F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter

F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter

 The F-117A Nighthawk is the world’s first operational aircraft designed to exploit low-observable stealth technology.

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.

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.

Returning to the skies over Baghdad, F-117A’s launched Operation Iraqi Freedom with a decapitation strike on March 20, 2003. Striking key targets in the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, 12 deployed F-117s flew more than 100 combat sorties in support of the global war on terrorism.

General Characteristics

Primary Function: Fighter/attack

Contractor: Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co.

Power Plant: Two General Electric F404 non-afterburning engines

Thrust: 18,080 pounds at sea level

Wingspan: 43 feet, 4 inches (13.2 meters)

Length: 63 feet, 9 inches (19.4 meters)

Height: 12 feet, 9.5 inches (3.9 meters)

Weight: 52,500 pounds (23,625 kilograms)

Maximum takeoff weight: 47,900 pounds (21,727 kilograms)

Fuel capacity: 19,000 pounds (8618 kilograms)

Payload: 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms)

Speed: High subsonic

Range: Unlimited with air refueling

Ceiling: 45,000 feet (13,716 meters)

Armament: Internal weapons carriage

Crew: One

Unit Cost: $45 million

Initial operating capability: October 1983

Inventory: Total force, 45

Source: USAF

Operational history

The F-117 has been used several times in war. Its first mission was during the United States invasion of Panama in 1989. During that invasion two F-117A Nighthawks dropped two bombs on Rio Hato airfield.

Combat losses

One F-117 has been lost in combat, to the Yugoslav Army. On 27 March 1999, during the Kosovo War, the 3rd Battalion of the 250th Missile Brigade under the command of Colonel Zoltán Dani, equipped with the Isayev S-125 ‘Neva’ (NATO designation SA-3 ‘Goa’) anti-aircraft missile system, downed a F-117A callsign “Vega 31,” serial number 82-806 with a Serbian improved Neva-M missile. According to NATO Commander Wesley Clark and other NATO generals, Yugoslav air defenses found that they could detect F-117s with their radars operating on unusually long wavelengths. This made them visible on radar screens for short times.

Reportedly several SA-3s were launched from approximately 8 miles out, one of which detonated in close proximity to the F-117A, forcing the pilot to eject. Though still classified, it has long been believed that the F-117 possesses no radar warning indicator, so the pilot’s first indication of an incoming missile was likely seeing its flame. At this distance and combined speed the pilot had about 6 seconds to react before impact. According to an interview, Zoltán Dani was able to keep most of his missile sites intact by keeping them on the move, and had a number of spotters spread out looking for F-117s and other NATO aircraft, he also personally supervised the modification of his targeting radar to increase its wavelength. The commanders and crews of the SAMs guessed the flight paths of earlier F-117A strikes from rare radar spottings and positioned their SAM launchers and spotters accordingly. It is believed that the SA-3 crews and spotters were able to locate and track F-117A 82-806 visually, probably with the help of infra-red and night vision systems. He also claimed that his battery shot down an F-16 as well.

The F-117 pilot survived and was later rescued by U.S. Air Force Pararescue personnel. However, the wreckage of the F-117 was not promptly bombed, due to possible media fallout from news footage of civilians around the wreckage. The Serbs are believed to have invited Russian personnel to inspect the remains, inevitably compromising the then 25-year old U.S. stealth technology. Since the United States did not destroy the wreckage, the remains can still be seen today at the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade close to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. An error of assumption was made by many as to the identity of the pilot. While the name “Capt Ken ‘Wiz’ Dwelle” was painted on the canopy, it was made public in 2007 that the actual pilot was Lt Col. Dale Zelko, USAF.

                                                          F117A Nighthawk stealth fighter: An F-117 Nighthawk aircraft from the 49th Fighter Wing out of Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., is refueled during a mission over Ohio March 12, 2008. The aircraft were refueled by U.S. Air Force Airmen from the Ohio Air National Guard’s 121st Air Refueling Wing. This marks the last refueling mission for the aircraft, which are being retired in 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Kim Frey)


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