part of the buildup of United States forces prior to Operation Desert Storm. It flew combat operations over Iraq against high-priority targets in January and February of 1991. After combat operations ceased in February 1991, some personnel and aircraft remained on indefinite alert in Saudi Arabia as a component member of the post-Desert Storm task force in Southwest Asia, although most returned to Tonopah by the end of March. [11]

After Desert Storm, the Air Force redesignated the squadron as the 416th Fighter Squadron on 1 October 1991. The following month, under the Objective Wing reorganization, the squadron realigned from the wing to the 37th Operations Group on 1 November 1991. [2] In 1992, as part of the post Cold War budget cutbacks in the Air Force, the F-117As moved to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The 37th Fighter Wing and its subordinate squadrons were inactivated in July 1993. The aircraft, equipment, personnel and mission of the squadron were transferred to the 8th Fighter Squadron, which was simultaneusly activated. [11]

Reader Interactions


The F-117 and the F-19 are not the same aircraft. The F-19 was called out because the F-18 and the F-20 were known. Out of speculation, they came up with the F-19.
Actually the F-19 is the F-119. Also part of the RedHats.
First generation was the F-117. Second generation was the F-118 (Boeing Bird of Prey). Third generation was the F-119 (still not released to the public).

The F-117 was designated with the F because of the RedHats.
The RedHats are the deserted Russian aircraft. The 4 hangers at the North end of Area 51.

I was fortunate enough to support the mission planners for the F-117a during Desert Storm. It was a great experience. An additional duty i had was to collect the video tapes from the pilot’s runs and convert them to VHS format for the generals at CENTCOM. I loved my job.

Not so invisible. The Serbs shot a pair of them down in 1999 with 80s Soviet Radars.

Their radars didn’t detect the aircraft.A smart antiaircraft soldier fired his missiles by sound….After the aircraft flew several missions using the same egress point…with is a very stupid thing to do against a competent military.

1 why do we keep giving everybody information about our aircraft I thought aircraft no matter what we use them for should be secret like it used to be we don’t need tell every nation what we have I think it’s BS myself I know Modern War God help us thank you Staff Sergeant Robert Rainey US Air Force

These weapons and their capabilities are less for fighting and more for posturing.
You need to market them well to win a war before it starts.

Flight management

Before flight, mission data is downloaded on to the IBM AP-102 mission control computer, which integrates it with the navigation and flight controls to provide a fully automated flight management system.

After take-off, the pilot can hand over flight control to the mission programme until within visual range of the mission’s first target. The pilot then resumes control of the aircraft for weapon delivery.

The aircraft is equipped with an infrared acquisition and designation system (IRADS), which is integrated with the weapon delivery system. The pilot is presented with a view of the target on the head-up display, first from the FLIR and then from the DLIR.

Weapon delivery and impact is recorded on the aircraft’s internally mounted video system, which provides real-time damage assessment.

That Day The Serbs Did The Impossible And Shot Down An F-117 Nighthawk

The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk was a stealth fighter that was so advanced for its time that it remained a secret for a long time. What made it so deadly was not only its extreme maneuverability but also its ability to be invisible.

The Serbs didn’t know that, however, which is why they were able to shoot one down in 1999 – reputedly the only time such a plane had ever been destroyed.

It all began in 1999. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) had been fragmenting as various ethnic groups tried to carve out separate states for themselves. Among these were the Serbs who didn’t want Albanians sharing their slice of the pie. This resulted in the former expelling and attacking the latter.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ordered it to stop, but Yugoslavia told them where to stick it – never a good idea. So NATO asked the United Nations (UN) for permission to intervene, but Russia and China said “no way.”

That didn’t stop the press from bombarding the world with pictures of dead and fleeing Albanians. President Bill Clinton reacted by comparing the situation to the Holocaust. NATO, therefore, told the UN where to shove it (a first) and launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia.

Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

Called Operation Noble Anvil, it lasted from March 24 th to June 10 th , 1999. To make a long story short, Yugoslavia became extinct, and the independent country of Serbia was eventually born.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s backtrack.

S-125 Neva air defense system used to shoot down the F-117A. By Srđan Popović – CC BY-SA 3.0

Among those who participated in the bombing spree was Lieutenant Colonel Dale Zelko. A veteran of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, he had already flown three sorties over Yugoslavia when his life changed with the fourth.

It happened on the evening of March 27 th , 1999. Zelko was to take out several targets within and around the city of Belgrade. Previous sorties had failed because the targets were protected by sophisticated Russian Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS).

Lieutenant Colonel Dale Zelko

He was to fly as part of a larger sortie, but the weather turned foul, forcing other planes to stay grounded. This made him uneasy, but since he’d be flying a state-of-the-art F-117, they gave him the green light.

No F-117 had been downed since their first operational flight in 1983, after all, so why worry? Besides, NATO knew that while the Yugoslavs had an effective Integrated Air Defense System, they were still using radars that were equally state-of-the-art… back in the 50s and 60s.

And F-117s were invisible. Well, not to the naked eye, admittedly, but to radar. Their shape scattered radar waves, while their material absorbed the rest, making them extremely tricky to detect on screens.

Zoltán Dani in 2003. By Laslo Varga – CC BY 2.5

As such, they’re not officially “invisible.” They instead use of “low-observable technology.” They do have one major weakness, however. Every time the pilot opens the wheel well or bomb bay doors, their low-observability rate decreases.

Or so the Americans thought till much later. Fortunately for the desperate Serbs, they figured it all out much earlier.

Without getting too technical, the F-117’s shape and material work well against modern, short wavelength radars – “short” being shorter than the object they’re trying to detect. Imagine throwing pebbles in the dark to find something by listening for the thud.

Canopy and ejection seat of the F-117A at the Serbian Museum of Aviation. By Marko M – CC BY-SA 3.0

But when it comes to the primitive long wavelength radars that the Serbs used… it’s like prodding for something in the dark using a long stick. Once you find it, it doesn’t really matter if your stick slides off, now does it?

So the Serbs extended their wavelengths to make the “stick” even longer. Goodbye, invisibility cloak!

As an added bonus, they were able to intercept and decipher NATO communications, so they had a good idea of when and where to expect their unwelcome guest. Zelko couldn’t have known that, of course.

Serbian propaganda poster regarding the shooting
By Clay Gilliland CC BY-SA 2.0

But Colonel Zoltán Dani did. Commander of the 3 rd Battalion of the 250 th Air Defense Missile Brigade of the Army of Yugoslavia, he was waiting.

To avoid giving away their own positions to NATO, the brigade would use their equipment for a maximum of 17 seconds. Despite this, they were able to get a lock on Zelko’s approach at around 8:15 PM while he was some 31 to 37 miles away.

The moment of truth came when Zelko opened his bomb doors. That increased his radar signature, allowing the brigade to lock him in their sites and fire two missiles.

According to Zelko, the first one came so close that it buffeted his plane. To his surprise, it didn’t explode – but he wasn’t so lucky with the second. Out at sea, the NATO forces saw the impact.

Despite this, Dale couldn’t help thinking, “Nice shot!”

The F-117 plummeted, subjecting Zelko to so many Gs that he found himself amazed by yet another thought – why wasn’t he passing out? Although he was able to eject, he later claimed to have had no memory of doing so, only that he felt a serene calm as he found himself in mid-air.

But it wasn’t over yet – he was going down in enemy territory. Against protocol, he radioed his superiors to give them his location, hoping that his controlled plummet would make it hard for the Serbs to pinpoint his transmission.

Landing in a village field south of the town of Ruma, he buried his parachute and looked for a place to hide. Masking his tracks, he found a drainage ditch covered with thick vegetation. Before going in, he smeared himself with mud to hide his exposed skin and dull his scent.

The F-117 crashed a mile from him, but locals saw him land. Despite an intensive manhunt involving soldiers, the police, villagers, and sniffer dogs, none found him. NATO launched another set of attacks that were so close, he could feel the detonations from his hiding place. Eight hours later, he was rescued by helicopter.

In 2009, one of Dani’s sons saw Zelko online when he had an idea. The teen contacted Zeljko Mirkovic – a Serbian documentary film-maker. Mirkovic contacted the US Air Force, and that’s how Dani and Zelko started talking.

In 2011, Zelko flew to Serbia and met up with Dani, who had given up shooting down planes to become a baker. The men have since become friends, as have their families, something Mirkovic documented.

F-117 NightHawk - History

The stealth characteristics of the F-117 were further increased using various coatings of radar-absorbant materials (RAM) and radar-absorbant screens covering the engine inlets. Edges of doors and access panels such as the landing gear and bomb bays were also serrated to scatter radar waves. The aircraft's infrared signature was also reduced by mixing hot exhaust gases from the turbofan engines with cool air and ducting the mixture through a flat "platypus" exhaust.

Though called the "stealth fighter," the F-117 was actually an attack plane carrying precision guided bombs deep within heavily defended enemy territory. Standard armament consisted of two 2,000 lb (905 kg) laser-guided bombs, but reports suggested Maverick and HARM missiles were also carried regularly.

The F-117 was developed in utter secrecy during the late 1970s and early 1980s and was not made public until 1988. Shortly thereafter, the Nighthawk made its combat debut over Panama during the ousting of dictator Manuel Noriega. The F-117 saved its greatest performance for Operation Desert Storm when 42 aircraft flew only 2% of the combat sorties against Iraq yet accounted for 40% of the strategic targets attacked. The only combat loss of a Stealth Fighter occurred early in the Kosovo conlict when poor mission planning allowed a Serbian missile battery to predict when an F-117 would fly through its defense zone.

Despite its revolutionary capabilites, the F-117 was always limited to night attack missions and gradually became obsolescent with the development of more capable stealth aircraft. The introduction of the truly multi-mission F-22 and F-35 led the US Air Force to phase out the F-117 by 2008. The surviving attack bombers have been retired to the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada where the Stealth Fighter was originally tested. Here, the planes are to be stored in a mothballed state for the next decade in case they should be needed again.

F-22 Raptor News

The main difference between the F-117 and the F-22 is that with the new fighter plane can do both drop bombs and engage in air attacks. The F-117 is only effective for ground attacks.

The technology that once made the F-117A Nighthawk unique has now caught up to it, and newer fighter aircraft are joining the fleet. Still, the Nighthawk was the first of its kind, a fact anyone who has spent time around the aircraft is quick to point out.

Many of these people gathered at Holloman Air Force Base Oct. 29 to commemorate 25 years of Nighthawk history at the Silver Stealth ceremony. Members of the F-117 community, past and present, were on hand to pay homage to the aircraft's illustrious history, a history that contains as many secrets as it does legends.

Part of the Air Force's arsenal since 1981, the Nighthawk was the stuff of science fiction. It could fly across enemy skies and through the world's most advanced radar systems without being detected. This capability allowed the aircraft to perform reconnaissance missions and bomb critical targets, all without the enemy knowing who or what had hit them.

"This is a strategic weapon that really reshaped how the Air Force looked at strategic warfare," said Lt. Col. Chris Knehans, commander of the 7th Fighter Squadron. "It doesn't matter what defenses you put up, how deep you try to hide or how much you surround yourself with collateral damage, this airplane will come and get you."

This fact has made the Nighthawk a vital part of the Air Force's various campaigns since the aircraft's introduction. It has seen service in Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia as part of such operations as Desert Storm, Allied Force, Just Cause, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

For those who either fly or provide support to the Nighthawk, the aircraft has been a faithful one. Knowing it is now in its last days is bittersweet for many of them.

"From a pragmatic point of view, we all understand why it's leaving," Knehans said. "I mean it's a 30-year-old concept now. But when you look at its history, its design and its combat record . yeah, the Air Force is going to lose basically a very unique weapon system."

For Master Sgt. Byron Osborn, who has worked on the F-117 for almost 19 years, the emotions are clearer.

"For old-timers like me, it's a sad day," he said. "A lot of the younger guys like the new, flashier aircraft, but I'll stick with this old dog any day."

The Air Force is saying goodbye to the F-117, but not to the effect it has had on modern warfare. Its successor, the F-22 Raptor, will continue the fight the Nighthawk started, which, according to retired Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton, one of the first F-117 pilots, is a hard job to fill.

"Whenever its nation called, the F-117 answered, providing capabilities that had never been known before," he said. "If we needed the door kicked in, the stealth was the one to do it. Never before had such an aircraft existed."

Modern technology may have caught up with the F-117 and new aircraft may be set to take its place on the tarmac, but for those who have been part of its storied history, none will ever be able to replace it.

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