America’s F-117 stealth fighter has been in a state of limbo. In 2008, the U.S. Air Force officially retired the black, angular warplanes but they never entirely went away. For eight years, the radar-evading aircraft have rested in climate-controlled hangars at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.
Here’s why — when the F-117s retired, Congress required the Air Force to maintain some of the planes in case they were ever needed in a future war. The flying branch even kept flying a handful, most likely as guinea pigs for stealth-penetrating sensors … or some other mysterious hardware.
Well, that shouldn’t continue for much longer. This week, the House Armed Services Committee voted to remove the requirement that certain F-117s “be maintained in a condition that would allow recall of those aircraft to future service.”
That would allow the Air Force to finally send the Nighthawks to the sprawling Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, according to Flight Global, and will likely permanently end the F-117 as an airplane capable of operations. In other words, scrapped.
Although the dry desert conditions in Arizona are ideal for keeping aircraft viable, Flight Global reports the Nighthawks will “probably be torn apart or less likely, scavenged for hard-to-find parts.” Due to the sensitive nature of the Nighthawk’s stealth technology, it would not be surprising for the Air Force to dismantle and bury them. A few will surely make attractive museum pieces.
So ends the world’s first operational stealth aircraft.
Although dubbed a fighter with the “F” designation, the Nighthawk was exclusively a ground-attack aircraft designed to slip past radars and anti-aircraft missile systems.
The development and combat history is a major story in itself, as the F-117 took a mere 30 months to design — lightning fast for an at-the-time cutting-edge military aircraft. It would later see action over Panama, Iraq and Serbia. Sixty-four were built including five prototypes — and one was shot down over Serbia in 1999.
Because of its mark on history, the F-117 is iconic, although considerably less practical today. Knowing nothing about the warplane and just going by its still futuristic looks, it’d be hard to guess it’s more than 30 years old.
F-22s and B-2s — both stealth warplanes — fill in for the Nighthawks today. And the United States plans to produce thousands of stealthy F-35 multi-role fighters in the coming years plus a new hard-to-detect bomber … the B-21.
Yes, it’s sad to see the F-117 go. But keeping them flyable and in climate-controlled hangars is asking a bit much.
This piece first appeared in WarIsBoring here.
Image: Flickr/Creative Commons.